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Passing of Rear Adm. John A. “Jack” Walsh, 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 John Amand “Jack” Walsh, U.S. Navy (Retired) on April 17, 2020 at age 96 after a short illness resulting from the COVID-19 virus. Jack entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1942, and served in diesel and nuclear submarines and senior Intelligence billets during his 33-year career, retiring as the Chief of Staff for the Defense Intelligence Agency. His commands included submarines Entemedor, Dace, Thomas Jefferson (BLUE) and Submarine Squadron FOUR.

Jack Walsh was born in Port au Prince, Haiti in 1924, the son of Navy Captain John A. Walsh. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy on July 10, 1942 with the Class of 1946, which due to wartime graduated early in June 1945. Ensign Walsh was assigned to the new heavy cruiser Columbus (CA 74) which arrived in Tsingtao, China as part of the U.S. Occupation Force as the Chinese Civil War between the Nationalist and the Communists resumed. Columbus also participated in the sinking of 24 Japanese submarines that had been surrendered at the end of the war and were scuttled to keep their technology from the Soviets. In 1946, Ensign Walsh was selected for submarine duty and reported to Carp (SS 338) out of San Diego, conducting one simulated war patrol to the Far East as well as two under ice incursions in the Arctic, among the earliest such operations.

In June 1948, Lieutenant (junior grade) Walsh reported to Halfbeak (SS-352) a new-design snorkel submarine assigned to the Research and Development Group at New London, testing special underwater sound equipment, and conducting winter operations near Jan Mayen Island in the northern Norwegian Sea. In December 1952, Lieutenant Walsh attended the Naval Intelligence School in Washington, D.C. for instruction that included Italian language. In June 1954 he became the Assistant U.S. Naval Attache in Rome, where among other things he was involved in the negotiations with Swiss inventor August Piccard for the U.S. Navy acquisition of the bathyscaph Trieste (which later went to the deepest part of the ocean in 1960).

In October 1955, Lieutenant Walsh was assigned as the Executive Officer on submarine Tench (SS 417) operating from New London on periodic fleet exercises and as a training submarine. In March 1957 he assumed duty as the Intelligence Officer for Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, and was promoted to lieutenant commander in April 1957. In April 1957, Lt. Cmdr. Walsh assumed command of submarine Entemedor (SS 340) out of New London, deploying to England for a large-scale exercise and also providing target services for ASW Task Force Alpha along the U.S. East Coast.

In November 1960, Lt. Cmdr. Walsh reported to Washington, D.C. after being selected for nuclear power training and was assigned under instruction to the Director Naval Reactors, Atomic Energy Commission, and the Chief of Bureau of Ships for Nuclear Propulsion. Promoted to commander in July 1961, he was subsequently assigned in December 1961 as the prospective Commanding Officer of the nuclear attack submarine Dace (SSN 607) supervising the construction of the submarine in Ingalls Shipyard, and upon her commissioning in April 1964 became her first Commanding Officer. Dace was assigned to the Submarine Development Group at New London to innovate and evaluate submarine tactics, weapon systems components and sonar systems, and also participated in the Permit (SSN 594) class evaluation project after the loss of Thresher (SSN 593) in April 1963. Cmdr. Walsh then assumed command in January 1965 of fleet ballistic missile submarine Thomas Jefferson (SSBN 618 BLUE) conducting strategic deterrent patrols from Holy Loch, Scotland before bringing the sub back to New London in 1966 for a training and rehabilitation period. In July 1966 he was promoted to captain.

In March 1967, Captain Walsh attended the Institute for Defense Analysis, Arlington and earned a Master of Arts in Economics from the University of Maryland. In August 1968, Capt. Walsh was assigned to the Office of the CNO as Assistant for Anti-Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles Plans and Studies, Plans and Policy Division, Office of the Director for Anti-Submarine Warfare Programs.

In August 1970, Capt. Walsh assumed duty as Commodore of Submarine Squadron FOUR (SUBRON 4, “The Swamp Fox” Squadron) operating nuclear fast attack submarines out of Charleston, S.C., for which he was awarded a Legion of Merit in 1972. In January 1973, he was briefly the Chief of Staff and Senior Aide for Commander, Anti-Submarine Warfare Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet before the next month assuming the same position for Commander, SECOND Fleet in Norfolk, Va. after the two staffs merged.

In March 1974, Capt. Walsh was assigned as the Deputy Director of Intelligence for Commander-in-Chief, European Command, an in April 1974 was designated a rear admiral while serving in a billet commensurate with that grade. He was promoted to Rear Admiral in July 1974. In August 1975, Rear Adm. Walsh reported to the National Security Agency/Central Security Service at Fort George G. Meade, Md. as Assistant Director for Plans and Resources. He subsequently served as Chief of Staff for the Defense Intelligence Agency. (I do not have his exact date of retirement but estimate it to be 1978.)

Rear Adm. Walsh’s Awards include the Legion of Merit, China Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Asia-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Navy Occupation Service Medal Asia, National Defense Service Medal (2). (This list probably does not include his last awards.)

Following his retirement from active duty, Jack served for ten years as Vice President at New England Electric and settled in Framingham, Mass. where he was active in the Framingham Historical Society and other civic organizations. He will be interred with his wife Sheila (who predeceased him in 2015) at Arlington National Cemetery.

With 50-60 years remove, it is difficult today to grasp the sense of existential threat posed by the Soviet Union, and the hair-trigger risk of nuclear annihilation, in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. This resulted in a sense of extreme urgency in the U.S. submarine force to maintain an advantage over rapidly improving Soviet submarine capability and the necessity of accepting risk that would be unthinkable today. Submarine operations have always been inherently dangerous and the 1960’s were particularly so with the loss of Thresher and Scorpion. Much of Jack Walsh’s career was devoted to improved U.S. submarine tactics and safety, as well as to countering the Soviet Union through improved Anti-Submarine Warfare capability, and through some of the most sensitive and effective Intelligence collection operations. The actions of Jack Walsh contributed significantly to the safety of the United States during these tense times and in ultimately bringing about the end of the Cold War. He served our nation with courage and intellect, and his superb leadership ability truly made a difference.

Rest in Peace Admiral Walsh.