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In Memoriam: Vice Admiral David M. Bennett, USN (Ret.)

Oct. 19, 2022 | By Retired Rear Adm. Samuel Cox, director Naval History and Heritage Command
It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Vice Admiral David Michael “Dave” Bennett, United States Navy (Retired), on 9 October 2022 at age 87. Vice Admiral Bennett enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve in October 1957 and served as a surface warfare officer until his retirement in September 1995 as Navy Department Inspector General. His commands included Talbot County (LST-1153), Joseph Strauss (DDG-16), Mount Whitney (LCC-20), Saipan (LHA-2), Amphibious Group TWO (PHIBGRU 2), Anti-Submarine Force Pacific, and Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet. He was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V” and a Combat Action Ribbon for Vietnam War service (five campaigns). Note that he commanded Saipan during Operation Urgent Fury, the liberation of Grenada in 1983. 

Dave Bennett graduated from the University of Illinois in 1957 with a bachelor of arts in fine arts degree. He enlisted in the Naval Reserve on 7 October 1957 and reported for active duty on 3 March 1958, presumably for Officer Candidate School in Newport (not clear from his record). He was honorably discharged on 29 June 1958 and commissioned the next day an ensign in the Naval Reserve to rank from 1 July 1958 and continued on active duty. 

In October 1958, Ensign Bennett reported to the Norfolk-based Allen M. Sumner–class destroyer Willard Keith (DD-775), assigned to Destroyer Squadron TWO TWO (DESRON 22). Willard Keith deployed to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, and Persian Gulf in 1958. In 1959, she participated in the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada by escorting the British royal yacht Britannia with Queen Elizabeth II embarked. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in January 1960. Willard Keith deployed again to the Mediterranean in 1960. In April 1961, the ship deployed to Key West and participated in clandestine actions in support of anti-Communist Cuban forces during the Bay of Pigs operation. These included painting out her hull numbers and exfiltrating Cuban opposition forces from Cuba to Key West. On 25 June 1961, Lieutenant (j.g.) Bennett was honorably released from active duty. 

Promoted to lieutenant on 1 July 1962, Bennett reported for duty on 3 July 1962 as executive officer of Charleston-based ocean minesweeper Notable (MSO-460), deploying to the Mediterranean from September 1963 to March 1964. He augmented into the regular Navy that 31 July. In May 1964, LT Bennett was assigned to the Naval Advisory Group, Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), providing training and advice to the fledgling Republic of Vietnam Navy as combat in the country began to intensify. Following his Vietnam tour of duty, he was assigned to the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) unit at the University of Nebraska as an assistant professor of naval science. In May 1967, Lieutenant Bennett reported to the Fleet Sonar School, Key West, Florida, for training. 

In June 1967, Bennett assumed duty as executive officer of Gearing-class destroyer Furse (DD-882), and was promoted to lieutenant commander in August 1967. Furse deployed to the Vietnam War zone in the summer of 1968, serving as escort for battleship New Jersey (BB-62). Furse received one direct hit on her flight deck from North Vietnamese shore battery fire off Phan Thiet, South Vietnam, on 7 October 1968, sustaining only light damage and one wounded. 

In November 1968, Lieutenant Commander Bennett attended Damage Control Training Center, Philadelphia, before assuming command of Little Creek–based landing ship tank Talbot County (LST-1153) in December 1968, conducting operations along the U.S. eastern seaboard. In April 1970, he reported to the Bureau of Naval Personnel Headquarters in Washington, DC, as head, Surface Junior Officer Assignment Section. In June 1973, he reported to Naval Destroyer School, Newport, Rhode Island, for duty under instruction and was promoted to commander in August 1973. 

In August 1973, Commander Bennett assumed command of Pearl Harbor–based Charles F. Adams–class guided missile destroyer Joseph Strauss (DDG-16) for a deployment to the Western Pacific and off Vietnam after the cease-fire. In September 1975, Bennett reported to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations as head, Surface Combat Systems Training Branch (OP-39). In June 1977, he returned to the Bureau of Naval Personnel as Enlisted Rating Coordinator (Anti-Air Warfare). In August 1977, he returned to the Office of the CNO as assistant for Manpower and Training (OP-901D). In June 1979 he assumed duty as executive assistant and aide to the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Manpower, Personnel, and Training (OP-01). He was promoted to captain on 1 July 1980. 

In April 1981, Captain Bennett commenced a pre-command training track via the Bureau of Naval Personnel and Commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic. In September 1981, Bennett assumed command of Norfolk-based amphibious command and control ship Mount Whitney (LCC-20), flagship for Commander Second Fleet/Striking Fleet Atlantic. In April 1983, he assumed command of amphibious assault ship Saipan (LHA-2), and in September 1983 was diverted from refresher training at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to support Operation of Urgent Fury, the liberation of Grenada from its Marxist-oriented government and the rescue of hostage American medical students. In January to March 1984, Saipan deployed to the North Atlantic, including Blue Nose operations north of the Arctic Circle. 

In September 1984, Captain Bennett reported to the Office of the CNO as deputy director, Military Personnel Policy Division (OP-13B). In April 1985, he was then assigned to Commander Naval Military Personnel Command as director, Surface Officer Distribution (NMPC-41) with additional duty in the Office of the CNO as executive assistant to the Deputy CNO for Manpower, Personnel and Training (OP-01). 

In March 1986, Captain Bennett was designated a rear admiral (lower half) for duty in a billet commensurate with the rank, and the same month assumed duty as deputy commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic. He was promoted to rear admiral (lower half) on 1 August 1987. In September 1987, he assumed command of Amphibious Group TWO on the U.S. East Coast. In October 1988, Rear Admiral Bennett reported to the Commander-in-Chief U.S. Pacific Fleet as Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations/Commander Anti-Submarine Force Pacific. He was promoted to rear admiral (two-star) on 1 August 1990. In December 1990, Bennett assumed command of Naval Surface Forces Pacific. He was promoted to vice admiral on 1 February 1991. 

In November 1992, Vice Admiral Bennett assumed duty as the Navy Department Inspector General, inheriting the ongoing Tailhook scandal investigation, as well as investigating the worst cheating scandal in U.S. Naval Academy history. His report severely criticized Naval Academy leadership and culture at the time (which led to Admiral Chuck Larson returning for a second tour as superintendent of the Naval Academy in order to right the ship). During this period, Vice Admiral Bennett received the Surface Navy Association “Old Salt” award as the longest-serving surface warfare officer, dating from qualification as officer of the deck. Bennett retired on 1 September 1995. 

Vice Admiral Bennett’s awards include the Distinguished Service Medal (at least one); Legion of Merit (five awards); Meritorious Service Medal (four awards); Air Medal with Numeral “1;” Navy Commendation Medal (two awards; at least one with Combat “V”); Combat Action Ribbon; Navy Unit Commendation; U.S. Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation with one silver “O”; Battle Efficiency Ribbon (two awards); Navy Expeditionary Medal (Lebanon); National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Cuba); Vietnam Service Medal (five campaigns); Sea Service Deployment Ribbon; U.S. Coast Guard Special Operations Service Ribbon; Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Citation; Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Commendation (Civil Action color); and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

I have no information on Vice Admiral Bennett’s post-retirement activity or funeral arrangements at this time. 

Described as “just one of the greatest leaders and motivators of our generation,” Vice Admiral Bennett set an extraordinary example of dedication and sacrifice during his illustrious career for others to emulate. His multiple tours in key positions within the U.S. Navy personnel system no doubt greatly influenced and positively affected the careers of thousands of Navy officers and sailors. He appeared to have an uncanny ability to end up where the action was, including the 1958 Lebanon crisis; a clandestine action during the Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba; as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Navy as the war intensified (earning an Air Medal in the process); engaging in gunnery duels with North Vietnamese shore batteries (and taking a hit without dropping a beat); commanding the Second Fleet flagship during intense Soviet submarine operations in the Atlantic as the Cold War culminated; and being yanked out of refresher training to participate in the operation to rescue American hostages and liberate Grenada. In five afloat commands and two shore commands he demonstrated extraordinary leadership. His last tour may have been his toughest, as the Navy Inspector General dealing with the aftermath of the 1992 Tailhook and Naval Academy cheating scandals. He retained his acute sense of integrity throughout—his investigation of the cheating scandal pulled no punches and led to a much needed course correction for the Academy. His quintessential surface warfare career entailed many arduous years at sea away from family in the service of our nation. His influence was profound, his legacy continues, and the Navy is deeply grateful. 

Rest in Peace, Admiral Bennett