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Passing of Rear Adm. Byron B. Newell, Jr., USN (Ret.)

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 Byron Bruce “Bruce” Newell, Jr., U.S. Navy (Retired) on April 9, 2020 at age 87. Rear Adm. Newell graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1955, serving as nuclear surface line officer for 32 years until his retirement in 1984, having served his last tours as the 14th Chief of Navy Information and Chief of Navy Legislative Affairs during initial years of the Reagan Administration Navy build-up. His commands included Takelma (ATF 113), Charles F. Adams (DDG 2) and Bainbridge (CGN 25).

When he was ten years old, Rear Adm Newell’s father, Lieutenant Commander Byron B. Newell (USNA ’30) was killed in action aboard the aircraft carrier Hornet (CV 8) during the Battle of Santa Cruz on October 26, 1942. The destroyer escort USS Newell (DE 322) was named in his honor and served in commission from 1943 to 1968.

Following a year at Wesleyan College in Middleton, Conn., Bruce Newell finally got the good-enough eye exam he needed to get into the U.S. Naval Academy. “BB” Newell entered USNA in 1950, where he captained the varsity soccer team (and was known as “Nails”) earning First Team All-American as a goalkeeper (blocking incoming kicks was no doubt a skill that would serve him well as the Navy’s PAO). The entry in the Class of 1955 Lucky Bag pretty much presciently summed up his entire future career, “It is obvious that when the situation demands a combination of ability, hard work, thoughtfulness, and personality, the Navy can look towards Bruce.”

Ensign Newell’s first duty was in the Weapons Department of destroyer Lowry (DD 770) joining her upon completion of her around-the-world cruise and remaining on board for a subsequent Mediterranean deployment. In 1958, he became the commissioning Weapons Officer for destroyer Hull (DD 945) deploying to the Western Pacific for SEVENTH Fleet operations. In 1959, Lieutenant Newell attended the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, studying Information and Control Systems, with his thesis “Thermoplastic Recording at Ampex Corporation in Redwood City, Calif.”  Upon graduation in 1962, Lt. Newell assumed command of the World War II and Korea-veteran towing and salvage ship Takelma (ATF 113) based at Pearl Harbor.

Following his first command tour, Lieutenant Commander Newell commenced nuclear power training and then subsequently served for three years as Executive Officer at the Submarine and Destroyer Nuclear Propulsion Prototype Training Facility at Ballston Spa, N.Y. In 1968, Commander Newell served for three years as the Executive Officer on the new construction nuclear powered guided missile cruiser Truxton (CGN 35) for three deployments to Vietnam, operating with carriers at Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin and also including operations with nuclear carrier Enterprise (CVA(N) 65) in the Sea of Japan in reaction to the North Korean seizure of the intelligence collection ship Pueblo (AGER 2) as well as operations in the Taiwan Strait.

In 1971, Cmdr. Newell assumed command of guided missile destroyer Charles F. Adams serving in the multi-national Standing Naval Force NATO, operating mostly in European waters with other NATO ships for most of the six-month deployment. In 1973, Cmdr. Newell then served a one-year tour in Naval Recruiting Command in Washington, D.C., as Head of Promotions, where he was responsible for promoting the Navy around the country as an “all-volunteer” force, with the end of the draft that year. 

In 1974, Captain Newell commenced Naval Reactors training before assuming command of nuclear guided missile destroyer-leader Bainbridge (DLGN 25) for a 38-month command tour that included an Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf deployment and a nuclear core replacement at Bremerton, during which she was re-designated as a nuclear guided missile cruiser (CGN 25). In 1977, Capt. Newell returned to Washington, D.C. in the Office of the CNO as Director of Surface Manpower and Training Division (OP-39) where he led a major post-Vietnam overhaul of Navy manning and training policy.

Selected to Rear Admiral in 1979, he served a one-year tour as Deputy Director for Operations in the  National Military Command Center in the Pentagon. In August 1980, Rear Adm. Newell then became the 14th Chief of the U.S. Navy Office of Information (CHINFO) working to support Secretary of the Navy John Lehman’s ambitious plans for a 600-ship Navy, 15 carrier battlegroups, strategic homeporting, and an “in-the-Soviets’-face” Maritime Strategy, all of which were pushed through despite considerable skepticism from some members of Congress, the persuasion of which became Rear Adm. Newell’s next assignment in 1982 as the Chief of Navy Legislative Affairs. Rear Adm. Newell’s success was recognized with the award of the Navy Distinguished Service Medal upon his retirement in 1984.

Rear Adm. Newell’s awards (based on a photo) include, the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal (2), Navy Commendation Medal (2), Meritorious Unit Commendation, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, (a medal I don’t recognize and can’t find on a chart), and a Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Following his retirement from active duty, Rear Adm. Newell entered the ministry, graduating from Virginia Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity degree in 1987, and later serving for six years as the Dean for Operations and Development at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa. After 2006, he continued writing on religious topics and also served as a substitute teacher. Rear Adm. Newell’s extended family could make up their own chapter of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association, with his brother, Captain John Newell (USNA ’57), two uncles (’34 and ‘48A), son-in-law (’80), granddaughter (’18) and nephew (’21). His son Robert graduated from NROTC Auburn, retiring in 2009 as a captain and the Deputy Director of CHINFO.

During his time on active duty in the U.S. Navy, Bruce Newell was a credit to his father’s legacy of service and sacrifice on behalf of our nation. With long times at sea, long deployments, and long tours as XO and CO of America’s premier front-line nuclear cruisers (the long tours characteristic of “Nuke SWOs” to get the most out of the extensive training pipeline) he sacrificed much time with family to serve. He took on tough tasks, such as transitioning Navy recruiting from a draft-based model to an all-volunteer force. Perhaps his toughest task was as CHINFO and OLA, keeping up with the hard-charging Secretary of the Navy John Lehman as he broke lots of china in creating a revitalized U.S. Navy that literally caused the Soviets to blink. It was no easy feat getting Congress and much of the American public to go along due to the disillusion of the outcome of the Vietnam War, where Bruce also served with honor and distinction. He had a pair of cufflinks with the engraved phrase “Truth Well Told” which characterized his service as CHINFO and serves as an ideal not only for the Public Affairs Community, but for the entire U.S. Navy, and the entire nation for that matter. He truly made a difference and his legacy in the U.S. Navy will live on.

Rest in Peace Admiral Newell.