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 Vice Admiral Douglas C. Plate, U.S. Navy (Retired) on December 21, 2020 at age 100. Below is what I wrote on the occasion of his 100th Birthday last July.
It is with great pleasure I inform you that Vice Adm. Douglas Caulfied Plate, U.S. Navy (Retired) is about to celebrate his 100th Birthday on July 20, 2020. Vice Adm. Plate entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1938 and served as a Surface Line Officer until his retirement in 1975 as Deputy and Chief of Staff for Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. During World War II he served aboard the light cruiser USS Savannah (CL 42) during the landings in French Morocco (Operation Torch) Sicily and was aboard during the landings at Salerno, Italy when Savannah was hit and severely damaged (197 dead) by a German Fritz-X radio-controlled glide bomb (the first precision guided munition used in combat). He then served aboard the battleship USS Missouri during bombardments of Iwo Jima, Okinawa, the Japanese home islands and kamikaze attacks and was aboard for the Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. His many commands included Everrett F. Larson (DDR 830), Mitscher (DL 2) Richmond K. Turner (DLG 20), Naval Destroyer School, Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla TWO, Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla TEN, Atlantic Fleet Mine Force, Pacific Fleet Cruiser-Destroyer Force, and SECOND Fleet.
After Graduation from the Choate School in Wallington, Connecticut, Doug Plate entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1938 with the Class of 1942, where he lettered in fencing and was a member of the Boat Club. According to classmates, “his wit, his harmonizing, and his language all made Doug a grand companion.” With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 graduation was accelerated and Midshipman Plate was commissioned an ensign on December 19, 1941.
Following a short period of training at Naval Operating Base Norfolk, Ensign Plate reported to the Gunnery Department of the light cruiser Savannah (CL 42) initially conducting patrols in the North Atlantic out of Bermuda. Savannah participated in the Northern Attack Force of Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa, in November 1942, where she engaged Vichy French shore batteries. Savannah then conducted operations in the South Atlantic, intercepting the German blockade runner Karin on March 11, 1943, taking aboard 72 German POWs when explosive charges on Karin detonated, killing 11 of 14 members of a boarding party from destroyer Eberle (DD 430), Savannah rescued the three U.S. survivors.
Savannah then participated in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, where her guns destroyed German tanks and halted an armored assault despite having three of her four gunfire spotting aircraft shot down. Savannah was then the first ship to open fire in support of the landings at Salerno Italy on September 9, 1943, again blunting German armored counterattacks. On September 11, 1943 Lieutenant (junior grade) Plate was on duty in the aft anti-aircraft gun director, when a German Fritz-X radio controlled glide bomb came in from forward and penetrated the roof of Turret No. 3 (Savannah had three triple 6-inch gun turrets forward and two aft) went through three decks and exploded in the No. 3 lower ammunition handling room, blowing a hole through the keel. Lt. j.g. Plate was awarded a Letter of Commendation for his actions in going forward and rescuing crewmen and aiding the wounded, despite continuing secondary explosions. Despite suffering 197 dead and going dead-in-the-water for eight hours with inches of freeboard, Savannah’s crew saved their ship.
In January 1944, Lieutenant Plate transferred to the new battleship Missouri (BB 63) with several months training at the Washington Navy Yard before Missouri was commissioned in June 1944, again serving in the Gunnery Department. Missouri spent the next months escorting the fast carriers of Task Force 58/38, but also bombarded Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Lt. Plate received another Letter of Commendation for action in April 1945 as the Director Officer in the forward 5-inch gun anti-aircraft director with credit for downing three of five Japanese aircraft shot down by Missouri that day, sparing carrier Intrepid (CV 11) from being hit. Serving as the flagship of Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr, Commander THIRD Fleet, Missouri continued to provide anti-aircraft protection to the fast carriers but also conducted shore bombardments of industrial facilities on the Japanese home islands of Hokkaido and Honshu in late July 1945. Lt. Plate was serving as Junior Officer of the Watch during the formal Japanese surrender ceremony on board Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, thus ending World War II.
Promoted to lieutenant commander in October 1945, Lt. Cmdr. Plate transferred to Washington, D.C. in November 1945, serving in the Bureau of Naval Personnel as Assistant Director for Congressional Liaison. In January 1948, he assumed duty as Executive Officer of destroyer tender Yellowstone (AD 27) operating out of Newport and deploying to the Mediterranean. In January 1949 he became Executive Officer of the destroyer Johnston (DD 821) deployed to the Mediterranean, including reaction to the Trieste Crisis (one of the first Cold War confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union) and the Greek Civil War (fighting between the pro-Western government and Communist guerillas).
In June 1950, Lt. Cmdr. Plate reported to the staff of Commander-in-Chief Atlantic/Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet (CINCLANT/CINCLANTFLT) in the operations and readiness section, while also serving temporarily as Flag Lieutenant and Aide to the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT). In August 1952, Lt. Cmdr. Plate attended the Naval War College in Newport as a student, followed by two more years on the faculty of the NWC Command and Staff Department. He was promoted to commander in June 1954.
In May 1955, Cmdr. Plate assumed command of radar-picket destroyer Everett F. Larson (DDR 830) coming out of overhaul and a home port shift from the Atlantic to Long Beach, Calif. In August 1956, he reported to the staff of Commander, Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet as Guided Missile and Special Weapons Officer. In July 1959, Cmdr. Plate assumed command of destroyer-leader Mitscher (DL 2, later DDG 35) the flagship of Destroyer Flotilla TWO for a deployment to northern Europe for an extended NATO exercise. He then attended the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF) graduating in July 1960 and was promoted to captain the same month.
In July 1960, Capt. Plate was assigned as the Naval Aide to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Logistics. In November 1963 he reported as Prospective Commanding Officer of new construction guided-missile destroyer leader Richmond K. Turner (DLG 20, later CG 20) and became her first Commanding Officer upon her commissioning in June 1964. Following shakedown and interfleet transfer from Philadelphia to San Diego, Richmond K. Turner deployed to the Gulf of Tonkin in June 1965, escorting several carriers of Task Force 77 as combat operations and bombing of North Vietnam accelerated that year. In September 1965, Capt. Plate assumed command of the U.S. Naval Destroyer School in Newport, Rhode Island. In July 1967, Capt. Plate assumed command of Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla TWO in Newport and for a period held simultaneous command of Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla TEN.
Capt. Plate was promoted to rear admiral on May 1, 1968 and in December 1968 assumed command of Atlantic Fleet Mine Force, for which he was awarded a Legion of Merit. Beginning on January 21, 1970 Rear Adm. Plate assumed command of the Pacific Fleet Cruiser-Destroyer Force, at that time the largest afloat naval command, on his flagship destroyer-tender Gompers (AD 37) in San Diego, Calif. for which he was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal. In August 1971, he assumed duty as Deputy Chief of Naval Personnel in Washington, D.C., during the tumultuous tenure of CNO Admiral Elmo Zumwalt. He must have done well, however, as on July 19, 1972 he was promoted to vice admiral and assumed command of SECOND Fleet/Striking Force Atlantic. Vice Adm. Plate commenced his last tour in January 1973, serving as Deputy and Chief of Staff to Commander, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, with additional duty as Chief of Staff to Commander-in-Chief Western Atlantic Area until his retirement in 1975.
Vice Adm. Plate’s awards include the Distinguished Service Medal (2), Legion of Merit (2), Navy Commendation Medal (?), American Defense Service Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (four engagement stars), American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (three engagement stars), WWII Victory Medal, Navy Occupation Service Medal (Asia and Europe Clasp), National Defense Service Medal (2), and Vietnam Service Medal (with one bronze star). (I’m fairly certain the list on file of his personal awards is not complete.)
After retirement, Vice Adm. Plate joined the staff of The Citadel in Charleston, S.C. as Special Assistant to the President. Admiral Plate retired from that position in June 1981 and prior to “complete” retirement in 2005, served as a private consultant on a variety of civic committees and boards. These included: President of The Charlestowne Neighborhood Association; Chairman of the first City of Charleston Tourism Commission; Trustee/Treasurer of the Historic Charleston Foundation; President of the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association; and Trustee/Treasurer of the Lowcountry Open Land Trust. Admiral Plate was a member of the Carolina Yacht Club, The New York Yacht Club, The Surface Navy Association, The U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association, The Military Officers Association of America and various other Naval and civic organizations.
I don’t know that I can elaborate much on Vice Adm. Plate’s illustrious career of service and sacrifice in long years at sea during World War II and the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union; I think it speaks for itself. As part of the generation that endured the great depression, won the most deadly and costly war in human history, and then kept the forces of Communist tyranny at bay, our Navy and nation today is far better for his service, and we owe him an immense debt of gratitude.
Rest in peace, Admiral Plate.