Frederick Julian Becton – Rear Admiral, United States Navy

From a contemporary press report

Frederick Julian Becton, a retired Navy Rear Admiral who was awarded the Navy Cross for refusing to give up his ship after one of the most punishing attacks of WWII, died Sunday, December 24, 1995 in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania at age 87.

A native of Arkansas and a 1931 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Admiral Becton was a lieutenant when the war broke out. He was to see action in the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters and would win many decorations and medals for his exploits. The most dramatic came in April 1945, when the destroyer USS Laffey, commanded by Admiral Becton, was off Okinawa on radar picket duty. The Laffey was a relatively new ship but had already been bloodied – in June 1944, when it supported the D-Day invasion of Normandy and participated in the bombardment of Cherbourg, France. Among its scars from that engagement was an unexploded 8-inch shell lodged in the superstructure.

By this late stage of the war, the Japanese had begun to expand the use of kamikaze attacks, the suicidal crashing of armed planes into Allied ships. For the Laffey, the attack began shortly after sunrise April 16 with a formation of four planes. The kamikazes split up to make it more difficult for the crew to keep guns trained on them, and the assault was on. It was to last 79 minutes, and eventually, 22 planes drew a bead on the Laffey. Admiral Becton, wearing a steel helmet and life vest, stood in the open to better see the action. Planes seemed to come from every direction and altitude, he said in an Inquirer interview shortly before the 50th anniversary of the battle this year. Though the Laffey’s gunners and those from nearby craft were aided by US warplanes, some of the kamikaze inevitably found their mark.

“Each time one crashed, there was always a flood of gasoline from the plane – and one hell of a fire,” Admiral Becton told The Inquirer. The guns took out at least eight of the planes, but five hit the destroyer, jamming its rudder and spreading fire everywhere. “Near the end of the action, one of my officers, Frank Mason, came to me and said, ‘Captain, we’re in pretty bad shape aft. Do you think you’ll have to abandon ship?’ “It never entered my mind to abandon ship. The ship might sink under us. We might not be able to sail her. But I wasn’t going to abandon her. “So I said, ‘No, Frank, I’ll never abandon ship as long as a gun will fire.’ ”

Thirty-one crew members died, and the Laffey had to be towed to Seattle, where a newspaper reported that it was “riddled like a sieve above the water line.” The citation for the Navy Cross praised Admiral Becton’s “extraordinary heroism” in keeping his ship afloat and in action.

He was promoted to captain in 1951 and to rear admiral in 1959, and was assigned to the Bureau of Naval Personnel and other posts. When he retired in 1966, he and his wife, the former Elizabeth Hilary Reuss, moved to her hometown of Wynnewood. He wrote a book on his experience – The Ship That Would Not Die – and kept in touch with many former crew members.

He is also survived by two daughters, Hilary Becton Wagner and Julie Bradford Becton. A viewing will be held at 10 am January 3, 1996 at Ardmore Presbyterian Church, Montgomery Avenue and Mill Creek Road; a service will follow at 11 am. Burial will be 11 am January 4, 1996 at Arlington National Cemetery.


  • Rear Admiral, United States Navy
  • DATE OF BIRTH: 05/15/1908
  • DATE OF DEATH: 12/25/1995

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