Home / Editors Picks / Passing of Rear Adm. Paul H. Engel, USN (Ret.)

Passing of Rear Adm. Paul H. Engel, 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 Paul Huber Engel, U.S. Navy (Retired) on May 11, 2020 at age 92. Paul entered the “Flying Midshipman” Program in 1946 and served as a Naval Aviator until his retirement in 1980 as Deputy Commander for Plans, Programs and Financial Management/Comptroller, Navy Sea Systems Command. His career included two combat deployments to Vietnam, including as XO/CO of Attack Squadron 164, aboard USS Oriskany (CVA 34) earning three Distinguished Flying Crosses in 175 combat missions.

On June 21, 1946, Paul Engle enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as part of the U.S. Naval Reserve Naval Air College Program (also known as “Flying Midshipman”). He attended Jacksonville Junior College and the University of Florida, commencing flight training in May 1948 with a rank of Midshipman First Class. He made his first carrier recovery on the Naval Air Reserve light carrier Cabot (CVL 28) and his advanced qualification in the TBM Avenger on light carrier Saipan (CVL 48). On January 20 1950, MIDN Engel was designated a Naval Aviator (HTA – heavier than air) and was subsequently commended for a night wheels-up landing at NAS Norfolk after an engine failure on May 11, 1950. On June 2, 1950 (after the required two years as a midshipman) he was promoted to ensign.   

 In June 1950, Ensign Engel reported to Air Anti-Submarine Squadron TWO TWO (VS-22) at NAS Norfolk, initially flying the TBM Avenger but converting to the AF-2S Guardian (a single engine aircraft that was the first purpose-built ASW aircraft in the U.S. Navy, which flew in pairs, one with the sensors and the other with weapons). During this tour he flew from several escort carriers operating on the U.S. East Coast including Palau (CVE 122), Kula Gulf (CVE 108), and Siboney (CVE 112) all re-commissioned at the start of the Korean War to backfill the fleet carriers sent to Korea.

In July 1955, Lieutenant Engel reported to the Naval Air Technical Training Unit, NAS Pensacola for instruction in the F-9F-2P, an unarmed photo reconnaissance version of the Panther straight-wing jet. Commencing in January 1956, Lt. Engel served in Light Photographic Squadron SIX TWO (VFP-62) at NAS Jacksonville, FL, flying the F9F-8P Panther and F2H-2P Banshee embarked on carrier Lake Champlain (CVA 39) for a Mediterranean deployment, which included a fire on lighters alongside that carrier in port Marseilles, France on July 4, ,1957, that killed three U.S. Sailors. VFP-62 was in the last jet air group to deploy on a straight-deck (no angle) carrier.

In March 1958, Lt. Engel reported to carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA 42) ship’s company as Strike Ops/Legal Officer, including the evacuation of U.S. citizens from Nicara, Cuba during the Cuban Revolution (that brought Fidel Castro to power) followed by a Mediterranean deployment. In March 1960, Lt. Engel (promoted to lieutenant commander in April) reported to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, where with other “Flying Midshipman” he completed his Bachelor of Science degree in April 1962. Lt. Cmdr. Engel then reported to the Bureau of Naval Weapons in Washington, D.C. as the Fighter Photo Project Officer, where his expertise in photo reconnaissance was utilized in the Pentagon during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.

In August 1964, Lt. Cmdr. Engel reported as Operations Officer for Attack Carrier Air Wing SIXTEEN, under Commander James Stockdale, flying the A-4E Skyhawk, embarked on Oriskany (CVA 34) and was promoted to commander in January 1965. Oriskany deployed for Vietnam in April 1965 during which she launched 12,000 combat sorties, dropping 10,000 tons of ordnance, losing 15 aircraft in combat over North Vietnam, and earning a Naval Unit Commendation. In August 1964, Cmdr. DR Engel became Executive Officer of Attack Squadron ONE SIX FOUR (VA-164) shortly before Cmdr. Stockdale was shot down over North Vietnam.

In June 1966, Cmdr. Engel assumed command of VA-164 as Oriskany arrived in the South China Sea for another Vietnam combat deployment, operating first at “Dixie Station” off South Vietnam, and then “Yankee Station” in the Gulf of Tonkin, flying 7,794 combat sorties, and losing 16 aircraft in combat over Vietnam (two from VA-164). On October 26, 1966, while conducting strike operations off North Vietnam, Oriskany suffered a severe fire that killed 44 personnel, including four aviators in VA-164, including the Squadron Executive Officer, Cmdr. Clyde Welch. During his time in Air Wing 16 and VA-164, Cmdr. Engel flew 175 combat missions, and was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses flying the A-4E in the increasingly effective North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery defenses. He was awarded two personal Air Medals and 17 Strike/Flight Air Medals and a Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V.”

In June 1967, Cmdr. Engel returned to Washington, D.C. to serve as in the Office of the CNO as Assistant for Air Systems to the CVAN (Nuclear-powered Attack Carrier) Program, serving as an aide to retired four-star admiral James Russell and as a recorder on the Aircraft Carrier Safety Review Panel which resulted in the “Russell Report,” an unvarnished review of aircraft carrier safety following the Oriskany and Forrestal (CVA 59) fires, resulting in sweeping changes and enhanced safety. Cmdr. Engel also helped establish the CVN Program Coordination Office, which assisted CNO James Holloway III in justifying the acquisition of the first three Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carriers. Promoted to captain in July 1969, Capt. Engel then spent a year at the National War College while earning a Master of Science degree in International Affairs from George Washington University.

In August 1970, Capt. Engel assumed duty as Operations Officer for Commander Carrier Division NINE, embarked on carrier Ranger (CVA 61) for another Vietnam deployment. On November 29, 1970, 59 aircraft from Ranger and Oriskany mounted a major diversionary effort for the U.S. mission to attempt the rescue of U.S. Prisoners of War held at the Son Tay POW Camp near Hanoi (Operation Ivory Coast/Kingpin). In the largest nighttime operation by U.S. Navy aircraft during the war, twenty U.S. Navy aircraft penetrated over North Vietnam (with no bombs due to current rules of engagement) while others flew off of Haiphong in an a highly successful diversion that confused and saturated North Vietnamese air defenses. Unfortunately the POWs had been moved and the raid, although a “tactical success,” did not accomplish the objective.

On July 1971, Capt. Engel reported to the Office of Navy Comptroller, with a variety of responsibilities, including; Assistant Comptroller for Cost Review and Analysis; Chairman, Defense Economic Analysis Council; Senior Navy Member, Cost Analysis Improvement Group; Senior Navy Member, Cost Research Committee. In June 1973, Capt. Engel returned to flying status as Commander of Training Air Wing SEVEN at NAS Saufley Field, Pensacola and in May 1975 became Commander of Training Air Wing SIX as well, with an honorary title of Commodore. He also qualified as a primary flight instructor in the T-34, T-28, T-2J, and TA-4, and made his last carrier trap in 1975.

In May 1975, Capt. Engel became the Auditor General of the Navy, Office of the Comptroller in Falls Church, Va. and in September 1975 was promoted to rear admiral. In April 1978, Rear Adm. Engel commenced his last assignment as Deputy Commander for Plans, Programs and Financial Management/Comptroller, Navy Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C.  Rear Adm. Engel retired on August 1, 1980.

Rear Admiral Engel’s awards include; the Legion of Merit (4), Distinguished Flying Cross (3), Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with three silver stars and two gold stars (two personal, 17 strike/flight), Navy Commendation Medal with Combat V, Navy Unit Commendation (2), World War II Victory Medal, Navy Occupation Service Medal (Europe), National Defense Service Medal (2), Vietnam Service Medal with three bronze stars, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device as well as the Navy Distinguished Service Order Second Class by the Republic of Vietnam.

Following his retirement from active duty, Paul worked for the United Services Planning Association and as an independent agent working with military families in their financial management. He also served as a military consultant, and as an insurance consultant with Hauck Companies. He also held leadership position in numerous charitable, civic, professional and national security boards and foundations.

Rear Admiral Engel laid it on the line time-after-time in the defense of our nation. Flying big TBM Avengers off small escort carriers as a midshipman (for $78 dollars a month and 50% flight pay) to flying jet aircraft off a straight-deck carrier, he excelled and survived the very dangerous early years of U.S. Navy jet aviation. In Vietnam, he led the way into harm’s way, during the worst of combat in the skies over North Vietnam, due to a combination of rapidly improving North Vietnamese air defenses and Oriskany’s deployment schedule that coincided with the best flying weather (better weather equaled more strikes equaled more losses), plus aggressive attack-oriented leadership, yet hampered by counter-productive rules of engagement. (Air Wing 16 on Oriskany, suffered the highest percentage of losses of any Air Wing/Carrier in the Vietnam War, but was also one of the most effective.) He was lucky to have survived the tragic fire on Oriskany that killed many pilots as they slept due to toxic smoke inhalation, but his first-hand experience was instrumental in the effectiveness of the “Russell Report,” leading to major improvements in aircraft carrier safety that continue to benefit the Fleet today. In his later career, he was a key role model in the primary flight training of aviators who would fly with distinction in Desert Storm. He also seemed to thrive in the area of financial management, and of course, nothing can happen in the Navy without the money. Rear Adm. Engel set a very high standard as a warrior and leader, and his valor and sacrifice deserve to be remembered.

Rest in Peace Admiral Engel.