Born in New York City on August 19, 1911, VADM Bulkeley graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1933. He served tours in USS SARATOGA, USS INDIANAPOLIS, and USS SACRAMENTO. By 1941, he had advanced to the rank of Lieutenant; and in February of that year, took command of Submarine Chaser Division ONE. He would subsequently be ordered to the Philippines in September to command Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron THREE, consisting of six torpedo boats.
After the initial Japanese attack of December 7-8, 1941, nearly all naval sea and air forces in the Philippines had been destroyed, and much of what survived was ordered out to sea shortly thereafter. Defense of the islands was assigned to a few P-40 aircraft and Bulkeley's PT boats, a task made seemingly impossible by the lack of spare parts, repair facilities, and fuel. By sheer determination, he kept his squadron operational for more than four months under these extremely difficult conditions and successfully repelled Japanese landing parties, destroying great numbers of transports, armed cruisers, and aircraft. His boats also conducted operations against land forces.
Although U.S. ground forces withdrew onto the Bataan Peninsula, the situation continued to degrade. At the request of the President of the United States, General MacArthur was ordered to leave the Philippines. On the night of March 11, 1942, VADM Bulkeley, commanding Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron THREE made a daring dash out of Manila Harbor bearing General MacArthur to safety. Squadron THREE continued to operate in Philippine waters thereafter, and would later rescue the President of the Philippines. For his gallantry and leadership, VADM Bulkeley received the Medal of Honor and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander shortly afterwards.
VADM Bulkeley took part in the landings on the Trobiand Islands in July 1943, and next commanded PT boats patrolling the beaches during the Allied landing at Normandy. He would then assume command of the destroyer USS ENDICOTT and would sink two German corvettes attempting to escape the harbor at Toulon during the landing of General Alexander M. Patch's 7th Army on the southern coast of France on August 15, 1944.
VADM Bulkeley's career progressed and he rose to the rank of Rear Admiral in June 1963. That same year, he was named Commander, Naval Base Guantanamo, Cuba. During this period, he went head-to-head with President Castro, as Cuba moved to secure water to the US naval base.
In 1967, he became President of the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey. He served as President of the Board until 1975, when he retired from active duty as a Vice Admiral. He was recalled to active duty and retired again in 1987 after fifty-five years of active duty service. The USS BULKELEY is an Arleigh Burke destroyer and the first ship ever named after Vice Admiral John Duncan Bulkeley.