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Portrait: US Navy (USN) Vice Admiral (VADM) Richard C. Gentz (uncovered)

Passing of Rear Adm. Richard C. Gentz, 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 Richard Corbett “Dick” Gentz, U.S. Navy (Retired) on July 27, 2020 at age 85. Dick Gentz entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1953 and served as a Naval Aviator until his retirement in 1991 as the Commander Naval Air Systems Command. Additional commands included VAW-125 and the Pacific Missile Test Center. Rear Adm. Gentz has 4,600 flight hours primarily in S-2 Tracker and E-2C Hawkeye aircraft.

Vice Admiral Richard C. Gentz

Dick Gentz entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1953, where “Shotrod” was known for swimming and being “always ready with a helping hand whenever a friend seemed to be down and out.” He graduated in June 1957 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Naval Science and was commissioned an ensign. Ensign Gentz then reported to NAS Pensacola to the Naval Aviation Basic Training Course. In April 1958 he reported to VS Advanced Training Unit (ATU)-402 at NAAS Kingsville, Texas where he was designated a Naval Aviator (HTA) on September 16, 1958. Ensign Gentz then reported to his first operational assignment at Air Anti-Submarine Squadron TWO SEVEN (VS-27) where he was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in December 1958, serving Line Division and Personnel Officer. Flying the S2F-1 Tracker, VS-27 embarked on anti-submarine carrier Valley Forge (CVS 45) for operations in the Atlantic with Task Group Alpha, conducting ASW tactics development and exercises, served as the recovery ship for the first unmanned Mercury-Redstone program launch, followed by a deployment to the Mediterranean. He was promoted to Lieutenant in June 1961.

In June 1962, Lt. Gentz attended Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey Calif. where he earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science, both in Aeronautical Engineering. In May 1965 he reported to Fleet Airborne Electronics Training Unit Atlantic, followed by additional training at Air Anti-Submarine Squadron THREE ZERO (VS-30). In October 1965, Lt. Gentz reported to VS-32 at Quonset Point, R.I. as Safety and NATOPS Officer, flying the S-2E Tracker embarked on anti-submarine carrier Essex (CVS 9) for a Northern Europe and Mediterranean deployment between May and September 1967.

Promoted to lieutenant commander in April 1966, he reported in February 1968 to the pre-commissioning unit of carrier John F. Kennedy (CVA 67) as Training and Scheduling Officer. Upon her commissioning on September 7, 1968, Lt. Cmdr. Gentz served as Flight Deck Officer for JFK’s work-ups and first deployment, to the Mediterranean in April 1969. In May 1970, Lt. Cmdr. Gentz returned to the U.S. Naval Academy as an instructor in Aeronautical Engineering and Naval Systems Engineering, becoming Chairman of the Aerospace Engineering Department. He concurrently earned a Master of Science degree in Business Administration from George Washington University. He was promoted to commander in July 1971.

E-2C Hawkeye

In March 1974, Cmdr. Gentz reported to Airborne Early Warning Training Squadron ONE TWO ZERO (RVAW-120) for training in the E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft. In September 1974 he assumed duty as Executive Officer of VAW-125, which had just received the E-2C, and assumed command of the squadron in August 1975. VAW-125 embarked on carrier John F. Kennedy (CV 67) for a Mediterranean deployment from June 1975 to January 1976, and was onboard when Kennedy and guided missile cruiser Belknap (CG 26) collided, killing seven sailors and severely damaging Belknap while one sailor on JFK died. In December 1975, VAW-125 was awarded the Battle Efficiency “E,” the Safety “S” and the “Golden Anchor” retention award (believed to be the only U.S. Navy unit to receive all three awards in a single year) along with a Meritorious Unit Citation.  Cmdr. Gentz then reported to the Commander SIXTH Fleet staff as Development Officer, embarked in guided-missile cruiser Albany (CG 10) and homeported in Gaeta, Italy. In October 1977, he reported to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations as Head, Aircraft Cost Analysis (OP-96) and was promoted to captain on January 1, 1979.

In October 1979, Capt. Gentz became Head of Program and Budget Branch (Op-501) in the Office of the CNO, and in January 1983 became Deputy Director for General Program and Planning Division (Op-90B) in the Office of the CNO. In October 1983, he reported to Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIRSYSCOM) as Program Manager for E-2/C-2 aircraft.

In March 1984, he was designated a rear admiral (lower half) for duty in a billet commensurate with that grade as the acting Vice Commander of Naval Air Systems Command. In September 1984 he became Program Director for Tactical Aircraft in NAVAIRSYSCOM. He was promoted to rear admiral (lower half) on September 1, 1985 and received designation as a Material Professional. In May 1986, Rear Adm. Gentz assumed command of the Pacific Missile Test Center at Point Mugu. In September 1987, he was designated a rear admiral (two star) for duty in a billet commensurate with that grade and in May 1988 became the Vice Commander of NAVAIRSYSCOM.

On October 1, 1989, Rear Adm. Gentz was promoted to vice admiral and assumed command of NAVAIRSYSCOM, with the immense responsibility of providing full life-cycle support of naval aviation aircraft, weapons and systems operated by sailors and Marines, including research, design, development and systems engineering, acquisition, test and evaluation, training facilities and equipment, repair and modification, and in-service engineering and logistics support. Vice Adm. Gentz’ career came to an untimely end due to delays and cost overruns in the A-12 Avenger II all-weather carrier-based stealth attack aircraft program to replace the A-6 Intruder, which was subsequently cancelled by Secretary of Defense Cheney in January 1991. Although a subsequent DoD IG investigation determined that cost estimates had not been suppressed as alleged, Secretary of the Navy H. Lawrence Garrett directed Vice Adm. Gentz to retire before he had sufficient time in grade to retain the three-star rank.  Vice Adm. Gentz retired in January 1991.

Rear Adm. Gentz’ awards include, the Legion of Merit (3), Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Meritorious Unit Citation, Battle “E” Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal (2), Sea Service Ribbon, and Pistol Ribbon.

Following his retirement from active duty, Dick Gentz worked for several years in the academic and commercial sector. He was a Ramsey Fellow of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and a Project Manager at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Center in Chantilly, Va. He was a member of the Tailhook Association, Association of Naval Aviation, U.S. Naval Institute, Naval War College, Navy League, and was an officer in the Naval Historical Foundation.

The Family requests that any donations in his name go to the Alzheimers Association or U.S. Naval Academy Foundation.

Rear Adm. Gentz was remembered as a sterling example of a naval officer who loved flying Navy airplanes, and who had a cheerful presence and sense of humor. He served in the carrier airborne ASW community during the challenging days of the rapid increase in capability of the Soviet submarine force and significantly expanded out-of-area operations and contact with U.S. Navy forces. He was certainly a leader in bringing the greatly increased airborne early warning capability of the E-2C Hawkeye to full operational status, and being awarded the “E,” the “S” and the “Golden Anchor” in one year certainly wasn’t by chance; it was due to some truly extraordinary leadership. It is hard to imagine a career path that could have better prepared him for his last tour as Commander of Naval Air Systems Command, and he should at least be remembered for the many programs that went right under his leadership. The A-12 was an immense high-risk technological leap forward; what is surprising is that anyone was surprised that it was costing more and taking longer than originally thought. The A-12 was a 57 billion dollar program that was 1 billion dollars and one year behind schedule (which seems quaint by today’s standards). At the time, numerous major DoD programs were experiencing similar cost and time overruns and to some degree the A-12 was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and Vice Adm. Gentz paid the price. There are numerous lessons learned in the A-12 debacle that are applicable to Navy leadership even today. Whether fair or not, Rear Adm. Gentz was steeped in the total responsibility of command, and retired with the grace and dignity befitting a true leader who loved the U.S. Navy and served it extremely well for over three decades. 

Rest in Peace Admiral Gentz.