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In Memoriam: Rear Admiral Mark P. Frudden, USN

Oct. 31, 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 Mark Perrin Frudden on 9 January 2023 at age 95. Rear Admiral Frudden entered the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1946 and served as a surface line officer until his retirement in September 1980 as Commander, Naval Surface Group Western Pacific (CTF-73). His commands included Quapaw (ATF-110), Charles Berry (DE-1035), Lawrence (DDG-4), Gridley (DLG-21), and U.S. Naval Forces Korea. He served in both the Korean War and Vietnam War, including in Saigon during the 1972 North Vietnamese “Easter Offensive.” He played a prominent role in negotiations with North Korea following the 1976 “axe murder” incident. 

Mark Frudden entered the U.S. Naval Academy on 17 June 1946. The Lucky Bag yearbook noted his “congeniality” and “lack of pretentiousness” but also said he “inspires us all to a better life.” He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in naval science and was commissioned an ensign on 2 June 1950, just days before the outbreak of the Korean War. 

Ensign Frudden was immediately assigned to the Gearing-class destroyer George K. MacKenzie (DD-836), deploying from Norfolk on 26 July 1950 to the Korean theater via Pearl Harbor. The ship escorted U.S. carriers in the Sea of Japan and Yellow Sea and also provided naval gunfire support to troops ashore, taking part in the Inchon and Wonsan landing operations. Ensign Frudden served as the damage control assistant and main propulsion assistant. 

George K. MacKenzie returned to the U.S. at San Diego on 30 January 1951. Ensign Frudden was selected for aviation training, arriving at Naval Aviation Basic Training Command, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, in May 1951. This apparently didn’t work out as in May 1952 he was assigned to tank landing ship LST-1080 as first lieutenant, operations officer, and navigator, operating in the Korean theater for the duration of hostilities. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in June 1952. 

In August 1953, Lieutenant (j.g.) Frudden was assigned as executive officer and navigator for medium landing ship (rocket) LSMR-527, deploying to the Western Pacific from San Diego in February 1954. In September 1954, he reported as fire control officer for heavy cruiser Toledo (CA-133), deploying from Long Beach to the Western Pacific that month. In January 1955, Toledo served as the flagship for the naval gunfire support group providing covering fire for the evacuation of Nationalist Chinese troops and civilians by amphibious craft from the Tachen Islands, just off the coast of Communist China. In Operation Pullback, Toledo closed within 1,500 yards of the beach to cover 14,500 civilians, 10,000 Nationalist troops, and 4,000 anti-Communist guerilla fighters, backed up by six U.S. Seventh Fleet aircraft carriers in what was termed the First Taiwan Straits Crisis. Toledo returned to the United States in March 1955, entering Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington, for overhaul. Frudden was promoted to lieutenant in July 1955. 

In December 1955, Lieutenant Frudden was assigned as aide to the commander of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. In January 1958, he assumed duty as commanding officer of fleet ocean tug Quapaw (ATF-110). (Of note, Quapaw had a distinguished record in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam War, and in 1985 conducted the longest open-ocean tow of a submarine, the decommissioned Nautilus [SSN-571], from the West Coast to her final berth as a museum ship in Groton, Connecticut. Quapaw was also the first U.S. Navy vessel to have a female executive officer. Of 31 commanding officers of Quapaw, Frudden was the only one to achieve flag rank.) 

In April 1959, Lieutenant Frudden was assigned to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, DC, as assistant to the administrative aide to the Chief of Naval Personnel. He was promoted to lieutenant commander in July 1960. In July 1961, he reported as a student to the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, graduating in 1962. 

In June 1962, Lieutenant Commander Frudden assumed duty as executive officer of destroyer leader Wilkinson (DL-5), conducting technical evaluation of new sonar installed on Puget Sound and operating with West Coast submarines before making an interfleet transfer from Long Beach to Newport. 

In November 1963, Frudden assumed command of destroyer escort Charles Berry (DE-1035), conducting a homeport change from San Diego to Pearl Harbor in June 1964. In February 1965, he was assigned as aide and flag secretary to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Roy L. Johnson, at Pearl Harbor. Frudden was promoted to commander in May 1965. 

In January 1967, Commander Frudden assumed command of Charles F. Adams–class guided missile destroyer Lawrence (DDG-4) while the ship was deployed to the Mediterranean. Under Frudden’s command, the ship deployed to the Mediterranean again in January–May 1968. In December 1968, he assumed duty as executive officer of guided-missile light cruiser Little Rock (CLG-4), which was serving as the U.S. Sixth Fleet flagship and operating from Gaeta, Italy. In July 1970, Frudden reported as a student to the National War College in Washington, DC, graduating in 1971 and concurrently earning a master of science degree in international affairs from the George Washington University. He was promoted to captain in November 1970.

In July 1971, Captain Frudden was assigned as deputy chief of staff for plans and programs to the U.S. Naval Advisory Group/U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam, in Saigon, South Vietnam, a tour of duty for which he was awarded a Legion of Merit. The period focused on the Nixon administration’s “Vietnamization” policy of training the South Vietnamese armed forces to take over more combat duties, but also coincided with the massive North Vietnamese “Easter Offensive” and the U.S. response, mostly by sea and air, to drive it back. In November 1972, following his Vietnam tour, Captain Frudden was assigned as special project assistant to Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla THREE in Cruiser-Destroyer Force U.S. Pacific Fleet. 

In March 1973, Captain Frudden assumed command of guided-missile destroyer leader Gridley (DLG-21, later CG-21) while the ship was undergoing modernization at Hunters Point Shipyard, San Francisco, and subsequent preparation for a Western Pacific deployment. 

In March 1975, Frudden assumed duty as Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea/Commander, Naval Component Command, United Nations Command Korea and U.S. Forces Korea, with additional duty as chief of Navy Section, Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group Korea, in Seoul, Republic of Korea. He was designated a rear admiral on 28 April 1975 for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank. Rear Admiral Frudden’s tour in Korea included a period of significantly heightened tension as a result of the “axe murder” incident, in which two U.S. Army officers were brutally murdered by North Korean guards while pruning a tree at Panmunjom, Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), in April 1975. Frudden was promoted to rear admiral on 1 December 1975. He signed the DMZ Accord with North Korea on behalf of the United Nations Command on 11 September 1976, partitioning the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom in order to prevent further clashes.

In June 1977, Rear Admiral Frudden was assigned to the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as assistant deputy director for force development/strategic plans. In April 1979, Frudden attended the Senior Officers Surface Material Readiness Course at Idaho Falls, Idaho. In August 1979, he assumed command of Naval Surface Group Western Pacific, at Subic Bay, Philippines. He retired on 1 September 1980. 

Rear Admiral Frudden’s awards include the Legion of Merit (at least one); Navy Unit Commendation (Naval Advisory Group Vietnam); China Service Medal; World War II Victory Medal; National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Korean Service Medal (five campaign stars); Vietnam Service Medal (two campaign stars); Korean Presidential Unit Citation; Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Gallantry Cross Color); Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Civil Actions Medal, First Class Color with Palm); United Nations Service Medal; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. (Note: Service transcripts frequently lack the last award prior to retirement and sometimes more.) 

I have no information at this time regarding Rear Admiral Frudden’s activities after he retired from active duty. 

In the U.S. Navy, responsibility can come very early. Within a month of graduating from the Naval Academy, then-Ensign Frudden was on a ship in the thick of naval action in the Korean War, assisting in blunting and then turning back the massive North Korean offensive. He was selected for aviation training, but for whatever reason was soon back on a landing ship in Korean waters. There was little in his next few assignments to suggest someone destined for flag rank, but he could serve as a poster child for the detailer adage, “bloom where planted.” However, as a junior grade lieutenant, he was the fire control officer on a heavy cruiser engaged in covering the evacuation of Nationalist Chinese troops and civilians from islands off the coast of mainland China in the now mostly forgotten but major U.S. Navy response in the First Taiwan Straits Crisis. After command of a tug, his career began to accelerate, with selection for command of a destroyer escort, followed by aide and flag secretary to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, the successful command of a guided-missile destroyer, and assignment as executive officer on the Sixth Fleet flagship. He then served in Saigon, where he played a lead role in the “Vietnamization” program, with high-tempo training of the South Vietnamese navy to assume ever greater combat missions, coinciding with an intense period of combat during the North Vietnamese “Easter Offensive.” (It should be noted that the South Vietnamese navy acquitted itself well, even when South Vietnam fell in 1975.) His experience in crisis paid dividends when he was subsequently Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea, and played a highly visible role as the United Nations negotiator in the aftermath of the “axe murder” incident, which resulted in a period of high tension that nearly led to another war on the Korean Peninsula. His last tour was as Commander, Naval Surface Group Western Pacific, based at Subic Bay, Philippines, contributing to stability in the Far East. Rear Admiral Frudden’s career path demonstrated great perseverance and dedication, and proved that in the end it is leadership that counts the most. It also entailed great sacrifice of time away from home. He truly made a difference, and his legacy of service lives on. 

Rest in Peace, Admiral Frudden. 

(I regret the very late notice, but Flag Matters and I only recently learned of his passing.)