John Francis Laboon, Jr., S.J.
Captain, Chaplain Corps, U.S. Navy
In the words of Cardinal John O'Conner, Father Jake was "a man who treated a seaman as respectfully as he treated an admiral." He constantly worked to improve living conditions, and address the needs of officers, enlisted personnel, and their families. "Everyone was sacred in his eyes - a person of priceless worth."
Born in Pittsburgh on 11 April 1921, Father Jake attended Carnegie Technical Institute for one year after high school. In 194O, he entered the Naval Academy, where he excelled in both athletics and academics. In 1942, he was a member of the All-East Football Team, and in 1943, "jumped ship" to Lacrosse, where he was selected for the Intercollegiate National Championship Navy Lacrosse Team, defenseman on the All-American Lacrosse Squad, and participated in the North-South All-Star game. He also served as President of the Newman Club, a Catholic support group.
After accelerated graduation in 1943, he trained as a submarine officer in New London, Connecticut, and upon completion, was assigned to USS Peto (SS 267). During his tour, Father Laboon served as Communications Officer, Gunnery and Torpedo Officer, and Executive Officer. Surviving numerous war patrols in the Western Pacific, Lieutenant Junior Grade Laboon was awarded the Silver Star for his heroic actions on Peto's tenth war patrol.
The actions for which Father Jake was awarded the Silver Star, are indeed extraordinary. Following pick-up of a downed American pilot near the Island on Honshu, the crew was searching for his "wingman". The second aviator was soon spotted, but the water was shallow and most certainly mined, preventing the Peto from maneuvering closer. To make matters worse, they were under intense enemy fire from a Japanese shore battery. The Commander called for a volunteer, and without hesitation, LTJG Laboon dove off the submarine. Swimming throughout the mined waters, he rescued the pilot. This unselfish act underscored Father Jake's character, and set the tone for how he lived his life.....an inspiration, a true hero.
Lieutenant Laboon resigned from Naval service shortly after the end of World War II, and entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) on 31 October 1946. On 17 July 1956, Father Jake was ordained a Jesuit Priest at Woodstock, Maryland.
Father Jake then applied for a commission in the U.S. Naval Reserve Chaplain Corps in February 1957, and in December 1958 was recalled to active duty. Over the course of the next 22 years, Father Jake served in various duty stations around the world, including Alaska, Hawaii, Japan, and Vietnam. While in Vietnam, he was awarded the Legion of Merit with Combat "V" for his fearless actions as battlefield Chaplain with the 3rd Marine Division in April 1969.
Other notable milestones in a truly distinguished career, include the honor of nomination for promotion to the rank of Admiral and services as Chief of Chaplains. The Polaris Submarine Program was also blessed with having Father Jake as its first chaplain. The U.S. Naval Academy was likewise honored with his services a Senior Catholic Chaplain. On 31 October 1980, Captain Laboon retired as Fleet Chaplain, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
After retirement from the Navy, Father Laboon returned to Annapolis to oversee the construction of the Jesuit-retreat facility, Manresa-on-Severn, which was within view of the U.S. Naval Academy he so loved. His final assignment was pastor of St. Alphonsus Rodriquez Church in Woodstock, Maryland. He served faithfully until his death on 1 August 1988, exactly 28 years after his beloved Peto was struck from the Navy list of commissioned ships.
Throughout a lifetime of service to God and country, Father Jake was an extraordinary example of dedication to Sailors and Marines everywhere. His genuine interest and concern for all his shipmates made him the most widely known and respected Roman Catholic Chaplain in the U.S. Fleet. Father Jake's fearless nature, compassion, and determine sense of pride will be reflected in the officers and crew of the ship which bears his name the USS LABOON (DDG 58).