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Boston College collection of John J. Shea

Collection BC-2001-058: Boston College collection of John J. Shea


  • Creation: 1917-2002
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1942-1961

Scope and Contents

The Boston College collection of John J. Shea contains correspondence, publications, clippings, photographs, artifacts, and ephemera related to the World War II service of naval Commander John J. Shea. Materials primarily document the 1942 letter written to Shea’s young son, Jackie, and commemorations of Shea, including the 1961 dedication of Shea Field at Boston College. The collection contains the original “Letter to Jackie” as well as reproductions in pamphlets and periodicals.


Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical note

John J. Shea was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on January 13, 1898. At sixteen, he won a scholarship to Boston College and majored in chemistry. Shea was a member of the Fulton Debating Team and played varsity football. He also wrote poetry for the Stylus, Boston College's student-run literary magazine.

Following graduation, Shea enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve Force on June 11, 1918, and reported for duty with the Naval Aviation Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He served at naval air stations in New York, Georgia and Florida. Shea was promoted to the rank of Ensign at the time of his release from active service in April, 1919 and was honorably discharged in September, 1921.

From 1923 through 1930, Shea participated in the Naval Reserve Training Program. From December, 1930 to September, 1940, he returned to active service and was attached to the Naval Reserve Aviation Base at Squantum where he instructed Naval Reserve aviation units. From 1934 until September, 1940, Shea was Squantum's Executive Officer.

In March, 1941, after several months at the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington, D.C., he was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS WASP, bound for duty in the Pacific Ocean to take part in the Guadalcanal Campaign. On June 29, 1942, Shea wrote a heartfelt letter to his five-year old son Jackie. On September 15, 1942, on route to Guadalcanal, the USS WASP was struck by three Japanese torpedoes and caught on fire. According to eyewitnesses, Lt. Commander Shea repeatedly ran into flames to rescue his men trapped within the ship. He was one of the 193 casualties.

Shea's letter to Jackie was printed widely in the Boston area and soon throughout the United States. Commander Shea's sisters were all school teachers, and they used the letter in their classes. It was quickly printed by the Boston Public Schools in a pamphlet entitled "The Letter to Jackie." Magazines such as Life, Look, and Time also published the letter. The values that Commander Shea wanted his son to live by resonated with Americans during World War II, and his letter continues to be reprinted.


Newspaper and magazine clippings, box 1, folder 11, Boston College collection of John J. Shea, BC.2001.058, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

"Commander John J. Shea, U.S. Navy, Deceased," prepared by Navy Office of Information, box 1, folder 24, Boston College collection of John J. Shea, BC.2001.058, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


3.75 Linear Feet (3 containers)

Language of Materials



This collection concerns the life and naval service of Boston College alumnus and Commander John J. Shea, particularly during World War II. Materials include correspondence, publications, press releases, clippings, photographs, artifacts, and ephemera. Commemorations of Shea’s life and military service are also included.


Arranged into three series: I. "Letter to Jackie"; II. Personal; and III. John J. Shea Field at Boston College.


Collection assembeled from gifts received by Boston College University Historian Thomas H. O'Connor (2001), as well as a single gift from Tyrone Maddox (2003).

  • Photocopies from Sub Turri and "Boston College in the World War, 1917-1918". Duplicate publications and photographs.
Boston College collection of John J. Shea
1917-2002 (bulk 1942-1961)
Edward B. Copenhagen, 2003, and Anne-Marie Anderson. Revised by Elizabeth Peters, 2022.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2022-09-07: Rearranged into three series by content rather than form. Title changed from "Commander John J. Shea collection" to comply with department policies for honorifics.

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States