Marine aviator Harold William “Joe” Bauer (1908-42), one of a handful of Nebraskans to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II, was also honored by a U.S. Navy ship bearing his name. Although Bauer was not a Nebraska native (he was born in Woodruff, Kansas), according to Bauer biographer Kent B. Brown, he grew up and graduated from high school in Alma, Nebraska.
Bauer entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in June of 1926, where he succeeded not only in his academic work but in football, where he received his nicknames “Joe” and “Indian Joe.” He graduated in June 1930, entering the Marine Corps instead of the Navy. In 1933 he retrained in aviation as a Marine fighter squadron officer.
Bauer was instrumental in U.S. efforts to challenge Japanese control of the South Pacific in the spring of 1942. His job that summer was to train pilots, a task for which he became famous. His leadership talents and teaching ability made him especially valuable to the Marine aviation program during the battle for Guadalcanal in late 1942.
On October 16, 1942, Bauer flew to the aid of the aviation tender McFarland under attack by Japanese dive bombers. His single-handed attack helped earn him the Medal of Honor.
During the final major Japanese assault on Guadalcanal, which began in mid-November of 1942, Lt. Col. Harold W. Bauer’s plane was shot down on November 14. His body was not recovered. At this time Bauer had been credited with downing eleven enemy planes. Posthumous honors awarded Bauer: Medal of Honor, memorial plaque at the U.S. Naval Academy, and in 1957 the naming of a 1900-ton destroyer escort, USS Bauer, in his honor.