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Born in Shelby County, Texas on January 27th, 1922 to parents John Otis Stack (1890 – 1958) and Josephine Elizabeth “Josie” Hughes Stack (1888 -1943), Johnie grew up on a farm in Precinct Six with two sisters, Pauline and Billie Jean. He graduated from Center High School with the class of 1939. In the fall of 1940 at the age of 18 he headed for Dallas, Texas to join the US Navy and took the oath of enlistment on October 9th, 1940.
Johnie was then sent to San Diego, California for his basic training. On January 2, 1941 he was a passenger traveling from San Diego to San Pedro, California on the tanker USS Neches and was then transported to the Battleship USS Pennsylvania the next day. After 11 days as a passenger aboard the Pennsylvania, Seaman Stack was piped aboard his permanent assignment, the heavy Navy cruiser, USS New Orleans. Shortly thereafter on February 9, 1941 he was promoted to the rank of Seaman Second Class and then four months later to Seaman First Class on July 1st, 1941.
December 7th, 1941 found the USS New Orleans docked at Pearl Harbor Hawaii having an engine repaired due to a reported act of sabotage. When yard power went out during the attack, the crew fought to raise steam, working by flashlight, while on deck men fired at the Japanese attackers with rifles and pistols. The crew was forced to break the locks on the ammunition ready boxes as the keys couldn't be located and the 5 inch 25 caliber gun had to be aimed and fired manually without power. The gunners only had a few shells in their ready boxes and the ammunition hoists did not have power making it nearly impossible to get more ammunition topside. The 100 pound shells had to be pulled up the powerless hoists by ropes attached to their metal cases. Every man with no specific job at the moment formed ammunition lines to get the shells to the guns. A number of her crew were injured when a fragmentation bomb exploded close by. The New Orleans suffered only light damage during the attack and no casualties. In an after action report dated December 13th, 1941 the officers and crew were praised for their coolness and steadiness while under attack. The vessel had not engaged in target practice since the June before and due to turnover of personnel fully 40% of the crew had little or no gunnery experience, many never having fired machine guns or big guns before. Although undamaged during the attack, the New Orleans became famous for a phrase spoken by her Chaplain, Howell Forgy. When the New Orleans' power failed, rendering her ammunition hoists inoperable, Forgy boosted morale amongst the crew. Passing out apples and oranges, he told the human chain that was passing shells and powder to the guns that they couldn't have church that Sunday, but they should "praise the Lord and pass the ammunition".
In May, 1942 the USS New Orleans participated in the Battle of the Coral Sea joining the carrier USS Yorktown taskforce. When the USS Lexington was mortally wounded in the battle on May 8th, the crew of the New Orleans saved 580 Lexington crew members. Unfortunately Shelby County Veteran Claude Wilkerson, US Navy Storekeeper 3rd Class who was a crew member of the Lexington was not one of them and he went missing in action that day. On May 28, 1942 the New Orleans again joined forces with the USS Yorktown at the Battle of Midway and played a significant role in the victory. When the carrier USS Saratoga was torpedoed on August 31, 1942 in the Eastern Solomons the New Orleans guarded her passage back to Pearl Harbor for repairs arriving on September 21st, 1942.
The New Orleans then sailed to Fiji early in November 1942 and then to the Solomon’s arriving on November 27th. With four other cruisers and six destroyers she fought in the Battle of Tassafaronga on the night of November 30th, engaging a Japanese destroyer-transport force. When the flagship Minneapolis was struck by two torpedoes the New Orleans was forced to sheer away to avoid a collision and ran into the track of a Japanese torpedo which detonated the ship’s forward magazines and gasoline tanks. The explosion took off 150 foot of her bow. With one quarter of her length gone and slowed to 2 knots (2.3 mph) the ship fought for survival and reported individual acts of heroism and self-sacrifice along with skillful seamanship kept her afloat and under her own power the USS New Orleans entered the small island harbor of Tulagi at daybreak, December 1st, 1942. Shipmate S. J. Hemker who survived the war said in a December 6, 2010 interview “The New Orleans had a crew “of about 500. It was small enough that you knew everybody on board by their first names, everybody knew everybody else. Two hundred and three of our crew were killed. 203…almost half our crew.” The ships log of November 30th, 1942 reports Seaman First Class Johnie F. Stack of Center, Texas was one of those 203 and was listed as missing in action.
The Champion Newspaper of January 14, 1943 reported that Mr. & Mrs. J. O. Stack received a letter from Captain C. H. Roper, US Navy that read “It is with profound regret that I write to inform you that your son Johnie Franklin Stack, Seaman First Class, US Navy has been missing since a recent action of his ship against the enemy.
I feel that it will be a source of great pride to you to know that your son was last seen at his battle station and that his efforts combined with those of his shipmates resulted in loss and disadvantage to the enemy. He conduct could not have been more noble and in his unselfish patriotism he stood for all that is finest in our American manhood. Rest assured that should I gain any further information with regard to your son it will be communicated to you at once”.
Seaman Stack remained missing in action and the Champion newspaper of December 23, 1943 reported that his father received the following letter from Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy. It read “Dear Mr. Stack. A year has now elapsed since your son, Johnie Franklin Stack, Seaman First Class, United States Navy was reported missing in action. He was a member of the crew on board the USS New Orleans which participated in an engagement with the enemy on the night of November 30th, 1942. This vessel was one of a task force which encountered the enemy north of Guadalcanal. During the ensuing battle, which lasted not more than thirty minutes, the New Orleans was damaged by a torpedo from an enemy ship. An almost continuous search for survivors of this battle was made by friendly destroyers and PT boats from the time the action ended to nightfall of the following day. In view of the above facts, the length of time that has elapsed and the fact that no personnel missing from this action have been reported to be prisoners of war, I am reluctantly forced to the conclusion that your son is deceased. Pursuant to Section 5 of Public Law 490, 77th Congress as amended, his death is presumed to have occurred on 1 December, 1943, which is the day following the day of expiration of an absence of twelve months. I extend to you my sincere sympathies”.
On Saturday, May 13th, 1944, the Stack family received in the mail their son’s posthumous Purple Heart and a letter from the War Department. The Champion newspaper of May 18th, 1944 reported the letter as saying “The Bureau takes pleasure in forwarding the Purple Heart and Certificate awarded your son, Johnie Franklin Stack, Seaman First Class, United States Navy in accordance with General Order 186 of January 21st, 1973. The Secretary of the Navy is further authorized and directed to award the Purple Heart posthumously in the name of the President of the United States, to any person, who, while serving in any capacity with the Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard of the United States since December 7, 1941, are killed in action or who die as a direct result of wounds received in action with an enemy of the United States, or as a result of an act of such enemy.” It was signed by G. M. Stoddard, Captain, US Navy.
Seaman First Class Johnie Franklin Stack who was described as being very popular both with his Center High School classmates and teachers is still carried on the rolls of the missing by the Department of Defense and his name is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in Manila, Philippines. Johnie Stack would have turned 93 years old this past January and generations of his family have passed without an accounting. A memorial stone stands at the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery here in Shelby County that reads: “In Grateful Memory of Johnie Franklin Stack, born January 27, 1922 Who Died In The Service Of His Country At Sea, Pacific Area, USS New Orleans December 1, 1943 (Presumed)”. It also has the quote from former president Franklin D. Roosevelt at the top of the page inscribed. Johnie you are forever remembered, loved and honored in Shelby County, Texas. May you always have “Fair Winds and Following Seas”.
(Sources: Pacific Wrecks.com, 3/14/2015; Wikipedia.com, 3/14/2015; Champion Newspaper, 1/14/1943, 5/18/1944 & 12/23/1943; Ships of the US Navy, ibiblio.org, 3/15/2015; WW II Today.com, 3/15/2015; right in a left worldblogspot.com, 3/15/2015; Shelby County Historical Society; Fold3.com)