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John J. Darnaby Jr., World War II hero and schoolteacher, dies

John J. “Jim” Darnaby Jr., a decorated World War II Marine who later became a career Baltimore County public schools educator, died Jan. 21 in his sleep at Brightview Perry Hall. The former Lutherville resident was 94.

“He was a fine educator and great administrator,” said Robert Y. Dubel, a career Baltimore County public schools educator who was superintendent of schools for 16 years, before retiring in 1992.

John James Darnaby Jr., who was the son of John J. Darnaby Sr., a career Navy chief warrant officer, and Ethel L. Blaney Darnaby, was born in Baltimore and raised on East 31st Street.

In 1933, he drove with his family cross-country to San Diego, Calif., where they boarded a ship to join his father. who was stationed in Hawaii.

While living in Hawaii, Mr. Darnaby, who was known as Jim, learned to speak Hawaiian, Japanese and Filipino, and became a champion swimmer and diver.

Returning to Baltimore with his family in 1939, he entered City College, where he won the state diving championship. After graduating in 1942 from City, he enlisted in the Navy and after completing training as a pharmacist’s mate, was stationed at the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia.

According to a biographical profile, one day Mr. Darnaby was told to take off his uniform because he was being sent to Camp Lejeune, N.C., for basic training as a Marine.

After completing training, he joined the 5th Marine Division and was only 20 years old when he participated in the landing on Iwo Jima in February 1945, in a campaign that lasted 36 days.

“We landed below Suribachi and up the west beach, I ran off the landing craft with a pistol and two medical bags, I felt safe because I usually had a Marine on either side of me, and they felt safe knowing I was there to attend the wounded,” Mr. Darnaby explained in the profile.

He was awarded the Bronze Star for running forward 75 yards under heavy Japanese machine gun, rifle and grenade fire, to rescue a wounded Marine, and with assistance from three other corpsmen, they were able to carry the injured man back to U.S. lines.

“By his coolness and perseverance under fire, Darnaby aided materially in saving the man’s life and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Services,” reads the decoration’s citation.

After the war ended, he served with the occupation forces in Japan until returning to the Bainbridge Naval Training Station in Port Deposit, from which he was discharged in 1946.

Mr. Darnaby enrolled at Towson University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in education. He began teaching math and science at Stemmers Run Junior High School, and in 1951 decided to use the GI Bill and began studies at the New Mexico School of Mines.

During the Korean War, as a naval reservist, he was called to active duty, but when he explained that he wanted to attend Officer’s Candidate School, he was told that he’d have to re-enlist in the Navy.

He instead enlisted in the Army, where he graduated from the leadership school at Fort Knox, Ky., and became a drill instructor at Fort Belvoir, Va. He was discharged in 1952 with the rank of private first class.

He returned to teaching at Towson High School and Parkville High School, and from 1967 until retiring in 1985 was vice principal at Loch Raven Junior High School.

“He was a good disciplinarian at a time when we were putting in a new disciplinary code,” Dr. Dubel said. "He wanted a strict order in school but related well with the students.”

In 1961, he married the former Geraldine E. Colestock and settled in Lutherville, where they raised their four daughters. She died in 2015.

He enjoyed restoring antiques, swimming, woodworking and growing heirloom roses.

In later years, Mr. Darnaby spoke of his World War Ii days.

He was honored in Washington at a reunion of Iwo Jima corpsmen. “They had him sit in the front row,” said a daughter, Leslie Darnaby Richwine, an Annapolis resident, and in 2015, he was invited to address the midshipmen at the Naval Academy about the Iwo Jima campaign.

He was a member of Mays Chapel United Methodist Church, where services were held Saturday.

He is survived by three other daughters, Martha Cahill and Pollyann Howell, both of Towson, and Lynda Ohotnicky of Puerto Rico; a sister, Mary Schaeffer of Haymarket, Va.; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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