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In Memoriam: Rear Admiral James H. Scott, USN (Ret).

Aug. 14, 2023 | 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 James Hernandez Scott on 23 February 2023 at age 96. Rear Admiral Scott entered the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1945 and served as a naval aviator until his retirement in September 1980 as Commander Naval Base Norfolk/Commandant Fifth Naval District. His commands included Attack Squadron ONE ZERO SIX (VA-106), Attack Carrier Air Wing TWO ONE (CVW-21), USS Butte (AE-27), USS Forrestal (CVA-59), Tactical Wings Atlantic, and Iberian-Atlantic Area. He flew combat missions in the Korean War, in which he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, as well as in the Vietnam War, in which he was awarded the Bronze Star with combat “V” and Air Medals. 

James Scott entered the U.S. Naval Academy on 25 June 1945 as World War II in the Pacific was reaching its climax. He graduated on 3 June 1949 with a bachelor of science in naval science and was commissioned an ensign the same day. He then served for three months aboard the aircraft carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) in Norfolk, Virginia. In August 1949, he reported to Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Florida, for flight instruction. Ensign Scott was designated a naval aviator (heavier-than-air) on 13 December 1950, shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War. In February 1951, he reported to Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron SEVEN (FASRON 7), at NAS San Diego, for accelerated advanced training.

In May 1951, Ensign Scott was assigned to Fighter Squadron ONE ONE TWO (VF-112) at NAS Miramar, California, as the squadron’s Panther jet fighters were being modified to an F9F-2B configuration with rocket launchers and bomb racks. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in June 1951. He then deployed to Korea with VF-112 on aircraft carrier Philippine Sea (CV-47), commencing 31 December 1951 and conducting strikes and interdiction against Chinese and North Korean targets, including the 23–24 June 1952 multi-carrier strikes against nine North Korean hydroelectric plants. He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for action against enemy aggressor forces on 11 April 1952. Although numerous VA-112 jets received flak damage, none were lost on this deployment. 

In March 1953, Lieutenant (j.g.) Scott was administratively assigned to Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Naval Forces Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, serving as an exchange pilot with the British Fleet Air Arm (FAA) aboard the carrier HMS Eagle in the Mediterranean and flying the first British carrier-based jet fighter, the Supermarine Attacker. He flew in the FAA formation at the Fleet Review in Spithead in June 1953 in honor of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

In May 1954, Scott returned to NAS Pensacola for refresher training; he was promoted to lieutenant in July 1954. That month, he assumed duty as a flight instructor at Naval Auxiliary Air Station Whiting Field, Milton, Florida. In June 1955, he reported to Advanced Training Unit TWO ZERO TWO (ATU-202) at NAS Pensacola as a flight instructor. In July 1957, Scott reported to the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, in the General Line Course, graduating in June 1958. He then reported to Nuclear Weapons Training Center Pacific for duty under instruction. 

In August 1958, Lieutenant Scott was assigned to attack carrier Forrestal (CVA-59) as flight deck officer/operations administration assistant, deploying to the Mediterranean from September 1958 to March 1959. The deployment included operations in support of U.S. Marines in Lebanon during the 1958 Lebanon crisis. Following promotion to lieutenant commander in July 1959, Scott deployed again to the Mediterranean on Forrestal from January to August 1960.

In October 1960, Lieutenant Commander Scott reported to VA-43 at NAS Oceana, Virginia Beach, Virginia. VA-43 was the fleet replacement squadron for training in the A4D-2N (later redesignated A-4C) Skyhawk attack jet. In April 1961, he was assigned to VA-66 as operations and maintenance officer at NAS Oceana, deploying to the Mediterranean aboard attack carrier Intrepid (CVA-11) from August 1961 to January 1962, including cross-deck flight operations with HMS Hermes. Cross-decking to nuclear-powered attack carrier Enterprise (CVA[N]-65), Scott participated with VA-66 in quarantine operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis while returning from another Mediterranean deployment in October–November 1962. In November 1962, he returned to VA-43 at NAS Oceana as attack training officer, serving as a flight instructor and adversary pilot.

In December 1963, Scott assumed duty as executive officer of VA-106 at NAS Cecil Field, Florida, flying the A-4C Skyhawk. He joined the squadron while deployed to the Mediterranean aboard attack carrier Shangri-La (CVA-38), returning in May 1964. He was promoted to commander in July 1964. The following February, Scott deployed again to the Mediterranean on Shangri-La. In June 1965, during the deployment, he assumed command of VA-106. In March 1966, he commenced a third Mediterranean deployment, detaching that June while deployed. Scott subsequently spent a year at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

In June 1967, Commander Scott reported to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) in Washington, DC, as NATO plans officer in the Strategic Plans Division. In October 1968, he assumed command of CVW-21, flying the A-4 Skyhawk. The carrier air wing deployed to Vietnam embarked on attack carrier Hancock (CVA-19) in July 1968, conducting strike operations into North Vietnam until the bombing halt at the end of Operation Rolling Thunder on 2 November 1968. Strikes continued against communist forces in South Vietnam and Laos, along with occasional strikes in the southern panhandle of North Vietnam in retaliation for the North Vietnamese firing on U.S. reconnaissance jets. Hancock returned from deployment in April 1969, with a quick turn before deploying again to Vietnam from August 1969 to April 1970. 

Promoted in October 1969, Captain Scott returned to the Pentagon and OPNAV in May 1970 as head of the Programs Section, Programs and Budget Branch, Aviation Programs Division. In October 1970, he became special assistant to the CNO for prisoner of war/missing in action (POW/MIA) matters. In June 1972, Scott assumed command of ammunition ship Butte (AE-27), deploying to Vietnam and operating in the Gulf of Tonkin from December 1972 to July 1973, including the period of Operation Linebacker II (the “Christmas Bombing Campaign”). In October 1973, he reported to the staff of Commander Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet as aviation safety officer. 

 In April 1974, Captain Scott assumed command of attack carrier Forrestal, which was redesignated as a multi-purpose aircraft carrier (CV-59) in June 1975. While he was in command, Forrestal made two Mediterranean deployments in March–September 1974 and March–September 1975. He was promoted to rear admiral on 1 September 1975. 

In September 1975, Rear Admiral Scott assumed command of Tactical Wings, U.S. Atlantic Fleet at NAS Oceana. In August 1977, he assumed command of Iberian-Atlantic Area (COMIBERLANT), a NATO command headquartered near Lisbon, Portugal, that was responsible for the Azores, the Madeira Islands, and parts of the eastern Atlantic. In August 1979, Scott assumed command of Naval Base Norfolk, concurrently serving as the last Commandant of the Fifth Naval District, which was disestablished on 30 September 1980. He retired on 1 September 1980.

Rear Admiral Scott’s awards include the Legion of Merit (three awards); Distinguished Flying Cross; Bronze Star with combat “V”; Air Medal (multiple awards); Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V” (two awards); Meritorious Unit Commendation; Navy Expeditionary Medal (Cuba); China Service Medal; World War II Victory Medal; National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Korean Service Medal (two campaign stars); Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Vietnam Service Medal (four campaign stars); Korean Presidential Unit Citation; Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation Gallantry Cross Color; United Nations Service Medal; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device; and the Republic of Vietnam Navy Distinguished Service Order 2nd Class. (Note that the service transcript—which is frequently inaccurate with regard to medals—only notes an “Air Medal.” In a photo of Rear Admiral Scott, I can’t tell if the star is gold or silver, but it is offset by an indistinguishable strike/flight numeral, indicating he had more than one.) 

After retiring from active duty, Rear Admiral Scott devoted himself to charitable and community service causes, including founding the Corpus Christi Mustangs, hosting “Texas-sized BBQ” events, raising more than $9 million for various charities. He served in the USO of South Texas, the Navy League, Boy Scouts of America, and Rotary and Kiwanis clubs. As leader of “Landing Force 16,” he played a crucial role in bringing the decommissioned carrier Lexington (CV-16) to Corpus Christi, where it continues to serve as a museum ship today. 

Rear Admiral Scott definitely had a colorful career to go along with his apparently colorful, but effective, leadership style. He was also described as being passionate about helping others. He may be the only U.S. naval aviator to be able to claim that he buzzed the Queen of England while flying a British Fleet Air Arm jet. He may also be the only one to claim landing on more than one British carrier (HMS Eagle and HMS Hermes). More important, he is one of the last (and possibly the last) of our naval aviation heroes who flew combat missions in both the Korean War and Vietnam War. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross while flying flak-suppression and armed reconnaissance missions over North Korea. By that time of the war, Russian-piloted “North Korean” MiGs flying from Chinese Manchuria rarely ventured to the east side of North Korea, so the Panther squadrons were modified with rockets and bombs to fly low-altitude missions. These proved to be even more dangerous and frustrating, as the Chinese learned to move antiaircraft guns around faster than U.S. photo-reconnaissance aircraft could keep up. He led his air wing in the Vietnam War in the closing days of Operation Rolling Thunder (the operation’s end was to give the North Vietnamese respite to prepare for future offensive operations). The rest of his career included numerous deployments (at least 14 by my count), including operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis quarantine and the U.S. Intervention in Lebanon . . . and he joined the Navy in time to receive a World War II Victory Medal. This frenetic operational pace no doubt required enormous sacrifice of personal and family time in the service of our nation in two hot wars, numerous crises, and the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The Navy and nation are better for his service, and we are grateful to him and to his family for their sacrifice.

Rest in Peace, Admiral Scott. 

(I regret this late notice, but I only just learned of Rear Admiral Scott’s passing thanks to a note from Admiral Stan Arthur. If you hear of a flag officer’s passing, please let me or “Flag Matters” know, as there is no formal notification process. If no one tells us, we don’t know.)