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West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

Remember...

John Thurman Clevenger Jr.
1925-1944

"It is the function of the Navy to carry the war to the enemy so that it will not be fought on U.S. soil."

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz,
Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet

John Thurman Clevenger Jr. was born in West Virginia in 1925 to Virginia Jessie Smyth Clevenger and John Thurman Clevenger. In 1930 at the time of the U.S. Federal Census, he was four years old and living with his parents and his younger sister, Betty, in Weston, West Virginia. The 1930 Census finds them in a rented home. His father was working in a garage as a mechanic.

John Jr.’s grandfather, Thurman, was born in Greene County, Pennsylvania, in 1878, but the 1910 Federal Census shows the family to be living in Monongalia County, West Virginia, at Cass. By the time John joined the Navy in 1942, his mother, Virginia, was living in Morgantown, West Virginia, but there is no record of his father in the state at the time.

In January of 1942, John joined the Navy. John’s father had been a mechanic in a garage, and now John would be an aviation metalsmith, 2nd class.

By the time of World War II the nature of aviation was changing. The position of aviation metalsmith was one that had recently developed; it replaced aviation carpenters, who had fixed the wooden parts of planes. As planes became machines built of metal, carpenters were no longer needed, and this new position recognized the new reality. Aviation metalsmiths were so named in 1941. (Source: U.S. Naval Institute Staff, USNI News, “A Brief List of Old, Obscure and Obsolete U.S. Navy Jobs,” 3 Dec. 2014, accessed 24 Mar. 2016, http://news.usni.org/2014/12/03/brief-list-old-obscure-obsolete-u-s-navy-jobs.)

An aviation metalsmith was required to know the principles of flying and be able to repair airplane metal parts. This now obsolete position is the forerunner of today’s aviation structural mechanic. Aviation structural mechanics work on hangar decks, on flight decks, and on some aircraft as flight engineers. (Source: Navy CyberSpace, “Navy Aviation Structural Mechanic,” accessed 24 Mar. 2016, https://www.navycs.com/navy-jobs/aviation-structural-mechanic.html.)

Serving on or around aircraft on an aircraft carrier, as John T. Clevenger Jr. did, would have been especially exciting and dangerous work in World War II. The war pushed aviation forward by leaps and bounds, and much was learned through the losses. The World War II Foundation site catalogues those losses:

276,000 aircraft manufactured in the U.S.
43,000 planes lost overseas, including 23,000 in combat.
14,000 lost in the continental U.S.

The situation is even more staggering when one looks at further statistics. The site continues with these additional facts:

Almost 1,000 Army planes disappeared en route from the US to foreign climes. But an eye-watering 43,581 aircraft were lost overseas including 22,948 on combat missions (18,418 against the Western Axis) and 20,633 attributed to non-combat causes overseas.

In a single 376 plane raid in August 1943, 60 B-17s were shot down. That was a 16 percent loss rate and meant 600 empty bunks in England. In 1942-43 it was statistically impossible for bomber crews to complete a 25-mission tour in Europe. Pacific theatre losses were far less (4,530 in combat) owing to smaller forces committed. The worst B-29 mission, against Tokyo on May 25, 1945, cost 26 Superfortresses, 5.6 percent of the 464 dispatched from the Marianas. (Source: WWII Foundation, “WWII Aircraft Facts,” accessed 24 Mar. 2016, http://www.wwiifoundation.org/students/wwii-aircraft-facts/.)

John T. Clevenger Jr. began his service in 1942 and would have been 17 years old when he joined. No record was found of his military registration, except that he signed up at a West Virginia site. By 1943, he was aboard the USS Lexington.

The USS Lexington began its build as the USS Cabot. While it was being built, the fourth ship known as the Lexington was destroyed, and so the Cabot was renamed the Lexington. It was the fifth boat to carry the name. It was commissioned on February 17, 1943. No record was discovered that documents when John T. Clevenger Jr. joined the Lexington crew, but perhaps it was in Pearl Harbor in August of 1943. From there, the USS Lexington traveled west and was involved in raids on Tarawa in September and Wake in October. The Lexington went back to Pearl Harbor for repairs in December of 1943, then returned to service, raiding Kwajalein. The battle resulted in many losses to enemy forces, and damage to the Lexington was so severe that the ship returned to the continental U.S., this time to Bremerton, Washington. Full repairs were completed in February 1944. (Source: Hullnumber.com, “U.S.S. Lexington,” accessed 24 Mar. 2016, http://www.hullnumber.com/CV-16.) The ship would return to service once more. The Lexington became known as “The Blue Ghost” because it always returned, although it was reported to have been sunk by Japanese forces several times. But where was John T. Clevenger Jr.?

On January 13, 1944, John T. Clevenger Jr. died. There was no record found indicating which ship and crew he belonged to after the Lexington returned to the U.S. While there was little found to document his personal history, his family erected a fine, tall memorial to him in East Oak Grove Cemetery in Morgantown. On it is engraved “In Loving Memory of Our Only Son” and a description of what happened to John T. Clevenger Jr.:

Cenotaph

Cenotaph in East Oak Grove Cemetery, Morgantown. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Served 2 Years – 11 Days U.S. Navy

16th Torpedo Sqdn. Carrier U.S.S. Lexington

One Year South Pacific Taking Part in

Many Missions Including the Coral Sea,

Kwajelein and Saipan Island on Which His

Plane Was Destroyed and Forced Down

Among Japanese Forces

He Was Awarded the Air Medal of Honor

The Bronze Star and the Purple Heart

Buried Somewhere on Saipan Island

Cenotaph

Detail of cenotaph of John T. Clevenger Jr. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

A second memorial for John T. Clevenger Jr. appears on the Walls of the Missing, honoring those who did not return from World War II and whose remains were not found, in the Honolulu Memorial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Cenotaph

Walls of the Missing, Honolulu Memorial. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

According to the Navy’s casualty index, his next of kin was listed as his mother, Virginia Clevenger, of Highland Street in Morgantown. No further record was found of his mother and sister, but John T. Clevenger Jr.’s grandparents, Thurman and Essie Marie Clevenger, would eventually leave West Virginia for Florida and then Los Angeles. Their deaths have been noted, and they are interred in Florida.

John T. Clevenger Jr.’s father, John Clevenger, died in 1950. He is interred next to his son’s cenotaph in East Oak Grove Cemetery. On his headstone is engraved “Husband,” with a Masonic emblem between the dates 1903 and 1950.

The USS Lexington survived World War II, served as a training ship in the Gulf of Mexico for many years, and now is museum ship in Corpus Christi, Texas.



Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens, with editorial assistance from Patricia Richards McClure
March 2016

Honor...

John Thurman Clevenger Jr.

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.


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