In Memoriam: Admiral Thomas B. Hayward, USN (Ret.), 21st CNO 1924–2022

March 7, 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 Admiral Thomas Bibb Hayward, U.S. Navy (Retired), on 3 March at age 97. Admiral Hayward enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as an aviation cadet in May 1943, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1947, and served as a naval aviator until his retirement in July 1982 as the 21st Chief of Naval Operations. He flew 146 combat missions in Fighter Squadron FIVE ONE (VF-51) during the Korean War (including a crash landing due to flak damage), earning a Distinguished Flying Cross. He flew 36 combat missions during the Vietnam War while in command of Air Wing TEN, earning a Legion of Merit with Combat “V.” He served as a test pilot in 1954–56, testing advanced jets that were quite dangerous to fly. His commands included Fighter Squadron ONE ZERO THREE (VF-103), Attack Carrier Air Wing TEN (CVW-10), USS Graffias (AF-29) for a Vietnam deployment, USS America (CVA-66) for a Vietnam deployment, Hawaiian Sea Frontier/14th Naval District/Naval Base Pearl Harbor/Fleet Air Hawaii, Seventh Fleet, and Commander-in-Chief U.S. Pacific Fleet. He served as Chief of Naval Operations from July 1978 to June 1972. As CNO, he turned the Navy around from a post-Vietnam nadir “hollow force” to one that played a key role in bringing about the end of the Cold War. His “Not in my Navy” policy reversed the debilitating effects of illegal drug use, and his relentless push for better quality of service resulted in a major increase in pay and benefits for U.S. Navy personnel and families.

Born in 1924, Tom Hayward attended Glendale Junior College and Occidental College in Los Angeles. He enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve on 17 May 1943 and reported for active duty on 26 October 1943 in the V5 Aviation Cadet (NavCad) program (two years of college were needed to qualify). His goal was to become a fighter pilot in the Pacific, but part way through training, he applied and received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA). He was honorably discharged on 4 May 1944 before reporting to the USNA on 14 June 1944 with the class of 1948 (which would be accelerated due to the war). The USNA Lucky Bag noted Midshipman Hayward’s “abundant sense of humor” and his classmate William Crowe (future Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) later stated, “even then he possessed the marks of an exceptional individual.” Midshipman Hayward graduated on 6 June 1947 with a bachelor of science in naval science and was commissioned an ensign the same day.

Following graduation, Ensign Hayward reported to the aircraft carrier USS Antietam (CV-36), during her three-year deployment to the Far East, operating mostly in the Yellow Sea out of Tsingtao (Quingdao), China, as the Chinese Communists continued to advance against the Chinese Nationalists during the Chinese Civil War. While on Antietam, Ensign Hayward served “R” (repair) division officer, engineering officer of the watch, and officer of the deck.

Selected for aviation training, Hayward detached from Antietam in November 1948, proceeding to Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola and Naval Aviation Basic Training Command (NABTC). In November 1949, he continued aviation training at NAS Corpus Christi and then Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Cabaniss Field, Corpus Christi. In June 1950, Lieutenant (j.g.) Hayward returned to NABTC Pensacola for continued training. He was designated a naval aviator (HTA—“heavier than air”) on 26 July 1950, before proceeding to NAAS Whiting Field, Milton, Florida, for jet training. With training accelerated due to the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, he was first assigned to Commander Naval Air Force Pacific Fleet in September 1950 before reporting to Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron SEVEN (FASRON 7) at NAS San Diego (now NAS North Island) in pool status awaiting squadron assignment.

In December 1950, Hayward reported to Fighter Squadron FIVE ONE (VF-51) “Screaming Eagles,” flying the F9F-2 Panther straight-wing jet fighter. VF-51 embarked on USS Essex (CV-9) for her first Korean War deployment, arriving in the combat zone in August 1951. Flying interdiction missions into North Korea, VF-51 lost four pilots to enemy ground fire. Lieutenant (j.g.) Hayward was forced to make a wheels-up crash landing in South Korea due to flak damage. In September of 1951, a battle-damaged F2H Banshee crashed on Essex’s flight deck, killing seven men. Of note, Hayward’s squadron mate was future first man on the moon Neil Armstrong (who had to bail out over friendly territory after hitting an obstruction avoiding flak), and they became life-long friends. In addition, journalist James Michener was allowed to observe VF-51 and Air Group FIVE (CVG-5) for an extended period, which became the basis for Michener’s best-selling book and the movie The Bridges at Toko-ri.

Essex returned to the West Coast in March 1952. VF-51 then upgraded to the F9F-5 Panther and cross-decked to USS Valley Forge (CVA-45), which then deployed for the fourth time (the most deployments of any carrier during this period) to Korea in November 1952, conducting strikes in North Korea and returning home just before the Korean War armistice came into effect. During Hayward’s two Korean War deployments, he flew 146 combat missions and was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, 10 Air Medals, and two Navy Commendation Medals with Combat “V.”

Promoted to lieutenant in July 1953, he was selected for Test Pilot School and reported to the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland, in January 1954. In July 1954, Lieutenant Hayward assumed duty as a test pilot in the Flight Test Division at NATC Patuxent River. Being a test pilot in the 1950s was statistically more dangerous than combat. In July 1956, he reported to the NROTC unit at the University of Southern California for the Aviation Safety Officer Course. In October 1956, Hayward was assigned to All-Weather Fighter Squadron THREE (VF[AW]-3), which was responsible for training fleet squadrons transitioning to new types of aircraft, including the F9F-6 Cougar, F-7U Cutlass, FJ Fury, F3H Demon, F4D Skyray, A4D Skyhawk, and F8U Crusader. Some of these aircraft, such as the Cutlass and Demon, had the highest operational loss rate of any Navy aircraft since World War II. Lieutent Hayward was assigned as the safety officer and F8U training officer.

Promoted to lieutenant commander in September 1957, he was assigned in April 1958 as the safety officer for Fighter Squadron ONE TWO FOUR (VF-124) the Fleet Replacement Squadron at NAS Moffett Field, flying the F8U-1 Crusader and F9F-8 Cougar. VF-124 was awarded the Safety “S” in 1958. Lieutenant Commander Hayward detached in July 1958 to attend the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Upon graduating in June 1959, he returned to VF-124, which won another Safety “S” in 1959. In December 1959, Hayward assumed duty as executive officer in VF-211 “Flying Checkmates,” flying the F8U-1 and embarking on USS Lexington (CVA-16) for a western Pacific deployment including reaction to a crisis in Laos. In July 1961, Hayward reported to the Pentagon in Washington, DC, as administrative assistant to Secretary of the Navy John B. Connally and to Connally’s successor, Fred Korth.

Promoted to commander in June 1962, he reported to VF-174 as a replacement pilot. In December 1963, Commander Hayward assumed duty as executive officer of VF-103, initially flying the F-8C (formerly F8U-2) Crusader. VF-103 embarked on USS Forrestal (CV-59) for a Mediterranean deployment in 1964–65, unusual in that VF-103 flew both the F-8E and the new F-4B Phantom II. Commander Hayward became the squadron’s commanding officer mid-deployment.

In June 1965, Hayward assumed command of Carrier Air Group TEN (CVG-10), deploying to the Mediterranean embarked on USS Shangri-La (CVA-38). (All CVG’s were redesignated as Carrier Air Wings (CVW), with some designated as Attack Carrier Air Wings, such as CVW-10.) Shortly after returning from deployment, Shangri-La was rammed by destroyer Newman K. Perry (DD-883). CVW-10 then cross-decked to USS Intrepid (CVS-11). Although designated as an anti-submarine carrier, Intrepid was reconfigured as an “auxiliary attack carrier” to bolster the attack carrier force, which was being overstretched by Vietnam War commitments. As part of the transition, CVW-10 was reconfigured to an “all attack” wing of A-4 Skyhawks and A-1 Skyraiders.

Intrepid and CVW-10 then deployed to Vietnam, initially operating at “Dixie Station” for strikes against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam, before shifting to “Yankee Station” in the Gulf of Tonkin to augment the other carriers of Task Force 77. By this time, the air defense network around Hanoi and Haiphong was the most dense in the world, augmented by the appearance of North Vietnamese Mig-17 and Mig-21 fighters. A CVW-10 jet shot down a Mig-17, at that point in the war (pre-“Top Gun”) a comparatively rare event. As the wing commander, Hayward flew 36 combat missions and was awarded a Legion of Merit with Combat “V” and three Air Medals.

In June 1966, Commander Hayward detached from command of CVW-10 to attend the National War College, and was promoted to captain the next month. While attending the National War College, he concurrently earned a master of science degree in international relations from George Washington University. Upon graduation from the War College, Captain Hayward assumed command of stores ship USS Graffias (AF-29) in July 1967 for a western Pacific/Vietnam deployment. In June 1968, Hayward was assigned as the executive assistant and naval aide to the Under Secretary of the Navy, initially Charles F. Baird and then John Warner.
In October 1969, Captain Hayward assumed command of attack carrier USS America (CVA-66). In November 1969, America conducted launch and recovery trials with a CIA U-2R spy plane. America then deployed to the western Pacific for Vietnam operations, including the first combat flights by the new A-7E Corsair II light attack bomber. After four line periods in the Gulf of Tonkin, America transited to the Sea of Japan for a series of exercises before returning to Vietnam for a fifth line period, for a total of 100 days on station, 2,626 combat sorties without a loss, and only one flight deck crash—with no fatalities. America also hosted a visit by the president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos. Hayward was awarded a Legion of Merit for this tour.

On 2 November 1970, Captain Hayward was designated a rear admiral for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank. The same month, he assumed command of the Hawaiian Sea Frontier and concurrently as Commandant of the 14th Naval District, with additional duty as Commander, Naval Base Pearl Harbor, and Commander, Fleet Air Hawaii. He was promoted to rear admiral on 1 July 1971. In December 1971, Rear Admiral Heyward reported to the Office of the Secretary of the Navy as director, Office of Program Appraisal. Among other duties, he was involved in negotiations with the Soviet Union leading to the Incidents at Sea Agreement, intended to lessen the chance of inadvertent conflict between the United States and Soviet Union at sea.

On 26 April 1973, he was designated a vice admiral for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank, and became director of Navy Program Planning in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. In June 1975, Vice Admiral Hayward assumed command of U.S. Seventh Fleet, embarked in USS Oklahoma City (CG-5) in the immediate aftermath of the tumultuous fall of South Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Mayaguez incident. Significant tensions continued with North Vietnam, North Korea, the People’s Republic of China, and the Soviet Union.

On 12 August 1976, he was designated a full admiral, and assumed duty as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, with additional duty as the naval component commander for U.S. Pacific Command. In July 1978, Admiral Hayward assumed duty as the 21st Chief of Naval Operations.

CNO Hayward was dealt a tough hand in 1978. With the nation still in a “malaise” after the fall of Vietnam and Cambodia, the OPEC oil embargo, and “stagflation,” all the indicators for the Navy—recruiting, retention, funding, readiness, shipbuilding, drug use, pay and benefits, morale, pride and professionalism—were going in the wrong direction. It would get even worse with the continued rapid buildup of the Soviet navy, the Iranian Revolution (and the debacle of the failed hostage rescue attempt, Operation Eagle Claw, launched from USS Nimitz [CVN-68]), and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Navy retention rates had fallen from 65 percent to 45 percent when Admiral Hayward assumed the watch. This was partly due to the end of the draft, but inflation was far outstripping military pay. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military, including the Navy, was becoming a “hollow force.” In a highly publicized event, the oiler Canisteo (AO-99) was unable to get underway because she lacked enough crew. Even before the 1979 strategic document The Future of U.S. Seapower or the subsequent enunciation of the “Carter Doctrine,” Admiral Hayward beefed up U.S. Navy presence in the Indian Ocean/Arabian Gulf (which would prove prescient), but it came at a cost. CNO Hayward assessed the Navy as “undermanned and overworked.” He testified that the Navy was trying to meet a “three-ocean commitment, with a one-and-a-half-ocean force.”

And yet, Admiral Hayward turned it around. His “Pride in the Navy” campaign made significant improvement in morale. His “Not in my Navy” campaign turned around the growth in illegal drug use, eventually leading to “zero tolerance.” His arguments before Congress eventually resonated, and he was significantly instrumental in obtaining the two proportionately largest military pay raises, one in the last year of the Carter administration and another in the first year of the Reagan administration. He obtained the funding to kick-start key Navy surface, aviation, and submarine programs that had been treading water. Readiness began a climb out of the doldrums. When the Reagan administration came in, Admiral Hayward was all-in on the development of the new, more proactive, Maritime Strategy vis-à-vis the Soviets, as well as Secretary Lehmann’s 600-ship goal. The Navy was on a vastly better trajectory when CNO Hayward left office than when he came in. His end-of-career award stated he was “singularly effective in facilitating just pay and compensation for military personnel and in initiating critical building programs to enhance essential naval warfare capabilities.” That’s an understatement. The Navy and nation owe him an immense debt of gratitude.
 Admiral Hayward retired on 1 July 1982.

During his aviation career, Admiral Hayward had 4,600 total flight hours (4,400 in jets) and approximately 450 carrier recoveries. In 1981, he was awarded the Society of Experimental Test Pilots’ James H. Doolittle Award.

Admiral Hayward’s awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal (two awards); Distinguished Service Medal (three awards); Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal; Legion of Merit (three awards, one with Combat “V”); Distinguished Flying Cross; Air Medal (two silver stars and numeral 3); Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V” (two awards); Navy Unit Commendation (three awards); Meritorious Unit Commendation; China Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; Navy Occupation Service Medal (Asia); National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Korean Service Medal (4 service stars); Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Vietnam Service Medal (1 silver and three bronze stars); Japanese Order of the Rising Sun Second Class; Republic of China Order of the Cloud and Banner Second Grade; Republic of Korea Order of National Security Merit Gukseon Medal Second Class; Republic of Vietnam National Order of Vietnam – Knight; Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm; Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation; Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation; United Nations Service Medal; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device. (Sources conflict on the number of Air Medals and Navy Commendation Medals. I went with what he is wearing in his official CNO photo, although the service dress blues lapel doesn’t help.)

Following retirement, Admiral Hayward devoted himself to helping at-risk students as chairman of Ethics Resource Center of America. He co-founded the Voyager Expanded Learning Company in 1994, which served well over one million disadvantaged public school children. He helped found several other companies that focus on reading and math solutions for K–12, masters and doctorates in education, and on both domestic and international distance learning for college and higher education. He served on the Board of Advisors of the Code of Support Foundation, a non-profit military services organization. He also helped establish several Navy-related museums, including the USS Missouri Foundation and the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach. In 2007, the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation named him a distinguished graduate.
Rest in Peace, Admiral Hayward.

In May 1980, CNO Hayward handed Midshipman Sam Cox his commission. I had the privilege to speak with him when he called me a couple times over the last few years regarding some of my previous passing notes. I am grateful I had the opportunity to thank him for his kind words, as well as thank him for his extraordinary service to our Navy and nation.