Admiral Joseph Mason Reeves, USN

Joseph Mason Reeves was born in Tampico, Illinois, November 20, 1872. His death on March 25, 1948 occurred at the U.S. Naval Hospital Bethesda, Maryland, followed by interment in the Naval Cemetery at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland.

He was appointed a Naval Cadet and entered the U.S. Naval Academy from the 7th District of Illinois in 1890. He was an outstanding football player in his midshipman years. Upon graduating in June, 1894, he served at sea in the USS SAN FRANCISCO, and two years later was promoted to Assistant Engineer and commissioned, the rank being changed to Ensign as of March 3, 1899. Thereafter, he advanced in rank as follows: Lieutenant (jg) July 1, 1899; Lieutenant October 9, 1901; Lieutenant Commander July 8, 1907; Commander October 22, 1913; Captain (temporary) October 15, 1917, and was commissioned regular temporary rank of Vice Admiral from June 12, 1933 and Admiral from June 20, 1933, reverting to his permanent rank of Rear Admiral on June 29. 1936. The following December 1 he was transferred to the Retired List of the Navy.

He was recalled to duty in May, 1940, advanced to the rank of Vice Admiral in February, 1942, and Admiral on June 16, 1942. On December 23, 1946 he was returned to inactive duty status.

In 1896 he joined the battleship OREGON on the Pacific Station, which was at San Francisco in the spring of 1898 when she made her famous cruise from the West Coast around the Horn to the Caribbean. On that occupation he was advanced four numbers in his grade and commended as follows: “For displaying ominous and conspicuous conduct in managing the machinery of the Vessel OREGON, July 3, 1898. (He) so developed the efficiency of the motive power as to cause the attainment of a speed unusual to the ship, thereby enabling her commanding officer to place her in the very conspicuous position that she occupied on that occasion, thus contributing in a very important degree to the success of the OREGON in the battle.”

He thereafter served consecutively in the USS SYLPH, DOLPHIN, and KEAARBARGE until ordered to the Naval Torpedo Station, Newport, Rhode Island, for six weeks’ instruction in torpedoes, and at the Washington Navy Yard until September, 1902, followed by a second tour of duty in the USS SAN FRANCISCO. In July, 1904 he was ordered as Aide on the staff of Commander in Chief, Asiatic Fleet, first in the USS WISCONSIN (Admiral Yates Stirling), and in the USS OHIO (Admiral C.F. Train). When detached in August, 1906, he returned to the Naval Academy for duty as an Instructor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics.

Returning to sea in March, 1908, he became Ordnance Officer of the newly commissioned USS NEW HAMPSHIRE, and in September, 1909 he transferred to the USS CONNECTICUT as Fleet Ordnance Officer on the staff of the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet (Admiral Schroeder). After a year he was ordered to duty at the Naval Coal Depot, Mare Island, California. Again at sea, he joined the USS JUPITER in April, 1913, and after servicing a year he transferred to the USS ST. LOUIS as Commanding Officer, and throughout the year 1914 he served briefly attached to the VICKSBURG, MILWAUKEE, COLORADO, ANNAPOLIS and SOUTH DAKOTA.

In December, 1914 he was ordered as Commanding Officer of the OREGON, and when detached from that vessel in March, 1916, he was ordered to the Navy Yard, Mare Island, California, as Aide to the Commandant, serving until December, 1917.

During World War I, he served in command of the USS MAINE on convoy duty with the Atlantic Fleet. He was awarded the Navy Cross, the citation stating: “For exceptionally meritorious service in a duty of great responsibility as commanding officer of the USS MAINE with the Atlantic Fleet.”

In September, 1918, he transferred to command of the USS KANSAS, and the next month reported in the Navy Department, Washington, D.C., for duty in Naval Operations, Office of Naval Intelligence, for special duty, before reporting for his assignment as Naval Attache in the American Embassy, Rome, Italy. In that duty he served from April 15, 1919, three years. He then assumed command of the USS PITTSBURGH and returned to the United States, thence to the West Coast. On October 6, 1921, when detached, he reported in the Receiving Ship, San Francisco, California, for duty on command, and the next month became Captain of the Yard, Navy Yard, Mare Island, California.

In October, 1922, he assumed command of the USS NORTH DAKOTA, and when detached a year later, he reported in the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. Upon completing the instruction there in May, 1924, he continued on duty on the staff of the college for a year. After he won his wings and qualified as a Naval Aviation Observer at Pensacola Naval Air Station in October, 1925, he was given command of Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet, aboard the USS LANGLEY. In 1927 he had detached duty to serve as Naval Member at the Limitation of Arms Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

In May, 1929, he reported in the Office of the Secretary of the Navy for duty to serve as Naval Member of the General Board, and after a year he returned to command of Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet. In October, 1930, the title was changed to Commander Carrier Divisions, with additional duty as Commander, Carrier Division 2, U.S. Fleet, and in April 1931 was further changed to Commander Aircraft, Battle Force, U.S. Fleet and Commander, Carrier Division 2.

In September, 1931 he became Senior Member, Board of Inspection and Survey, Pacific Coast Section, at San Francisco, and in June 1932 transferred to duty as Commandant of the Navy Yard, Mare Island. He assumed duty as Commander, Battleships, Battle Force, U.S. Fleet, with the accompanying rank of Vice Admiral, on June 12, 1933, and moved up to Commander Battle Force, U.S. Fleet, on July 1, 1933, with the rank of Admiral. From June 15, 1934 he served two years as Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, hoisting his flag in the USS PENNSYLVANIA, the first airman to command the Fleet. He returned to the Navy Department in July, 1936, for duty as Member of the General Board, and from October, 1936 until his retirement on December 1, 1936, he was Chairman of that board. He was highly praised by Secretary of the Navy Swanson as a “splendid officer and gentleman.”

Recalled to active military service, he reported on May 21, 1940 for duty in the Office of the Secretary of the Navy. He served as a member of the President’s five-man board to investigate the Pearl Harbor attack. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, “For exceptionally meritorious service to the Government of the United States . . . as Navy Department Lend-Lease Liaison Officer, from March 1941, to December 1945: as Senior Military Member of the Munitions Assignments board and Chairman of the Munitions Assignment Committee (Navy) . . . and Joint (illegible) Allocation Committee . . . (By his) unusual qualities of leadership and ability in diplomatic negotiations with the senior military representatives of the United Nations, Admiral Reeves rendered invaluable service in carrying out his manifold duties, fulfilling many difficult tasks requiring great resourcefulness in coordinating and processing the requests of Allied governments for military equipment . . .”

On December 23, 1946, Admiral Reeves was ordered relieved of all active duty. He survived his wife, Mrs. Eleanor Watkins Reeves, who had been in invalid for some time before her death on November 28, 1947. He was survived by a son, Joseph M. Reeves, artist, of Los Angeles, California, a brother, H.H. Reeves, of Schenectady, N.Y. and a niece, Mrs. Robert Wood, Patuxen River, Maryland, with whom he resided following his final retirement.

In addition to the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal, Admiral Reeves had the Sampson Medal (USS OREGON); Spanish Campaigning Medal; Victory Medal, Atlantic Fleet Clasp (USS MAINE); American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; and World War II Victory Medal. He also had been awarded by the Government of Italy the Commander of Crown of Italy; and Diploma of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, Grade of Commendatore, for his services in Italy in 1919-21 when he worked with General Nobile in lighter-than-air aviation.

Special note: In 1909, he narrowly missed being retired from the Service because he could not pass the walking test suggested by President Theodore Roosevelt. Admiral Reeves fell short ten miles of the 50-mile hike prescribed. A Retirement Board reconsidered.

Naval biography Division of Naval Records & History, Op-29 20 May 1952

Admiral Reeves & Winston Churchill
Football – Footballers of �94 This picture is historic for several reasons. It shows the intra-mural football team of the class of 1894, although five of the men were varsity football stars, too. The Captain, J.M. Reeves, holding the ball wears the first football helmet ever used in a game. It was made for and worn by Reeves in the encounter from which the team pictured here had just emerged victorious, but not without a few scars. The chap sitting in front center is the American novelist Winston Churchill. Top Row, L-R: Roscoe Spear, Charles Webster, R.C. Moody, Frank Lyon Middle Row: Clarence England, Leland James,J.M. Reeves, A.G. Cavanagh, G.E. Gelm Front Row: W. Pitt Scott, Winston Churchill, C.S. Bookwalter.