John Joseph Shea, born at Cambridge, Massachusetts on 13 January 1898, enlisted in the Naval Reserve Force on 11 June 1918. At the time of his release from active duty in 1919, he was promoted to the rank of ensign. He was honorably discharged in 1921 and reappointed in 1923. With the abolition of the Naval Reserve Force in 1925, he was transferred to the Fleet Reserve.

In 1941, he was transferred to the Regular Navy in the rank of lieutenant commander. Lt. Comdr. Shea was serving in Wasp (CV 7) on 15 September 1942, when she was torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese. He left the relative safety of his own station to direct the fight against the raging inferno on Wasp's flight deck. Amid frequent explosions and flying debris, he worked to save the carrier. He was leading out another hose to continue the struggle against the fires in a ready ammunition room when a shattering explosion occurred. In all probability, Lt. Comdr. Shea died in that explosion; but, lacking concrete proof of death, he was declared Missing in Action until a year and a day later when he was declared legally dead. Shea was awarded the Navy Cross and Purple Heart medals and was promoted to commander, all posthumously.