By: Samuel J. Cox Rear Adm., USN (retired) Director of Naval History, Curator for the Navy Director, Naval History and Heritage Command
It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral Richard Lee “Dick” Thompson, U.S. Navy (Retired) on February 26, 2020 at age 88. Dick and his wife Natalie tragically died when their house burned down. Dick entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1950 and served as a submarine officer until his retirement in 1986 as the Assistant Deputy CNO for Logistics (OP-04B). He made the first east-to-west Polar transit on USS Seadragon (SSN 584) in the summer of 1960. His commands included USS Sunfish (SSN 649) and Submarine Squadron FIFTEEN.
Dick Thompson graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1954 with a Bachelor of Science in Naval Science. His first ship was the USS Brownson (DD 868) deployed to the Western Pacific. Ensign Thompson then entered submarine training in June 1955. Lieutenant (junior grade) Thompson then served on submarine USS Croaker (SS 246) conducting operations on the U.S. East Coast, the Caribbean and a deployment to England for a major NATO exercise. He was selected for nuclear power training, which he commenced in January 1958. Promoted to lieutenant in January 1958, he then reported to the new nuclear submarine USS Seadragon (SSN 582) and served aboard during her Polar transit in the summer of 1960, which included the first submerged transit of the Northwest Passage, and then to the North Pole on August 25, 1960, and then completion of the first East-to-West submerged Polar transit, arriving in the Pacific in September 1960 and then operating from Pearl Harbor. Seadragon was awarded a Navy Unit Commendation during this period.
Following his Seadragon tour, Lieutenant Thompson then served as Director of the Enlisted Course at Nuclear Power School, Mare Island and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in December 1963. Lt. Cmdr. Thompson subsequently served on Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine USS Theodore Roosevelt (SSBN 600) based in Charleston, S.C., conducting multiple Polaris A1 deterrent patrols from Holy Loch, Scotland. He then served on new construction USS James K. Polk (SSBN 645) commissioned April 16, 1966, based Charleston including work-ups and initial deterrent patrols.
In June 1967, Lt. Cmdr. Thompson was then ordered to fast attack submarine USS Sunfish (SSN-649) under construction at Quincy, Mass. He was promoted to commander in July 1969 and was in command of Sunfish deploying from Charleston for three Cold War missions, June 16 – August 26, 1970, and October 6 – December 1, 1970, and January 22 – March 9, 1971. Sunfish was awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation for operations under Cmdr. Thompson’s command. In July 1971, Cmdr. Thompson assumed duty as Deputy Senior Member, Nuclear Propulsion Examining Board. This was followed by tours on the Staff of the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, which must have included some time the Vietnam area of operations, as he has a Vietnam Service Medal with one bronze star in his record. This was followed in September 1974 by a tour as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Personnel on the Staff of Commander, Submarine Forces Pacific, where he was promoted to captain in January 1975.
In April 1976, Captain Thompson assumed command of Submarine Squadron FIFTEEN, operating from Guam. In August 1978 he reported as Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics Management and then Chief of Staff Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic until September 1981, and where he was selected for promotion to Rear Admiral in 1981.
Rear Admiral Thompson then served on the staff of Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces Southern Europe, as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Logistics from September 1981 to July 1983. This followed by duty as the Chief of Staff for NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic in Norfolk from ACOS log from July 1983 to September 1984. He then reported to Washington DC for his last duty station, as Deputy Chief of Naval Material (Logistics) from Sep 1984 to July 1985 (Naval Material Command was disestablished in May 1985 and functions distributed to Systems Commands). Rear Adm. Thompson then served in the Office of the CNO as Assistant Deputy CNO for Logistics (OP-04B) until his retirement in September 1986.
Rear Adm. Thompson’s awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (2), Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Navy Expeditionary Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, and SM, Vietnam Service Medal with one bronze star, and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.
After retirement, Rear Adm. Thompson settled in rural Fauquier County, Va., where he and his wife were known as “icons of performing arts community,” as longtime supporters of Fauquier Community Theater, the Warrenton Chorale and local High School Performances.
Rear Admiral Dick Thompson served our Navy and nation with great distinction, remembered as a great commander and leader who mentored a number of officers who went on to the highest leadership positions in the U.S. submarine force and the U.S. Navy. He was involved in the nuclear submarine program from the earliest operational stages, with key roles in ensuring the safe operations of submarines and nuclear reactors. He served during the peak of the Cold War with the Soviet Union in the vital role of ensuring that the sea-based leg of the U.S. nuclear triad remained undetected and invulnerable, during multiple deterrent patrols, and then in ensuring the Soviet submarine force was vulnerable. The details of these operations remain classified to this day, but they made a great difference in bringing about an end to the Cold War and in ensuring the safety and security of our nation. His untimely passing has prematurely taken a great American, but his legacy lives on in the U.S. Navy and submarine force today.
Rest in Peace Admiral Thompson.