On January 18, 2022, John Hancock, age 97 and a native of Alma, Ga., peacefully slipped the surly bonds of earth in Athens, Ga. where he and his wife, Ruth Anne, have lived for 22 years.
A charter member of America’s Greatest Generation, Mr. Hancock honorably served his country in the South Pacific during World War II as a member of the U.S. Navy. He was barely 17-years-old and just out of boot camp when he was assigned to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-5) following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His duties were sky lookout and gunner on a .50 caliber machine gun. His first major engagement was during the historic Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 when the Japanese and American fleets engaged in all out aerial attacks inflicting heavy damage on each other with dive bombers, torpedo runs and strafing attacks. The Yorktown crew suffered 42 casualties when she was hit by a Japanese bomb. The Yorktown limped to Pearl Harbor for hasty repairs then returned to sea and engaged in the equally historic Battle of Midway in June 1942 where the U.S. fleet sank four of the six Japanese carriers that had been used during the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the patched up Yorktown could not maintain its normal battle speed at Midway and was sunk after being hit by bombs and torpedoes. Mr. Hancock was awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded by a bomb blast that killed the crew of the machine gun next to him. After he recovered from his wounds, Mr. Hancock completed pilot training and returned to the Pacific as a fighter pilot where he flew close air support and top cover during the remaining major naval engagements in the Pacific theater including the Gilbert and Marshall Islands Campaign and battles at Saipan, Tinian, Peleliu, Leyte, Mindoro, Luzon, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and more. John had turned 21 less than a month before the war ended in September 1945.
After being honorably discharged, Mr. Hancock attended Clemson College on the GI Bill and began a 28-year career as an electrical engineer with AT&T. He remained on flying status in the Naval Reserves and retired as a Navy Captain after 28 years of service to his country. He also retired from AT&T at this time and moved to Jacksonville, Florida where he started his own business, Hancock Bus and Auto Sales. Mr. Hancock continued to fly as a civilian, operated an air charter business at one time, and logged more than 13,000 hours as pilot-in-command of Naval and civilian aircraft. Tom Brokaw came to Athens in 1997 to interview John who is included in Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation.
Survivors include his wife of 41 years, Ruth Anne (Bledsoe) Garrett-Hancock of Humboldt, Tenn.; a sister; five children; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Mr. Hancock had an extraordinary gift of humor and memory that was loved by all who knew him. He told many wonderful stories of a life well lived and always encouraged young people to pursue their dreams.
A celebration of his life will be held on Sunday, January 23, 2022, at 2 p.m., at Bernstein Funeral Home. Immediately following the service, graveside services with military honors will be held at the Military Plaza at Evergreen Memorial Park in Athens.
The family will receive friends one hour prior to the service at the funeral home.
Bernstein Funeral Home in Athens is in charge of arrangements.