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Passing of Rear Adm. Edward A. Wilkinson, 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 Edward Anderson “Andy” Wilkinson, Jr. on May 23, 2020 at age 86. Andy entered the U.S. Naval Academy in July 1951 and served as a Naval Aviator, mostly in Patrol and Reconnaissance commands, until his retirement in August 1985 as the Director of the Defense Mapping Agency. His commands included Patrol Squadron EIGHT, Patrol Squadron THIRTY, Patrol Wing FIVE, and Patrol Wings Atlantic.

Andy Wilkinson followed the path of two uncles who were U.S. Naval Academy graduates and took the oath of office on July 2, 1951, with the Class of 1955. He was described by those who knew him to have “spirit and determination who would be an inspiration to those serving with and under him.” He graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Naval Science and was commissioned an ensign on June 3, 1955. Ensign Wilkinson then proceeded to Pensacola for the Naval Aviation Basic Training Course and then to NAS Hutchinson, Kan. in June 1956 for advanced flight training. On December 4, 1956, he was designated a Naval Aviator (HTA) In December 1956, Lieutenant (junior grade) Wilkinson reported to his first operational assignment, Airborne Early Warning Squadron FOUR (name changed to Weather Reconnaissance Squadron FOUR (VW-4) flying Lockheed WC-121 (WV-3 “Willy Victor”) Warning Star (Navy version of Super Constellation) on Hurricane Hunter missions.

In March 1959 Lt. j.g. Wilkinson reported to Patrol Squadron FIVE (VP-5) at NAS Jacksonville flying the P2V-5 Neptune for the first full squadron to deploy to NAS Sigonella, Sicily when the base became operational.  In June 1961, Lt. Wilkinson was assigned to the Headquarters, Potomac Naval River Command, Washington, D.C., while attending George Washington University (GWU). He was then assigned to the U.S. Naval Academy in May 1962 as an instructor in Thermodynamics and Fluid Mechanics, where he also completed his Master of Science Degree in Engineering from GWU. In June 1964, he was assigned as Flag Lieutenant and Aide to Commander, Barrier Forces, Pacific in Hawaii (which consisted of a rotation of five radar picket destroyers and an Airborne Early Warning Wing flying EC-121K Warning Star aircraft providing a seaward extension of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line. The Pacific Barrier Force was disestablished in 1965 and Lieutenant Commander Wilkinson transitioned to Flag Lieutenant and Aide to Commander, Fleet Air Hawaii.   

In August 1966, Lt. Cmdr. Wilkinson underwent training at Fleet Airborne Training Unit, Atlantic, followed by instruction at Patrol Squadron THIRTY (VP-30) Detachment Jacksonville in the SP-2E Neptune. In December 1966 he was assigned to Patrol Squadron TWENTY FOUR (VP-24) as Admin Officer and Operations Officer as the squadron relocated from Norfolk to NAS Patuxent River and transitioned to the P-3B Orion, with detachments flying from Lajes, Azores and Keflavik Iceland, including searching for the missing submarine USS Scorpion (SSN 589) in May/June 1968 (VP-24 was awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation). In January 1969, Lt. Cmdr. Wilkinson attended the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va. where he was promoted to commander in May 1969.

In June 1969, Cmdr. Wilkinson assumed duty as Executive Officer for Patrol Squadron THIRTY (VP-30) at NAS Patuxent River, as the squadron received the first P-3C Orions for training aircrews prior to reporting to fleet squadrons. In February 1970, he became Executive Officer of Patrol Squadron EIGHT (VP-8) flying the P-3A for Mediterranean ASW operations. In March 1971, he assumed command of VP-8, flying the P-3A and P-3B for Atlantic ASW operations, as well as a detachment in the Pacific that included surveillance of a surfaced Soviet nuclear ballistic missile submarine (K-19, Hotel-class) that had suffered a fire. (VP-8 was awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation.) In March 1972, Cmdr. Wilkinson reported to Commander, Fleet Air Wing Atlantic as Special Projects Officer. He then attended the National War College, graduating in July 1973. In July 1973, he was the prospective Commanding Officer for Patrol Squadron THIRTY (VP-30) stationed at NAS Patuxent River, and assumed command of the squadron in October 1973 training aircrew in the P-3C Orion. (VP-30 was awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation.) In January 1975, Cmdr. Wilkinson reported to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations as P-3 Aircraft Program Coordinator, Aircraft and Weapons Branch, Aviation Plans and Requirements Division. He was promoted to captain on July 1, 1975.

 In May 1976, Captain Wilkinson assumed command of Patrol Wing FIVE with additional duty as Commander Northern Patrol Group and Commander Brunswick Section ASW Group, conducting ASW surveillance of Soviet ballistic missile patrols in the Atlantic. In June 1978, he returned to Washington, D.C. as Deputy Manager, Anti-Submarine Warfare Projects for Commander, Anti-Submarine Warfare Systems Project Office. In November 1978, he reported to Headquarters, Naval Air Systems Command as Deputy Commander for Missiles, Helicopters and other Systems.

In June 1979, he reported to the Defense Mapping Agency in Bethesda, Md. as Deputy Director and was designated a rear admiral for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank. He was promoted to rear admiral on September 1, 1980. In June 1981, Rear Adm. Wilkinson assumed command of Patrol Wings Atlantic at Brunswick, Maine, responsible for East Coast Maritime Patrol and ASW aircraft as Soviet submarine out-of-area deployments to the Atlantic and Mediterranean (and Pacific) were reaching their all-time peak. In July 1983, Rear Adm. Wilkinson returned as Director to the Defense Mapping Agency, a major Combat Support Command (now included as part of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency). Rear Adm. Wilkinson retired on August 1, 1985.

Rear Adm. Wilkinson’s awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (2), Navy Commendation Medal (2), Meritorious Unit Commendation (3), and the National Defense Service Medal (2).

After retirement, Andy Wilkinson served as Executive Vice President at Intergraph Corporation for 21 years. 

Andy Wilkinson served our nation and Navy with great distinction as a key leader in the extremely challenging warfare area of tracking and being ready to counter the fast-growing Soviet submarine threat in the 1970’s and early 1980’s by which time the Soviets were deploying close to 200 submarines per year to each of the Atlantic and Pacific, and Soviet nuclear ballistic missile submarines operated in the Western Atlantic, sometimes within close range (and very short time-of-flight, and commensurate minimal warning, for their nuclear missiles to reach U.S. targets). His impact as the Director of the Defense Mapping Agency was profound, and although it may sound kind of benign and unexciting, errors in charts lead to ships running aground, targets being missed, collateral damage and innocent people being killed; it was deemed a major combat support agency for a reason. Andy had a superb intellect and exceptional people skills and leadership. He was described thus, “He was a superb leader, and no kinder or more gentlemanly officer ever wore the Navy uniform. Every minute ever spent with him was a joy and a learning experience.” Few Americans knew that Soviet nuclear missile on submarines could hit them within 15 minutes (sometimes less) but they could sleep peacefully because Andy and his ASW compatriots in maritime patrol aircraft and submarines knew where the Soviets were.

Rest in Peace Admiral Wilkinson.