Random Thoughts

Paying attention to Vets who never came home

... Captain John R. Alvord, USMC Air Corps

from Donald F. Morrison, MHS '49.

With May comes Memorial Day, and some memories of its celebration in Melrose in
the mid-1940s. The morning began with the parade to Wyoming Cemetery: The MHS
band, the older veterans riding in convertibles, Boy Scouts marching out of
step, an orator declaiming loudly at the graveyard ceremony. We are reminded of
individual veterans we knew, particularly those who never returned from their
war. John Robert Alvord is one.

The Alvord family lived on the next block from us at the northeast corner of
Frost and Hawes Avenues. Professor Henry B. Alvord was a formidable and highly-
respected professor of civil engineering at Northeastern University. His son
John graduated from Melrose High School in 1932 and Northeastern in 1937. Around
that time I had been given a new Ivor Johnson tricycle. John had apparently
applied to a graduate school, and every morning one spring he came over to
Boardman Avenue to see if the mailman might have good news for him. My mother
told how John would push me up the sidewalk on my trike as he waited for the
carrier, Mr. Dillon, to appear.

Whether John received an acceptance is unknown to me. He enlisted in the Marine
Air Corps flight program in 1941, and completed training at Pensacola and San
Diego. He was assigned to Fighter Squadron VMF-221 and a Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo.
On Dec. 25, 1941, fourteen F2A-3’s were launched from the USS Saratoga and landed
on Midway Island. In March 1942, eight more were delivered to Midway for VMF-221.
Later in that spring John was promoted to Captain. Unfortunately, his F2A-3
Buffalo was described as an “antique” badly outclassed by the Japanese Zero Mark
1 “Zekes”.

The Japanese attack group appeared on Midway’s search radar at 05:53. It
consisted of 36 torpedo planes armed with bombs, 36 dive bombers, and 36 fighter
escorts. VMF-221 met the  group at 06:16, swooping down from 17,000 feet to
intercept them, but was severely outnumbered by the Zeroes.  Different sources
are inconsistent in their casualty statistics: John Alvord’s Combat Loss Form
lists 27 pilots of VMF-221 in combat on June 4, with one killed and thirteen
missing; Samuel Eliot Morison’s history volume Coral Sea, Midway, and Submarine
Actions (p. 92) also lists 27 engaged, but fifteen lost. Morison’s text (p. 105)
is still different, with 26 Marine fighters aloft and seventeen missing at the

John Alvord was survived by his wife, the former Nancy Follett of Quincy,
Massachusetts, his mother, and sister Jean. Sadly, he and his squadron members
were lost to the Zeroes because their superior design had been perfected as
Japan prepared in the preceding decade for its imperialist war.
July 6, 2012

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