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In Memoriam: Vice Admiral Edward S. Briggs, USN (Ret.)

Dec. 20, 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 Vice Admiral Edward Samuel Briggs, U.S. Navy, Retired, in November 2022 at age 96. Vice Admiral Briggs entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1945 and served as a naval aviator and surface line officer until his retirement in 1984 as Commander Naval Surface Forces Atlantic. His other commands included Turner Joy (DD-951), Jouett (DLG-29), Cruiser-Destroyer Group THREE, Navy Recruiting Command, and Naval Logistics Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet. During his service in the Korean War as a Corsair pilot and the Vietnam War as a surface warfare officer, he was awarded two Bronze Stars (at least one with Combat “V”), two Air Medals, three Navy Commendation Medals (at least one with Combat ”V”), and the Combat Action Ribbon.

Edward Briggs entered the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) on 2 July 1945. He was secretary of his class, had a high academic standing, and was an avid golfer, winning the Maryland Intercollegiate Golf Tournament during his plebe year and second place in his youngster year. He graduated with a bachelor of science in naval science and was commissioned an ensign on 3 June 1949. He then briefly served at USNA as a battalion administrative officer until reporting for flight training in September 1949 to the Naval Aviation Basic Training Course at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Florida. He was designated a naval aviator on 21 March 1951 and was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) that June.

In July 1951, Lieutenant (j.g.) Briggs reported to Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron SEVEN (FASRON 7) at NAS San Diego, California, before quickly being assigned the next month to Fighter Squadron ONE NINE TWO (VF-192) at NAS Moffett Field, California, initially flying the F8F Bearcat fighter before quickly transitioning to the F4U-4 Corsair fighter-bomber and then the F9F-2 Panther jet fighter. However, the Panthers were transferred to another squadron and VF-192 deployed to Korea in March 1952 embarked on carrier Princeton (CV-37) still flying the Corsair. Briggs participated in air strikes against North Korean hydroelectric plants, including the major joint Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps air strike on the Suihō dam and hydroelectric installations on the Yalu River in June. In July, he participated in another joint strike on industrial targets in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. Lieutenant (j.g.) Briggs flew 52 combat missions over North Korea. After finally transitioning to the F9F Panther, VF-192 deployed to the western Pacific embarked on Oriskany (CVA-34) in September 1953, just after the Korean War armistice, and participated in the filming of the Korean War movie The Bridges at Toko-Ri.

In May 1954, Lieutenant (j.g.) Briggs reported to NAS Pensacola for duty under instruction and was promoted to lieutenant in July 1954. He then served as flight instructor at Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Whiting Field, Florida, and then at Sherman Field, NAS Pensacola. In January 1957, he reported to the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California, and then in October 1957 to the Naval Intelligence School in Washington, DC (then considered postgraduate education). In July 1958, Lieutenant Briggs reported to newly commissioned attack carrier Ranger (CVA-61) as assistant air intelligence officer and assistant special weapons officer. Ranger carried out an inter-fleet transfer around Cape Horn to her new homeport at Alameda, California, followed by two deployments to the Western Pacific (January–July 1959 and February–August 1960). Its crew was awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for operations related to the Quemoy-Matsu crisis between the People’s Republic of China and Nationalist China (Taiwan). He was promoted to lieutenant commander in July 1959.

In July 1960, Lieutenant Commander Briggs reported to the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, graduating in June 1961. He then reported to Heavy Attack Squadron ONE TWO THREE (VAH-123) for duty under instruction flying the A3D Skywarrior nuclear-capable carrier bomber. At this point, he ceased his flying career and transitioned to surface line. In April 1962, he assumed duty as navigator and executive officer of Allen M. Sumner–class destroyer Harry E. Hubbard (DD-748) out of San Diego for West Coast operations. In February 1964, Briggs attended the United Kingdom Joint Services Staff College in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, England, graduating in 1964. He was promoted to commander in May 1964.

In October 1964, Commander Briggs was assigned to the staff of Commander-in-Chief U.S. Naval Forces Europe in London. In July 1966, Briggs assumed command of Forrest Sherman–class destroyer Turner Joy (DD-951), deploying to the western Pacific from Long Beach, California, in November 1966. Turner Joy took part in two periods on the gun line off South Vietnam, providing naval gunfire support for U.S. and South Vietnamese troops ashore. In March 1967, the ship joined Operation Sea Dragon, interdicting enemy logistics efforts off the coast of North Vietnam. On 7 April, in an exchange of fire with a North Vietnamese shore battery, Turner Joy took a direct hit on the fantail that damaged the supply office, and a near-miss air burst above the forward mast, which knocked the ship’s air search radar out of service and wounded one crewman. The damage was not severe enough for the ship to come off-line. On her return transit, Turner Joy visited Australia and New Zealand in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. The ship deployed again to Vietnam in March 1968, again providing gunfire support along the coast of South Vietnam and conducting interdiction operations along the coast of North Vietnam.

In October 1968, Commander Briggs was assigned as surface operations officer on the staff of Commander Attack Carrier Striking Force Seventh Fleet/Carrier Group FIVE, operating in the Gulf of Tonkin and conducting carrier air strikes into North Vietnam and Laos. He was promoted to captain in August 1969.

In December 1969, Captain Briggs reported to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) in Washington, DC, nominally assigned to the Destroyer and Cruiser Warfare Branch, but working as part of the Operations Study Group. In June 1971, Briggs assumed command of guided missile destroyer leader Jouett (DLG-29, later CG-29), upon her return to San Diego from a Vietnam deployment. Briggs relieved Captain Samuel L. Gravely and the change-of-command ceremony included frocking Gravely as the first African American admiral in U.S. Navy history. Following an extended upkeep period, Jouett conducted work-ups in preparation for another Vietnam deployment.

In July 1972, Captain Briggs reported to the staff of Commander Seventh Fleet (then Vice Admiral James A, Holloway III) embarked aboard the flagship Oklahoma City (CLG-5) in the Gulf of Tonkin. Briggs served initially as assistant chief of staff for plans (N5) and then as chief of staff during a period of particularly intense naval activity that included operations Pocket Money (aerial minelaying), Linebacker I and II (resumed bombing of North Vietnam), and Lion’s Den (surface ship incursion into Haiphong Harbor). Oklahoma City regularly took turns on the gun line off North and South Vietnam and was awarded a Navy Unit Commendation. In November 1973, Briggs reported to the staff of Commander-in-Chief U.S. Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT) as Operations Officer (N3).

In August 1975, Captain (and rear admiral–select) Briggs assumed command of Cruiser Destroyer Group THREE in San Diego. He was promoted to rear admiral on 1 September 1975. In May 1977, Rear Admiral Briggs assumed command of Navy Recruiting Command. In July 1979, he assumed command of Naval Logistic Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet with additional duty as Commander Naval Base Pearl Harbor and deputy chief of staff for logistics (N4) on the staff of Commander-in-Chief U.S. Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT).

On 14 September 1980, he was designated a vice admiral for duty in billet commensurate with that rank and assumed responsibility as deputy and chief of staff, CINCPACFLT. In October 1982, Vice Admiral Briggs assumed command of Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, responsible for the training and readiness of U.S. Navy surface ships in the Atlantic Fleet. Briggs retired on 1 October 1984.

Vice Admiral Briggs’s awards include the Navy Distinguished Service Medal; the Legion of Merit (five awards, at least one with Combat “V”); Bronze Star (two awards, at least one with Combat “V”); Air Medal (two awards); Navy Commendation Medal (three awards, at least one with Combat “V”); Combat Action Ribbon; Navy Unit Commendation; World War II Victory Medal; National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Korea Service Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Vietnam Service Medal (seven campaign stars); Korean Presidential Unit Citation; Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Commendation Gallantry Cross Color; United Nations Service Medal; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device; Republic of Vietnam Navy Distinguished Service Order Second Class; Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Honor Medal First Class; and the Republic of Vietnam National Order of Vietnam Fifth Class Medal.

After retiring from active duty, Vice Admiral Briggs involved himself in local school districts in southern California. He was a member of the Surface Navy Association, U.S. Naval Institute, U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association, Navy League, and the San Diego Military Advisory Council. In 2014, he co-authored a book, Climate Change, Energy Policy and National Power.

I have no information on funeral arrangements at this time.

Vice Admiral Briggs certainly took an unorthodox path to flag rank with a relatively late transition (as a lieutenant commander) from naval aviation to surface line. However, he apparently did not miss a beat because of it. The record is not clear why he made the change. At the time, he was in training to fly the A3D carrier-based nuclear-capable heavy attack bomber. Given his record of valor in combat over North Korea, it probably had less to do with the A3D being known as “all-three-dead” (the usual result for the three aircrewmen in any crash) than with the heavy attack mission increasingly being perceived as a dead-end career track as it was supplanted by more survivable submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Regardless, he joined the Navy as soon as he could while World War II was still in progress and then served with distinction in the Korean War, attacking heavily defended hydroelectric and industrial plants in North Korea. Despite more than the usual time in schools, he nevertheless continued to find himself in the thick of the action. This included two deployments in command of Turner Joy off North Vietnam. In one of these, Turner Joy took a hit in a gunnery duel with a North Vietnamese shore battery and didn’t miss a beat. Briggs had two more Vietnam deployments (seven campaigns total) on the staff of the carrier task force (TF 77) in the Gulf of Tonkin and as chief of staff of Seventh Fleet in some of the most audacious U.S. Navy surface actions during the entire war. He continued to serve in high command positions in both the Atlantic and the Pacific as Soviet Cold War activity reached its peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s. If anything, Vice Admiral Briggs’s career path teaches the following: never give up, adapt, and keep pressing ahead. As with many others of the era, long years at sea fraught with peril and many moves that disrupted family life was the price of defending this nation. He did it very well, for which the Navy and the nation should be grateful for his dedicated service and valor.

Rest in Peace, Admiral Briggs.