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In Memoriam: Rear Admiral Isham W. Linder, USN (Ret).

May 3, 2022 | By Sam Cox (Rear Adm. USN, Ret.), Director, Naval History and Heritage Command

It is with deep regret that I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral Isham Wiseman “Sam” Linder, U.S. Navy (Retired), on 22 January 2022 at age 97 (a couple weeks shy of 98). Rear Admiral Linder enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1942 and served as a naval aviator until his retirement in 1978 as superintendent of the Naval Postgraduate School. His commands included Air Anti-Submarine Squadron TWO FIVE (VS-25), USS Cleveland (LPD-17), USS Intrepid (CVS-11), and Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla TWO. He made two Vietnam War deployments as executive officer of USS Enterprise (CVA[N]-65), another Vietnam War deployment as commanding officer of Cleveland, and was awarded two Bronze Stars for these tours. He also played a major role in the development and acquisition of Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. 

Sam Linder enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve on 6 July 1942, before receiving a Secretary of the Navy appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy with the Class of 1947. He entered the Naval Academy on 19 July 1943, graduating with distinction with the wartime-accelerated class, and was commissioned an ensign on 5 June 1946. Ensign Linder was then assigned to the light cruiser USS Springfield (CL-66), as a navigator, deploying to the Marianas Islands and Western Pacific. In April 1947, he was assigned as a student at the Naval School for Electronics Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston. Selected for naval aviation training, he reported in January 1949 to Naval Aviation Basic Training Command (NABTC) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Florida. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in June 1949. He was designated a naval aviator—heavier-than-air (HTA) on 30 September 1950. In January 1951, Lieutenant (j.g.) Linder reported to Patrol Squadron TWO ONE (VP-21) at NAS Patuxent River, where he served as electronics officer and flew the P4M-1 Mercator twin-engine long-range patrol bomber with the squadron’s primary mission of high-speed aerial minelaying. Only 19 P4M-1’s were produced (due to cost and size) and most would be converted to electronic intelligence collection aircraft. Linder and the squadron would convert to the P2V-6 patrol bomber and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft. He was promoted to lieutenant in September 1952. 

In July 1953, Lieutenant Linder reported to the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California, where he earned a master of science in engineering electronics. In June 1956, he attended the Naval Combat Information School at NAS Glenview, Illinois. In October 1956, he was assigned to the staff of Commander Amphibious Group TWO/Transportations Squadrons in Norfolk as aviation plans officer/assistant operations officer (current operations). He was promoted to lieutenant commander in September 1957. In July 1958, Linder was assigned to the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) unit at University of California–Berkeley as a graduate student, where he earned a doctorate in engineering science. 

In January 1961, Lieutenant Commander Linder reported to Air Anti-Submarine Warfare Squadron TWO FIVE (VS-25) “Golden Eagles” at NAS North Island, flying various versions of the S2F Tracker (redesignated S-2 in 1962) and embarked on ASW carrier USS Yorktown (CVS-10) as part of Carrier Anti-Submarine Air Group 55. He served successively as operations officer and executive officer (promoted to commander in April 1962), and made a Far East deployment on Yorktown before assuming command of the squadron in June 1964. In October 1964, Commander Linder reported to Naval Nuclear Power School, Mare Island, as a student, followed by training at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit, Idaho Falls, Idaho. This was followed in November 1965 by additional nuclear power training at the Office of the Director, Division of Naval Reactors, of the Atomic Energy Commission, Washington, DC. 

In March 1966, Commander Linder assumed duty as executive officer for nuclear-powered attack aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVA[N]-65), homeported at NAS Alameda, California. He deployed twice for Vietnam War combat operations in the Gulf of Tonkin, and on the second deployment, operations in the Sea of Japan in reaction to the North Korean seizure of the intelligence collection ship USS Pueblo (AGER-2). He was awarded a Bronze Star for the first deployment and a Navy Commendation Medal (comparatively rare at the time) for the second deployment. He was promoted to captain on 1 July 1966. 

In June 1968, Captain Linder assumed command of USS Cleveland (LPD-7), homeported in San Diego, and deployed immediately to the Vietnam combat zone in reaction to the Communist Tet Offensive and conducting amphibious operations to encircle and destroy Viet Cong units. Captain Linder was awarded a second Bronze Star for this tour. In November 1969, he was assigned to the staff of Commander Naval Air Force, Pacific, before assuming command of ASW carrier USS Intrepid (CVS-11). Intrepid returned to the Atlantic and, homeported at Quonset Point, Rhode Island, conducted extensive operations and NATO exercises in the North Atlantic, and operations in the Baltic Sea and in the Barents Sea north of the Arctic Circle, eliciting substantial Soviet reaction. 

In June 1971, Captain Linder was designated a rear admiral for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank and assumed command of Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla TWO in Newport, Rhode Island. In November 1971, Rear Admiral Linder reported to the Office of the CNO as program coordinator for aircraft carrier acquisition, and during this period served as chief of staff for Admiral Hyman Rickover and as head of the Nuclear Attack Carrier Coordination Office. He was promoted to rear admiral on 1 May 1972. In June 1974, Rear Admiral Linder assumed duty as the superintendent of the Naval Postgraduate School. He retired from active duty in February 1978. 

Rear Admiral Linder's awards include the Bronze Star (two awards); Navy Commendation Medal; Navy Unit Commendation (two awards); Meritorious Unit Commendation; American Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; Navy Occupation Service Medal (Asia); National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Korea); Vietnam Service Medal (one silver and one bronze star); Republic of Vietnam Navy Distinguished Service Order Second Class; Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation; and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. (His transcript was prepared before he retired and does not list probable end-of-tour awards in aircraft carrier acquisition and at Naval Postgraduate School, probably Legion of Merits.) 

After retiring from active duty, he served as the director of the Defense Department Testing and Evaluation Office. In later years, he served as a docent at the Monterey Maritime Museum and along with his wife was an ardent genealogist. He was predeceased in 2021 by his son Bruce, who served 26 years as a U.S. Navy surface warfare officer and retired as a captain. At Rear Admiral Linder’s request, there was no public service. 

Rear Admiral Linder definitely had one of the more unusual career paths to flag rank—I don’t know how many aviators have had command of a cruiser-destroyer flotilla. This would be a lesson to any who want to over-plan their careers: the secret is to show exceptional leadership in tough jobs, bloom where planted, and to do it over and over again, mixed in with a degree of luck. He volunteered to serve our nation at a time when the outcome of World War II was still in doubt, but his selection to the Naval Academy resulted in him missing combat in the war. He nevertheless served multiple arduous Cold War and Vietnam War tours, including two deployments to Yankee Station as executive officer of Enterprise, conducting strike operations into North Vietnam and a quick-reaction crisis response to the North Korean seizure of Pueblo. The was followed by another Vietnam deployment in command of Cleveland during a period of some of the most intense fighting of the war, in which U.S. Marine landings from the sea played an important role. His operations in the Baltic and Barents Sea in command of Intrepid were some of the most audacious of the Cold War, signaling to the Soviets that the U.S. Navy would not be deterred from operating in their back yard (and this preceded the more well-known, in-the-Soviets’-face operations of the “Maritime Strategy” of the 1980s by a decade). He was clearly one of the Navy’s foremost experts in electronics engineering, which paid dividends in his role in bringing to fruition the Nimitz-class nuclear powered aircraft carrier program (Nimitz launched in 1972, Dwight D. Eisenhower was laid down in 1972). He was known as an exceptional leader and technical expert, with a sarcastic wit and a love of history and reading. Rear Admiral Linder served our Navy and nation with great dedication and distinction, and his impact was truly profound. 

Rest in Peace, Admiral Linder