Biography

John F. Humphrey 1919-2012

John F. Humphrey 1919-2012

John Francis Humphrey was born October 10, 1919 to Loretta Anna (Withey) Humphrey and John Wilfred Humphrey, the first of three sons. John recalled fondly his youth with warm and caring parents, and many happy times on driving trips with his father in particular. From early childhood with his father until 2011 he greatly enjoyed hiking and driving adventures, especially with family.

John's Parents circa 1930s

John’s Parents circa 1930s

While attending Northeastern University (NEU) in Boston,  John participated in a cadet program that led to him getting flight instruction as the U.S. began preparations for possible entry into WWII. He loved the flying and did quite well at it.

Flight Training circa 1940

Flight Training circa 1940

He enlisted as a naval aviator, and got more advanced training in fast new planes like the SNJ-3 in Pensacola, FL.

Squantum NAS circa 1940

Pensacola NAS circa 1941

There he received further training that included multi-engine and seaplanes. His very favorite flying memory was of skimming along a glassy smooth Pensacola Bay in a PBY Catalina flying boat, just barely touching the water.

PBY Catalina

PBY Catalina

After completing tactical battle training in sunny Florida he was promoted and assigned to a PBY Catalina flying boat squadron in the frigid North Atlantic.

John Humphrey circa 1941

John Humphrey circa 1941

Before he arrived on station, the attack on Pearl Harbor led to his immediate return to the Washington DC area, to await new orders. His re-assignment was to Kaneohe, Hawaii flying PBYs for patrol and rescue in the VP-71 squadron. There he was acknowledged for outstanding service, including a particularly dangerous May 23, 1943 rescue mission to help a PB2Y Coronado forced down in the open sea by mechanical problems.

PB2Y Coronado

PB2Y Coronado

He had volunteered to join the new VPB-104 squadron of larger PB4Y Liberator (B-24) four-engine land-based bombers flying dangerous long-range patrol missions far from land. He began training for the Liberator in Hawaii the day after his noted rescue mission on May 24th, then came to Miramar Field in San Diego, California in June for more advanced PB4Y training and practice, forming a new 11-man crew, to help introduce other pilots to that new type of plane, and to ferry one to Hawaii. On July 5 1943 he piloted his newly assigned Liberator with a reduced crew of 6 aboard, from North Island (San Diego) in a 14-hour dark and stormy flight across the Pacific. Only the primitive navigational aids of that era were available, but with his leadership they landed successfully in Kaneohe Hawaii.

PB4Y-1 Liberator (B-24)

PB4Y-1 Liberator (B-24)

As the war progressed and the Allies fought their way closer to Japan, John flew from bases in the Solomons and other islands in the South Pacific.

VP-104 Crew12 (click to enlarge)

VP-104 Crew 12 (click to enlarge)
L. to R. Bottom: Lofton, Hawkins, Owens, Hunt, Weston, Divine, Robinson, Laming
Top: Ready, Heider, Humphrey, Lodato

November 4, 1943 he located and attacked a ship near the enemy base at the tiny island of Kapingamarangi, destroying at least one ship and damaging several of the eight fighter planes that attacked him. His log notes that Owens and Hunt were wounded, and the aircraft (#32080) was so badly damaged by 8 attacking fighter planes that they were forced to land at Munda. The earlier photo above was in front of aircraft #32076, destroyed on the ground at Guadalcanal’s Carney Field in an enemy night bombing raid September 20, 1943.

He and his crew distinguished themselves with so many such courageous and creative missions that he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and helped earn his crew the Air Medal, and his squadron an unequaled two Presidential Unit Citations. This remarkable crew was (in the #32076 photo above): Crew Commander Lt. J. F. Humphrey;  First Pilot Lt. (jg) W. H. Heider;  Co-Pilot Lt. (jg) A. M. Lodato;  with R. M. Weston, AM2c (AB), Bombardier;  J. E. Ready, ACMM, Plane Captain;  D. L. Robinson, ARM1c, First Radioman;  C. W. Hawkins, AMM2c, Bow Gunner;  J. Laming, ARM1c, Top Gunner;  O. L. Owens, AMM2c and B. Lofton, AOM2c, Waist Gunners;  C. E. Hunt, AMM2c, Belly Gunner;  and J. P. Devine, AMM1c, Tail Gunner. For more details see the VPB-104 wiki project page.

His overseas missions completed,  his next tour was back in the U.S. as a test and training pilot in Patuxent River, MD, during which time he went on to marry and start a family.  Within a couple of months after the war ended he left active duty, though he continued to serve in the Naval Reserves for the next 20 years, retiring as a Commander.

1944 Wedding

1944 Wedding

The family lived in Norwalk, Connecticut where John contracted and helped build a lovely home on an acre of wooded land while developing sales and managerial skills at the Northam Warren Company in Stamford.  He had an entrepreneurial spirit and experimented with side businesses as well.

Terry at House circa 1955

Terry at House circa 1955

His courage and creativity continued to shine as he took a leap in 1959, buying a tiny single-employee San Diego packaging company and moving his wife and young family of four girls across the country from Connecticut. Before long, his Custom Box & Packaging Corp. had grown into the premiere company in San Diego producing specialized commercial and military packaging for major companies such as Convair (General Dynamics) and Rohr, Inc. (Goodrich Corporation).  He next expanded the company to also build cabinets for Sony televisions.

In 1963 he even developed and produced the first patented skateboard design, the innovative “Humco Surfer” (featured on Regis Philbin’s San Diego TV show) that won him induction into the Skateboard Hall of Fame and a May 2012 IASC “Icon” award.

5/10/2012 Display at IASC

5/10/2012 Display at IASC

He was a loving and devoted husband and father who cherished his daughters Anne, Terry, Fran and Dori, his sons-in-law John, Lee and Jim, and his grandchildren Erin, Laura and Scott.

1998 Anne Dori John Terry Fran

1998 Anne Dori John Terry Fran

John passed quietly at 7:47 pm April 15th, 2012 with family by his side.  He will be dearly missed by his family and everyone who had the good fortune to know him.

We encourage you to share your memories of John Humphrey in the Comment box at the bottom of this page.

8 Responses to Biography

  1. Anne Wiley says:

    My father was a lovely and loving gentle man. He was accomplished, brave, and kind. I was always proud of him. He was a tower of sweet strength and impressed all who knew him. I loved him dearly and will miss him forever. ~Anne

  2. John Wiley says:

    I remember John Humphrey as a warm and caring father, friend, and pilot. He loved to fly, and was exceptionally good at it. Even more though, he loved his family and friends. I’m honored to have known him and miss him dearly.

  3. Lyn Johnston says:

    Terry, I so enjoyed reading about your Dad’s heroic career in the Navy. I am so impressed
    and you must be so proud!

  4. Jori Manske says:

    So sweet to touch his life and gifts to you, Anne and John, your family, and others!! I appreciate sharing the beauty of his life, and the poignancy of this time of his passing. Thank you for sharing his life so his gentle loving nature can be felt by all of us here. I see that loving nature in you. I love you, dear friends, and am carrying you in my heart.

  5. Jan Rudestam says:

    Anne, I read the biography of your father with great interest. He was a fascinating and creative man, with really good instincts. I can see that many of those qualities were passed down to you. My condolences for your loss. xoxo

  6. Rand Louk says:

    Robb and I both send our prayers to you and Dori and Frans families as well we both loved him very much ! We will miss him very much.

  7. Kathleen Grove says:

    This is such a fascinating biography. I love the pictures and it’s been fun reading what other folks have posted. What wonderful memories he leaves for you.

  8. Chris says:

    I found some orders from December 26, 1941, for Patrol Wing Eight signed by Charles F. Martin (Commander of the USS Pennsylvania in 1944-45- the sister ship of the USS Arizona, and Admrial Nimitz flagship), and on the attachment was a list of US Navy Ensigns being transported by the USS Henderson Among the names is “Humphrey, John F. Ensign, A-V(N), USNR” So by mid-January 1942, Ensign Humphrey was aboard the USS Henderson- heading (presumably) for Hawaii… and that is how I stumbled upon this site.

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