Jefferson Joseph DeBlanc, who shot down nine enemy aircraft during his two tours of duty in the Pacific at Guadalcanal and Okinawa and was awarded the Medal of Honor, was born in Lockport, Louisiana, on 15 February 1921. He enlisted in the Naval Reserve as a Seaman, Second Class on 29 July 1941 and received flight training at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base in New Orleans, for two weeks, before going to the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, to continue his training.
His Naval enlistment was terminated under honorable conditions on 15 October 1941 and he was appointed an Aviation Cadet, USNR, on the following day. Commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve.
On 4 May 1942, 2dLt DeBlanc moved to San Diego to join Headquarters Squadron, 2d Marine Aircraft Wing.
In July he was assigned to the Advance Carrier Training Group, where he remained under instruction until 6 August. He was placed in the new pilot’s pool until he joined Marine Fighting Squadron 112, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in October. Two weeks later he left for overseas and arrived at Guadalcanal on 1 November. He was promoted to first lieutenant on 19 December 1942.
31 January 1943, he was flying over enemy-held Kolombangara Island in the Solomons as a section leader of six fighter planes of Marine Fighting Squadron 112. Their mission was to escort a strike force of dive bombers and torpedo planes out to attack Japanese surface vessels.
Leading his section directly to the target area, 1stLt DeBlanc and the strike force encountered a large number of Japanese Zeros, the premier Japanese fighter aircraft of World War II, protecting the enemy’s surface craft. Immediately engaging the Zeros at 14,000 feet, he aggressively countered their repeated attempts to drive off the Marine bombers and waged fierce combat until he received a call for assistance from the dive bombers which were under attack at 1,000 feet.
Diving to that altitude, he plunged into the formation of enemy float planes and practically single-handedly disrupted their attack, thus enabling the Marine dive bombers to complete their runs on the enemy ships and to escape. His escort mission thus completed, 1stLt DeBlanc nevertheless remained on the scene, despite his rapidly diminishing fuel supply, and challenged the superior number of float planes.
His aggressiveness against these tremendous odds paid off as he destroyed three of the enemy planes and dispersed the remainder. Preparing to maneuver his damaged plane back to Guadalcanal, the lieutenant had climbed aloft and set his course before he noticed two more Zeros closing in upon him from behind. In a short, bitterly-fought contest, 1stLt DeBlanc sent two more Japanese planes crashing into the sea. However, his own plane was so badly damaged in the encounter that the new Marine ace was forced to bail out at a perilously low altitude atop the trees of Japanese-held Kolombangara.
Landing in the sea, 1stLt DeBlanc discovered that he was badly wounded in the back, arms and legs, and that he was a long way from shore. Supported only by his life jacket, he headed for the beach. After six hours in the water he crawled up on the enemy beach, and for more than two days subsisted on coconuts while his wounds went unattended. He was found by a party of friendly natives who hid him and cared for him. The coast-watcher in that locality was notified and immediately attempted to contact the Allied authorities by clandestine radio. After 15 days on Kolombangara, one of the Navy PBY’s (a type of seaplane) landed in the surf off the island and the natives paddled 1stLt DeBlanc out to it in a canoe. He was flown back to his base and to the hospital.
Promoted to captain on 1 June 1943, he was transferred to Marine Fighting Squadron 122, Marine Aircraft Group 11, in July, and his return to the United States followed about six weeks later.
Assigned to Headquarters Squadron 41, Marine Base Defense Air Group 41, Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, Santa Ana, California, he remained in that unit until December 1943, when he was transferred to Headquarters Squadron, Marine Aircraft Group 32. Two months later he rejoined Marine Base Defense Air Group 41. After one month with them, the captain was assigned to Marine Fighting Squadron 461, Marine Base Defense Air Group 43 in El Centro, California.
In November 1944, Capt DeBlanc embarked upon his second tour of overseas service. He joined Marine Fighting Squadron 422 in the Marshall Islands and remained in that area until May 1945, when he flew northward to participate in the Okinawa campaign with Marine Fighting Squadron 212. He continued operating in the Ryukyus until the end of the war, bagging one more Japanese plane to raise his total to nine. He returned to the United States again in October and was detached to Naval Air Station in Seattle, Washington.
Captain DeBlanc’s relief from active duty occurred on 31 December 1945. He returned to his home in St. Martinville, Louisiana, and was assigned to the 8th Marine Corps Reserve District.
On 6 December 1946, Capt DeBlanc stood before President Harry S. Truman in the White House and had the Medal of Honor hung around his neck “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty…”
He retired from the Marine Corps Reserve as a colonel on 1 July 1972. He passed away on 22 November 2007 of complications from pneumonia in Lafayette, Louisiana, at the age of 86.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Col DeBlanc holds the Distinguished Flying Cross; Air Medal with four gold stars in lieu of second through fifth award; Purple Heart; Presidential Unit Citation with one bronze star; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three bronze stars; American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.