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In Memoriam: Rear Admiral Burnham C. McCaffree Jr., USN (Ret.)

June 8, 2023 | 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 (lower half) Burnham Clough “Mike” McCaffree Jr. on 13 May 2023 at age 91. Rear Admiral McCaffree enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1948, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1954, and served as a surface warfare officer until his retirement in 1988 as Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Logistics (OP-04B). His commands included Johnston (DD-821), Shreveport (LPD-12), Amphibious Squadron TWO, and Amphibious Group ONE. He was awarded a Legion of Merit with Combat “V” for service in South Vietnam in 1969.

 Mike McCaffree enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve on 28 September 1948. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy as a midshipman on 27 June 1950. He was well known for his remarkable sea stories of previous “duty stations” and was never at a loss to keep his classmates entertained, with a preexisting wealth of practical knowledge about naval life, customs, etiquette, and history. He was on the Trident magazine staff, played tennis, ran cross country, and fenced. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in naval science and was commissioned an ensign on 4 June 1954.

Ensign McCaffree’s first tour was aboard the attack aircraft carrier Midway (CVA-41), serving as assistant navigator during a world cruise from Norfolk via Cape of Good Hope to Taiwan as the first of her class to operate in the Western Pacific. Midway aircraft provided air cover for the evacuation of 15,000 Chinese Nationalist troops and 20,000 civilians during the Quemoy-Matsu crisis. Midway then arrived at Puget Sound shipyard for the first of several major modifications. In October 1955, McCaffree reported to Norfolk-based heavy cruiser Newport News (CA-148) as communications watch officer and boilers–main engines officer, deploying to the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean as flagship. Promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in December 1955, he then was assigned in October 1956 to destroyer Gearing (DD-710) as anti-submarine warfare (ASW) officer and weapons officer, deploying to the Mediterranean from Norfolk. He was promoted to lieutenant in June 1958.

In November 1958, Lieutenant McCaffree assumed duty as executive officer of tank landing ship Traverse County (LST-1160), deploying to the Mediterranean from Little Creek, Virginia. In August 1960, he reported to the staff of Commander Operational Test and Evaluation Force, Norfolk. In May 1963, he assumed duty as executive officer for dock landing ship Rushmore (LSD-14) during a Mediterranean deployment, which then conducted a contingency deployment to Panama due to riots. He was promoted to lieutenant commander in April 1964.

In August 1964, Lieutenant Commander McCaffree assumed duty as executive officer of destroyer Rich (DD-820), serving as a recovery ship for Gemini space missions. In July 1966, he reported to Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, graduating in January 1967. He then reported to the staff of Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Force U.S. Atlantic Fleet, serving as force torpedo officer and assistant ASW officer. He was promoted to commander in July 1968.

Following training in May 1969 at Naval Amphibious School Little Creek, he reported in June 1969 to Naval Support Activity Da Nang, South Vietnam as assistant chief of staff for plans during some of the most intense periods of fighting in South Vietnam. He detached in July 1970 for duty under instruction at the Naval Destroyer School, Newport, Rhode Island before assuming command of destroyer Johnston, operating from Charleston, South Carolina, for a Mediterranean deployment. In June 1972, Commander McCaffree reported to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) in Washington, DC, as assistant for Joint Chiefs of Staff Matters/Head Force Objectives Section (OP-605). He was promoted to captain in July 1975.

In June 1976, Captain McCaffree commenced a training track at Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport before assuming command of amphibious transport dock Shreveport shortly after the flag bridge was destroyed by a rogue 40-foot wave off Cape Hatteras. Following repairs, Shreveport conducted Caribbean exercise operations, operating from Norfolk. In November 1978, McCaffree reported as chief of staff for Commander Amphibious Group TWO. In May 1980, he reported to the Naval Reactor Facility, Idaho Falls, Idaho, before assuming command of Amphibious Group TWO in October 1980.

In June 1982, Captain McCaffree was designated a rear admiral (lower half) for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank. The same month he reported to OPNAV as director of Mobile Logistics Support Force; Amphibious, Mine, Special Warfare, and Advanced Naval Vehicle Ship Division (OP-37). He was promoted to rear admiral (lower half) in August 1983. In June 1984, Rear Admiral McCaffree assumed command of Amphibious Group ONE in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. In June 1984, he returned to OPNAV as director of Logistics Plans Division (OP-40). In September 1987, he became the Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Logistics (OP-04B). Rear Admiral McCaffree retired from active duty on 1 August 1988.

Rear Admiral McCaffree’s awards include the Legion of Merit (three awards, one with Combat “V”); Meritorious Service Medal; Navy Commendation Medal; China Service Medal; Navy Occupation Service Medal (Europe); National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Vietnam Service Medal (four campaign stars); Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Civil Action); Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Gallantry Cross); Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Honor Medal, First Class; and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Following his retirement from active duty, Rear Admiral McCaffree worked as a consultant for several defense-related research companies, including the Center for Naval Analyses and the federal government. He was active in various church and community organizations.

Interment will be at Arlington National Cemetery at a date to be determined.

Rear Admiral McCaffree followed a particularly arduous path to flag rank, maximizing time at sea on numerous deployments spanning the globe while minimizing time ashore, and even then one of his shore tours was in the middle of intense combat in Vietnam during that war. He participated in the U.S. response to multiple crises, including the tense stand-off between Communist China, Nationalist China (Taiwan), and the United States in what was called the Quemoy-Matsu crisis. His numerous deployments to the Mediterranean served to demonstrate U.S. resolve to support NATO allies in deterring Soviet aggression while responding to various Middle East contingencies. He was the executive officer for three ships and commanded a destroyer, an amphibious transport dock, an amphibious squadron, and an amphibious group, along the way becoming one the Navy’s foremost experts in amphibious operations. He finished his career in key OPNAV positions ensuring the best logistical support to the U.S. Navy. The demands of his exemplary service necessitated great sacrifice on the part of his family, for which the Navy and nation should be most grateful. He truly made a difference in the readiness of the Navy, and his legacy will live on. Thank you, Admiral McCaffree and family.

Rest in Peace, Admiral McCaffree.