Howard Spencer Bartlett, Jr.
Born: January 5, 1923
Hometown: Fresno, CA
Position / Rank: Ensign
Date / Place of death: May 11, 1945 / Okinawa
Date / Place of burial: May 12, 1945 / Buried at sea /
Tablets of the Missing, Honolulu Memorial, Honolulu, HI.
Howard S. Bartlett was appointed Cadet, Merchant Marine Reserve on June 3, 1942.
Crew lists on file in New York, NY indicate that he signed on as Deck Cadet aboard the
SS George B. McClellan at San Francisco, CA on June 30, 1942 and signed off articles
at New York, NY on April 3, 1943 after a voyage from Oran. Following his graduation
from Kings Point in 1944, Howard Bartlett was commissioned an Ensign, USNR and
reported for active duty. He reported aboard the USS Bunker Hill (CV 17), on
December 7, 1944 at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. According to the Bunker Hill’s Log
Book, Ensign Bartlett was assigned as a Junior Division Officer, although which
Department and Division he was assigned to is not indicated.
Photo of USS Bunker Hill – April 1945
The USS Bunker Hill sailed from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on January 24, 1945 and
was on duty with the Fifth Fleet’s Carrier Task Force by mid-February when it launched
air strikes on the Japanese home islands of Honshu and Nasei Shoto. These strikes
were followed by supporting attacks for the invasion of Okinawa. On April 7, 1945
aircraft from the Bunker Hill and other Fifth Fleet aircraft carriers ended the last sea
battle of the war by sinking the Japanese battleship Yamato. In the following weeks the
Bunker Hill’s aircraft defended the surrounding fleet from attacks by Japanese
kamikaze suicide planes and supported ground troops in action on Okinawa.
On the morning of Friday, May 11, 1945 the Bunker Hill was the flagship of Vice
Admiral Marc Mitscher’s Fifth Fleet and was maneuvering as part of Task Group 58.3
with the USS Essex (CV 9) and other ships. By 0930 that morning, after 58 straight
days in action, the ship’s crew had already gone to General Quarters three times since
2am. At about 0510, around dawn, the Bunker Hill began launching aircraft. By 0940
most of the aircraft launched earlier in the morning by the Bunker Hill earlier had
returned on board and were being serviced on the flight deck or on the hangar deck.
Twenty-five minutes later, apparently without warning since the ship was not at
General Quarters, the USS Bunker Hill was hit by a Japanese Zero fighter that slipped
through low cloud cover, dropped its bomb and then crashed just aft of #3 Elevator. A
minute later a second Zero suicide plane and its bomb hit at the #2 Elevator. The bombs and gasoline aboard the kamikazes set off additional explosions and fires in the aircraft parked on the flight deck and in the hangar deck below.
(Photo of USS Bunker Hill-May 11, 1945)
For the next two hours the surviving crew fought to control and extinguish the fires and
keep the ship afloat. The flames were so intense and wide spread that escorting
destroyers came alongside to rescue men who could not get through the flames to
safety. The fire and explosions eventually caused the abandonment of Fire Rooms #1
and #2 and the Forward Engine Room. By 1630 the fires were out and the USS Bunker
Hill was capable of moving under its own power. However, the badly damaged ship
was no longer capable of functioning as a combat vessel. As a result Vice Admiral
Mitscher and the survivors of his staff were transferred to the USS Enterprise.
On Saturday, May 12, 1945 the USS Bunker Hill began counting its dead while
continuing to treat the wounded and working to keep their ship afloat. Between 1pm
and 7pm the ship held three burial at sea services for its 351 honored dead, including
Ensign Howard S. Bartlett, USNR.
Ensign Howard S. Bartlett, USNR was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal. For its actions prior to and during Ensign Bartlett’s
service aboard, the USS Bunker Hill was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. Cadet-
Midshipman Howard Bartlett earned the Atlantic War Zone, Pacific War Zone and
Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone Bars, the Victory Medal and Presidential
Testimonial Letter for his merchant marine service.
Howard S. Bartlett was the oldest of Howard S. Bartlett, Sr. and Stella May Pheley
Bartlett’s two sons. Howard’s little brother, Robert, was six years younger. According
to the 1940 U.S. Census, both of Howard’s parents worked outside the home. Howard,
Sr. worked for the local power company as a repairman while Stella worked as an
assistant instructor for the local schools.