John Dale Price (1892–1957)

John Dale Price was a pioneering naval aviator who made the first ever night landings on an aircraft carrier in 1925 and served with distinction during World War II.

John Dale Price was born in Augusta (Woodruff County) on May 18, 1892, to farmer David Flournoy Price and Anna S. Corley Price. He attended the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) for one year before receiving an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1912. He graduated in 1916 and was designated as a naval aviator on May 21, 1920.

Price worked at the Naval Air Craft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before being assigned to the battleship USS Maryland, which had the first turntable aircraft catapults for launching seaplanes. In 1924, while exploring the feasibility of flying an airplane to the North Pole, he and fellow naval aviator Frank “Spig” Wead set world records for distance, duration, and three levels of speed in an aircraft.

Price and Miriam Johnston were married in 1924; they had one son and one daughter.

On April 8, 1925, Price made the first night landings onto an aircraft carrier, the USS Langley, landing thirteen times to gauge the amount of light needed to land safely. “The first was made with a full row of flood lights spaced 30 feet apart on the flight deck,” the Arkansas Gazette reported later. “The 13th was made successfully with no light but two illuminated wands held by a signalman on the stern end of the flight deck.”

From late 1926 until May 1942, Price “served aboard aircraft carriers, commanded squadrons of airships, ships and naval air stations and served on staffs and in the naval Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington [DC].” After World War II broke out, he was promoted to rear admiral in 1943 in command of Pacific Fleet Air Wing Two.

On January 31, 1944, Price led a squadron of eighteen Coronado bombers in an attack on Japanese positions on Wake Island, flying just twenty-five feet above the Pacific Ocean in order to surprise the enemy. After that successful bombing mission, he led three more against Wake, becoming the only flag officer to win a Distinguished Service Cross during the war. His citation stated that “he brilliantly conceived, planned, and successfully executed four strikes utilizing Coronado patrol bombers against enemy installations on Wake Island.…The outstanding results of these attacks greatly contributed to the success of the major operations” against Japanese forces in the Pacific Theater.

He was also awarded the Legion of Merit with V device and the Navy Cross for his leadership of Pacific Fleet Air Wing Two.

In April 1945, Price took command of Pacific Fleet Air Wing One and was the first to use the “Bat,” described as “the first fully automatic guided missile used in combat by any nation.” After the U.S. victory over Japan, he served as the first military governor of Okinawa.

Price was promoted to vice admiral in August 1946 and was in charge of the Pacific Fleet’s air forces in 1947 before becoming the deputy chief for Naval Operations for Air in January 1948. In May 1949, he was assigned as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, the second highest post in the navy. After serving in that position for a year, Price became chief of Naval Air Training, a post he held until retiring on June 1, 1954, as a full admiral after thirty-eight years in the navy.

Price and his wife moved to California, where he served as a technical consultant on the movies Mr. Roberts (1955) and The Wings of Eagles (1957); the 1957 film featured John Wayne playing “Spig” Wead and Ken Curtis portraying Price.

Price died on December 18, 1957. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

For additional information:
“ADM John Daile Price (1892–1957).” Find a Grave. (accessed November 7, 2023).

“ADM John Dale Price.” Military Hall of Honor. (accessed November 7, 2023).

“Admiral John Dale Price, Pioneer Naval Aviator, Dies.” Arkansas Gazette, December 19, 1957, p. 1B.

“Citation for Admiral from Arkansas.” Arkansas Gazette, April 25, 1944, p. 10.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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