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In Memoriam: Rear Admiral Harry Kenneth Fiske, USN (Ret.)

March 9, 2022 | By Sam Cox (Rear Adm. USN, Ret.), Director, Naval History and Heritage Command

It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral Harry Kenneth Fiske, U.S. Navy (Retired) on 4 February 2022 at age 85. Rear Admiral Fiske entered the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) in 1954 and served as a surface line officer until his retirement in 1990 as Deputy Assistant Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) for Surface Warfare. His commands included USS Dealey (DE-1006), USS Bowen (DE-1079), Destroyer Squadron FOUR, and Destroyer Squadron THREE TWO. He served in Vietnam as senior advisor in the 3rd Coastal Zone, Naval Forces Vietnam/Naval Advisory Group, Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) during the 1972 Communist Easter Offensive and was awarded a Bronze Star. 


Harry Fiske was appointed a midshipman in NROTC on 22 September 1954 at Tufts University after graduating second in his class from Pittsfield High School, Massachusetts. He was a member of the Tufts wrestling team for four years, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in geology. He was commissioned an ensign on 4 June 1958. Ensign Fiske’s first assignment was Fletcher-class destroyer USS Cotton (DD-669) for a deployment to the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and Persian Gulf, the ship’s last deployment before decommissioning. In November 1959, he reported to the Combat Information Center (CIC) School at Naval Air Station Glynco, Brunswick, Georgia. Lieutenant (j.g.) Fiske then reported to Gearing-class destroyer USS Glennon (DD-840) in January 1960, operating in the Atlantic out of Newport, Rhode Island. 


In April 1961, Fiske was assigned to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, DC, as assistant placement officer. He was promoted to lieutenant on 1 June 1962. In May 1963, Lieutenant Fiske assumed duty as executive officer on Dealey-class destroyer escort USS Hartley (DE-1029), which conducted Cuban surveillance missions, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) training out of Key West, and a major overhaul and modernization before re-locating to Newport, Rhode Island. On 14 June 1965, Hartley departed Newport and, while entering Chesapeake Bay on 16 June in heavy weather, was broadsided by Norwegian freighter Blue Master, which nearly cut Hartley in two (30 inches from her keel). However, the ship was saved by her crew and later towed into Norfolk (both ships were determined to be partly at fault). I have not been able to confirm whether Lieutenant Fiske detached just before or after that accident, only that in June 1965 he was assigned to Commander Cruiser Destroyer Flotilla EIGHT staff in Newport.


In June 1966, Lieutenant Fiske reported to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in the Strategic Plans and Policy Division as national command matters officer/organization matters officer. He was promoted to lieutenant commander in July 1966. He then reported to the Naval War College in Newport and concurrently earned a master’s degree in international relations from the George Washington University. Graduating from the War College in 1969, he then reported to the Damage Control Training Center in Philadelphia for duty under instruction. In July 1969, he assumed command of Dealey-class destroyer escort USS Dealey (DE-1006) for North Atlantic operations out of Newport. Under his command, Dealey had the highest reenlistment and promotion rates in the squadron. He was promoted to commander in July 1970. 


In February 1971, Commander Fiske reported to Naval Amphibious School, Coronado, California, for duty under instruction. In June 1971, he was assigned as chief staff officer (CSO) for “COMSOSERVFOR.” (I can’t find what or where this command was.) In January 1972, Fiske reported to U.S. Naval Forces Vietnam/Naval Advisory Group, Military Assistance Command Vietnam, serving as senior advisor in the 3rd Coastal Zone and CTF 115.3 Coastal Surveillance Task Group, during a period that included the North Vietnamese Easter Offensive. He most likely earned his Bronze Star during this tour.

 In June 1972, Commander Fiske commenced a training track at Naval Destroyer School, Newport, before assuming command of Knox-class destroyer escort USS Bowen (DE-1079, later re-designated FF-1079), serving as the ship’s second commanding officer and deploying to the Mediterranean August to December 1972. Bowen had the highest reenlistment rate and battle efficiency rating in the squadron. In January 1974, Fiske was assigned as operations officer for Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Group TWO (COMCRUDESGRU 2), before he reported to the Office of the CNO in May 1974 as plans officer in OP-605 and OP-60N. He was promoted to captain on 1 July 1975. 


In August 1976, Captain Fiske was administratively assigned to the Headquarters Third Naval District (New York) while serving as a military fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations. In July 1977, he returned to the Bureau of Naval Personnel for duty under instruction before assuming command of Destroyer Squadron FOUR (DESRON 4) in July 1977. In April 1978, Captain Fiske assumed command of Destroyer Squadron THREE TWO (DESRON 32). In December 1979, he reported to the staff of Commander Surface Forces Atlantic (COMSURFLANT) as assistant chief of staff for readiness. In January 1980, he became chief of staff and aide to COMSURFLANT.


In September 1982, he was designated a rear admiral (lower half) for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank and reported to the Naval Sea Systems Command, where he served as assistant deputy commander, Surface Ships and Logistics Management/ deputy commander, Amphibious, Auxiliary and Mine/Sealift Ships. He was promoted to rear admiral (lower half) on 1 August 1983. He was promoted to rear admiral (two star) on 1 October 1986 and was designated a materiel professional. 


In June 1986, Rear Admiral Fiske as assigned to Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as vice director for Logistics/deputy director for Strategic Mobility and Resources (J-4). He was designated a joint duty specialist in 1989. In June 1989, Fiske reported to the Office of the CNO as Deputy Assistant CNO for Surface Warfare (OP-03). Rear Admiral Fiske retired in 1990. 


Rear Admiral Fiske’s awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal; Legion of Merit (at least three); Bronze Star; Navy Commendation Medal (two awards); National Defense Service Medal; Vietnam Service Medal with one campaign star; Republic of Vietnam Distinguished Service Order First Class; Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Civil Actions Color); and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. 


Following retirement from active duty, Rear Admiral Fiske worked as a consultant and enjoyed his many hobbies, including carpentry, knife-making, gardening, hunting, and wood carving. Services will be held at Arlington National Cemetery at a date to be determined. 


Rear Admiral Fiske served our Navy and nation with great dedication and distinction. His career focused on Newport-based ships whose mission was to escort convoys across the Atlantic in the event of war with the Soviet Union, a very challenging mission as Soviet submarine numbers and capability continued to increase throughout the 1960s and 1970s. His mid-grade shore tours tended to focus on strategic issues. Despite this Atlantic and strategic focus, he took his turn in the Vietnam War as an advisor to the South Vietnamese navy during a critical period, repelling a massive North Vietnamese conventional offensive. While in command of ships and destroyer squadrons, his units were known for high retention and morale, and battle readiness during a period when that was often not the case. In his more senior tours, he played an essential role in the development of requirements and capabilities for a wide array of surface warships, auxiliaries, and sealift ships, some of which are still in service today. As a rear admiral on the joint staff, he played a key role in ensuring logistics capability for worldwide U.S. joint forces, particularly during the period of increased confrontation between the United States and Iran in the Arabian Gulf. His actions played a significant role in the buildup of U.S. Navy capability in the 1980s that helped bring about the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, enabled U.S. success in Desert Storm, and enabled to the U.S. Navy to get through the austere budgets of the early 1990s. His service entailed great sacrifice in his home and personal life, but his service also truly made a difference to the safety and security of our nation, and for which the U.S. Navy is grateful.


Rest in Peace, Admiral Fiske.