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In Memoriam: Rear Admiral Jon M. Barr, USN (Ret.)

Nov. 18, 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 Jon Michael “Mike” Barr, U.S. Navy (Retired), on 26 October 2022 at age 84. Rear Admiral Barr entered the U.S. Naval Academy in July 1957 and served as a submarine officer until his retirement in April 1996 as commander, Submarine Forces Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC). His commands included Navy Nuclear Power School Bainbridge and Orlando, fast attack submarine USS Sculpin (SSN-590), fast attack submarine USS Boston (SSN-703), fleet ballistic missile submarine USS Ohio (SSBN-726), Submarine Squadron ONE SEVEN (SUBRON 17), and Navy Recruiting Command.

After studying for a year at Cornell University, Mike Barr entered the U.S. Naval Academy on 1 July 1957. Midshipman Barr was awarded the Military Order of Foreign Wars prize for highest standing in mathematics. He graduated with a degree in naval science and was commissioned an ensign on 7 June 1961. Selected for submarine duty and the Naval Nuclear Power Program, he reported to the Naval Submarine School in New London, followed in December 1961 by duty under instruction at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit, West Milton Site, Schenectady, New York. In July 1962, he returned to the Naval Submarine School for additional training and in December 1962 was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade.) 

In January 1963, Lieutenant (j.g.) Barr reported to fast attack submarine USS Snook (SSN-592) at San Diego. While assigned to Snook, he variously served as auxiliary, communications, sonar, electronics, and weapons officer, deploying to the Western Pacific with port calls at Sasebo, Japan, and Chinhae, South Korea (these were significant events for a nuclear submarine at the time), and Snook was awarded a Naval Unit Commendation for other operations on this deployment. 
Promoted in March 1965, Lieutenant Barr then reported in November 1965 to the Naval Nuclear Power School at Mare Island, California, as an instructor. In January 1968, he reported to the Naval Guided Missile School, Dam Neck, Virginia, for training in submarine-launched ballistic missiles. In April 1968, Barr was assigned to fleet ballistic missile submarine USS Tecumseh (SSBN-628) at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as the Gold Crew’s navigation and operations officer. He was promoted to lieutenant commander on July 1969. In 1969, Tecumseh transferred to the Atlantic via the Panama Canal, entering the Newport News Shipyard in Virginia for conversion from Polaris to Poseidon submarine-launched ballistic missiles, before arriving at its new homeport of Charleston, South Carolina, in February 1971. Tecumseh then conducted deterrent patrols until transferring to Holy Loch, Scotland, in February 1972. 

In April 1972, Lieutenant Commander Barr assumed duty as navigator and executive officer of Permit-class fast attack submarine USS Barb (SSN-596) at Pearl Harbor. While deployed to Apra, Guam, in May 1972, Barb got underway to avoid Typhoon Rita, but was ordered to attempt to rescue the six crewmen of a B-52 bomber that crashed during the storm. In multiple harrowing attempts during the height of the storm, Barb rescued three of the crewmen, and later a fourth, while USS Gunard (SSN-662) rescued a fifth (the sixth crewman was found already dead.) Barb was awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation for the action, and one of its torpedomen was awarded the Navy–Marine Corps Medal for volunteering to jump into the water with a line attached to effect the rescue of the bomber crew in the heavy seas. In December 1972, Barb returned to Pearl Harbor before deploying again to the Western Pacific with a port visit to Pusan, South Korea.  

In February 1974, Lieutenant Commander Barr assumed command of the Naval Nuclear Power School at Bainbridge, Maryland, and in 1976 moved the school to Orlando, Florida. He was promoted to commander in July 1975. In March 1977, Commander Barr commenced a prospective commanding officer training track at the Division of Naval Reactors Energy Research and Development Administration in Washington, DC, followed in July 1977 by additional instruction at COMSUBPAC Prospective Commanding Officer School.

In September 1977, Commander Barr assumed command of fast attack submarine USS Sculpin (SSN-590) at San Diego. While in port, Sculpin was broadsided by USS Snook. Damage to Sculpin was minor, but damage to Snook was significant. As a consequence, Sculpin had to take Snook’s operational assignment on short notice. In June 1978, Sculpin departed San Diego for an interfleet transfer to Groton, Connecticut, via the Panama Canal and a port visit in Curacao. Sculpin then participated in the NATO exercise Northern Wedding, with a port visit to Holy Loch before subsequently deploying to the Mediterranean. 

In November 1979, Commander Barr was assigned to the Los Angeles–class fast attack submarine USS Boston (SSN-703), then under construction at Groton, and he assumed command of Boston upon commissioning in January 1982, remaining in command for shakedown and initial operations in the North Atlantic. He was promoted to captain in July 1981. 

In August 1982, Captain Barr reported to the new Trident Training Facility at Bangor, Washington, for training in the new Ohio-class Trident fleet ballistic missile submarines. This was followed by additional training at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit, Ballston Spa, New York. 

In January 1983, Captain Barr assumed command of Trident fleet ballistic missile submarine USS Ohio (SSBN-726) Blue Crew for deterrent patrols out of Bangor. In September 1984, Barr assumed command of Submarine Squadron ONE SEVEN (SUBRON 17) the Bangor-based squadron for Trident missile submarines, which grew as more new boats were delivered. In March 1986, Captain Barr reported to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, DC, as deputy director, Attack Submarine Division (Op-22B). In January 1988, he was assigned to the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a deputy director for operations in the National Military Command Center. In May 1988, he was designated a rear admiral (lower half) for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank, and on 1 February 1989 he was promoted to rear admiral (lower half.) 

In July 1989, Rear Admiral Barr was assigned to the Department of Energy as deputy assistant secretary for military application. In July 1991, he assumed command of Navy Recruiting Command. He was promoted to rear admiral (upper half) on 1 December 1991. In July 1993, Barr assumed command of Submarine Force Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Rear Admiral Barr retired on 1 April 1996. 

Rear Admiral Barr’s awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal; Defense Superior Service Medal; Legion of Merit (two awards); Defense Meritorious Service Medal; Meritorious Service Medal (two awards); Navy Commendation Medal (two awards); Navy Achievement Medal (two awards); Navy Unit Commendation (two awards); Meritorious Unit Commendation (two awards); Battle Efficiency Ribbon; Navy Expeditionary Medal; National Defense Service Medal (two awards); and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon. 

After retiring from active duty, Barr worked for seven years as president and general manager of Johnson Controls Northern New Mexico in Los Alamos. He also regularly tutored students at the local high school in math and physics. Funeral services will be held in January 2023 at Santa Fe National Cemetery, New Mexico.
Rear Admiral Barr’s career could serve as a template for the ideal path for a submarine officer on a fast track to flag rank. With over 20 moves in 35 years, it is also a template for the sacrifice required of families for such a career. His career was balanced between fast attack (SSN) and fleet ballistic missile (SBSBN) submarine assignments. While fleet ballistic missile submarine assignments allow more degree of operational predictability (although the operational tempo is still very high,) fast attack assignments frequently entail very little predictability, with sudden departures for operations of indeterminate length, all highly classified. Submarine service is also inherently dangerous. The U.S. Navy has lost over 20 submarines to accidents, usually with their entire crews, including the two nuclear fast attack boats Thresher in 1963 and Scorpion in 1968, during the early years of Rear Admiral Barr’s service, as the rapidly growing Soviet threat resulted in increased operational risk. (Since the loss of Scorpion, the Russians have lost about 10 submarines.) Throughout the Cold War, U.S. and Soviet submarines engaged in high-stakes operations with the object being for us to know where their submarines were (including ballistic missile submarines), and the Soviets not to know where ours were. With only a handful of exceptions, that was invariable the case, such that the Soviets had to adapt their tactics accordingly. In any case, an itchy trigger finger by either side could have turned the Cold War into a hot one. Although little of these operations can be discussed openly, they played a key role in bringing about the end of the Cold War, and the point of all the sacrifice was to ensure we never had to fight the Soviets. And it worked. The epitome of a naval professional, Rear Admiral Barr was described as a “selfless gentleman,” a “problem-solver who loved math, history, and current affairs,” and perhaps most tellingly, as someone endowed with “a gift of making every person he met feel important and valued.” His legacy lives on in profound ways in the “Silent Service” today, and the Navy is grateful for the dedication of him, and his family, in the service of our freedom.

Rest in Peace, Admiral Barr.