Clark, Joseph J. (1894-1971)

Photograph of "Jocko" Clark
Naval Historical Center #80-G-625913

"Jocko" Clark graduated from Annapolis in 1918 and completed flight training in 1923.  He boasted of his Cherokee ancestry. Tillman wrote of him: "Loud, profane, and dogmatic, he was said to resemble a frontier desperado more than a naval officer."

Clark was executive officer of Yorktown under Elliot Buckmaster, with whom he did not get along well. Clarke had been an aviator virtually his entire career, while Buckmaster had not completed flight training until 1937 and had no experience in squadron flight duty. Clark constantly disagreed with Buckmaster; Buckmaster, in turn, tended to ignore Clark and seek advice from more junior aviators in the Yorktown air group. When Fletcher took command of the Yorktown task force, he quickly sized up the situation, and he began emulating Buckmaster in going beneath Clark for aviation advice. This likely contributed to a lifelong enmity between Clark and Fletcher that strongly influenced the historiography of Fletcher's service as a carrier task force commander.

Clark was promoted to captain in January 1942, but delayed his acceptance of the promotion until he could be detached from Yorktown for other duty in mid-February.  He commanded an escort carrier in the North Africa invasion before commissioning the second Lexington. His carrier, Suwannee, was not scheduled for completion in time for the invasion, but Clark persuaded the yard to complete the ship early: "I cannot give away any military secrets, but if you can give me my ship two weeks early, I will put her where she will do some good" (Larrabee 1987). The ship was not only completed on time, but it was loaded with munitions in the yard, in gross violation of Navy regulations. After returning from Torch, Clark half expected to be relieved of command, but instead King commended him.

During the Marcus raid of August 1943, Clark objected strongly to a decision by the task force commander, Charles Pownall, to clear the area before searching for five downed aviators:

You've got the widest yellow streak up your back of any admiral I've evern seen in my life.... I don't care if when I return to Pearl I don't have a ship and I don't have a command. You can make me a seaman second tomorrow, but this is my ship and I'm going to send out a search for them!

(Tuohy 2007) Clark received permission to carry out the search, which was fruitless, but which endeared him to his aviators. Following the Marshall raids of December 1943, Clark circulated an anonymous critique of Pownall's performance that likely contributed to the latter's relief.

Clark had just been promoted to rear admiral in March 1944 when the chief of staff of Task Group 58.4 was killed in an air accident. This was too much for the commander of TG 58.4, Si Ginder, who suffered a nervous breakdown. Mitscher ordered Clark to replace Ginder, ignoring the usual Navy practice of giving a new flag officer a shore command. Tradition continued to be broken in this regard thereafter.

Clark commanded Task Group 58.1, which raided Ponape on 3 May 1944 and Iwo Jima during the Marianas campaign in order to interdict Japanese aircraft reinforcements. Clark's airmen later participated in the Philippines campaign and in the destruction of Yamato as she sortied against the Okinawa invasion fleet.

Clark was widely regarded as one the best American carrier task group commanders. He was an excellent ship handler as well as a skilled aviator, which doubtless contributed to the high esteem in which he was held by his fellow officers. Clark expected the same from his ship captains, and recommended the relief of the erratic Miles Browning, Halsey's former chief of staff, of a carrier command on account of his poor ship handling skills. Both Mitscher and Spruance concurred. However, Clark was considered a "hard man" (Lundstrom 2006) with little sense of humor and a domineering character who kept his distance from subordinates. He suffered from a severe stomach ulcer that likely contributed to his sour disposition.

Service record


Born in Oklahomayard
Graduates from Annapolis, standing 47 in a class of 199

Completes flight training
Lieutenant commander     
Executive officer, Naval Air Station Anacostia

Commander, CV Lexington fighter squadron

Board of Inspection and Survey

CV Lexington
Commander, CVE Suwannee

Commander, Yorktown
Rear admiral     
Commander, Carrier Division 13

Commander, Carrier Division 5

Commander, Corpus Christie Naval Air Station
Vice admiral
Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Air

Commander, 7 Fleet

Dies at Sarasota, Florida


Boatner (1996)

Larrabee (1987)

Lundstrom (2006)
Pettibone (2006)

Sakai (1957)

Tillman (2005)

Tuohy (2007)

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