It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral Morton Egner “Jim” Toole on 12 November 2023 at age 86. Rear Admiral Toole entered the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in the U.S. Naval Reserve in September 1954 and served as a surface line officer until his retirement in July 1987 as chief of staff of the U.S. Readiness Command (USCINCRED)/Joint Deployment Agency. His commands included River Division 53/Delta River Patrol Group (CTG 116.1.2), Hissem (DER-400), Preble (DLG-15), William H. Standley (CG-32), and Service Group TWO. He had extensive combat experience in Vietnam in riverine operations and on the gunline (seven campaign stars), earning the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals, and a Navy Achievement Medal, all with Combat “V,” along with a Presidential Unit Citation.
Jim Toole entered the U.S. Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps Program at the University of California–Los Angeles on 20 September 1954. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in history and was commissioned an ensign on 7 June 1957. He was assigned to the radar-picket destroyer Duncan (DDR-874), first as antisubmarine warfare officer, then as weapons officer (Duncan was awarded a Weapons “E” during this period). Duncan deployed to the Western Pacific from November 1958 to August 1959 and participated in the U.S. response to the Second Taiwan Straits Crisis (Quemoy and Matsu) between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan). He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in December 1957.
In September 1960, Lieutenant (j.g.) Toole reported as a student to Naval Guided Missiles School, Dam Neck, Virginia, followed by an assignment in December 1960 to the pre-commissioning crew of Lynde McCormick (DDG-8), which was under construction at Bay City, Michigan. He served as missile officer, then weapons officer, and he was promoted to lieutenant in June 1961. Following commissioning on 2 June 1961, Lynde McCormick departed Boston, Massachusetts, in August for an interfleet transfer to San Diego, California, arriving in September 1961, followed by a deployment to the Western Pacific from November 1962 to June 1963.
In December 1963, Lieutenant Toole reported to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, DC, as assistant training program manager for the TARTAR Missile System, serving as curriculum controller for all enlisted TARTAR equipment and weapon system courses. He attended night courses at the American University (he would be awarded a master of arts degree in international relations in 1966). He also qualified for command of destroyers in 1964.
In January 1966, Lieutenant Toole was assigned as the first commander of River Division 53/Delta River Patrol Group (CTG 116.1.2) as part of Operation Game Warden. He led the first PBRs (Patrol Boats) up the Mekong River to My Tho on 20 June 1966 and then to Vinh Long. During this period, the PBRs engaged in numerous intense combat operations against the Viet Cong operating in the Mekong Delta. This is the period when Boatswain’s Mate First Class James E. Williams would earn the Medal of Honor for an action resulting in the destruction of 65 Viet Cong supply boats. Promoted to lieutenant commander in April 1966, Toole had tactical command of 54 of 80 PBRs in Operation Game Warden by the end of this tour.
In April 1967, Toole reported to Fleet Antisubmarine Warfare School in San Diego as a student, followed the next month by Naval Schools Command, Vallejo, California, in the Prospective Commanding Officer/Executive Officer Course. In June 1967, he assumed duty as executive officer of guided missile destroyer Henry B. Wilson (DDG-7), deploying to Vietnam from December 1967 to October 1968. During the 1968 Communist Tet Offensive, Henry B. Wilson participated on Operation Sea Dragon, helping to rout a North Vietnamese Army battalion driving south along the coast road. On 3 June 1968, after Buchanan (DDG-14) was hit by hostile fire, Henry B. Wilson took her place in the gunline. One enemy shell impacted to starboard, while a second shell hit the after stack, spraying shrapnel over a large area and into a missile radar room, wounding one crewman. The ship then maneuvered out of the shore battery’s range and silenced it with return fire.
In August 1968, Lieutenant Commander Toole assumed command of radar-picket destroyer escort Hissem (DER-400) in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, deploying again to Vietnam and participating in Operation Market Time, the interdiction of Communist resupply efforts along the coast of Vietnam. He remained commanding officer until Hissem was decommissioned on 15 May 1970, but not before the ship earned a Battle “E.”
In June 1970, Toole reported to Naval Ordnance Systems Command and was promoted to commander in July 1970. He served as director of Integrated Logistics Support/Surface Missile Systems Directorate, with additional duty in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations as a surface warfare analyst, serving as NAVRD FFG-7 (Perry-class frigate) and PHM (Patrol Missile Hydrofoil) projects officer. He also worked with the Priorities Analysis Group of the Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel.
In December 1972, Commander Toole was assigned as prospective commanding officer of guided missile destroyer leader Preble (DLG-15, later DDG-46). He assumed command in May 1973 at Pearl Harbor. Preble deployed to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean from August 1973 to March 1974, participating in the first attack-carrier excursion into the Arabian Sea after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in company with attack carriers Oriskany (CVA-34) and Hancock (CVA-19). Preble also operated in the Gulf of Oman and Gulf of Aden and was awarded the Battle “E.” Commander Toole relinquished command of Preble in September 1974 to Commander (and future four-star commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) David Jeremiah.
In September 1974, Commander Toole reported to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations as head of Weapons Systems Selection, Research and Development, Surface Warfare Branch (OP-982F). He was promoted to captain in July 1975.
In September 1976, Captain Toole was administratively assigned to Commander Naval Surface Forces Atlantic and attended the Senior Officers Ship Material Readiness Course at Idaho Falls, Idaho. On 14 March 1977, he assumed command of guided-missile cruiser William H. Standley (CG-32) while the ship was deployed to the Mediterranean. Following five months in the Mediterranean, the ship transited from her homeport of Charleston, South Carolina, through the Panama Canal to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for an 11-month overhaul, rescuing a drifting fishing boat along the way. William H. Standley was awarded the Battle “E” and the “Silver Anchor” for retention.
In April 1979, Captain Toole assumed duty as chief of staff for Commander, Carrier Group FOUR, embarked on Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) for an Indian Ocean deployment in response to the Iranian Hostage Crisis that shattered records for consecutive days at sea. The eight-month, seven-day deployment was broken only by one five-day port visit to Singapore.
In May 1981, he was designated a rear admiral for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank and the same month reported to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, as deputy chief of staff for management/fleet inspector general. He was promoted to rear admiral on 1 September 1982.
In February 1984, Rear Admiral Toole assumed duty as commander, Service Group TWO in Norfolk, Virginia. In June 1986, he was assigned as chief of staff for Commander in Chief, U.S. Readiness Command (USCINCRED)/Joint Deployment Agency, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida, during the period when the command was being disestablished and transitioned to U.S. Special Operations Command. Upon completion of the transition, Rear Admiral Toole retired on 1 July 1987.
Rear Admiral Toole’s awards include the Legion of Merit (four awards); Bronze Star with Combat “V”; two Navy Commendation Medals (both with Combat “V”); Navy Achievement Medal with Combat “V”; Combat Action Ribbon; Presidential Unit Citation; Navy Unit Commendation; Meritorious Unit Commendation; Battle Efficiency Ribbon (three awards); Navy Expeditionary Medal; National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Vietnam Service Medal (seven campaign stars); Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Gallantry Cross Color); Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Civil Action Color); and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device. In addition, he was awarded the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry Medal, Corps Level (Gold Star). He also earned the small craft insignia. (There is possibly a joint award, either Defense Distinguished or Superior Service Medal, for the tour at Readiness Command that is not reflected in the transcript).
Following his retirement from active duty, Rear Admiral Toole owned and operated Capitol Hill Books in Washington, DC—described as a “fiercely independent” bookshop specializing in quality rare,
used, and first edition books. He sold the bookstore to employees in 2018 but continued to work there until the day he died.
Rear Admiral Jim Toole has one of those careers that make one ask, “Why wasn’t he a three or four star?” And I have no idea. Everywhere he went he excelled—three ship commands, each earning a Battle “E,” and one with a Weapons “E” when he was a weapons officer as a first tour junior officer. His first command was over 50 PBRs in intense combat operations, the first to go up the Mekong River in Vietnam, earning a Presidential Unit Citation. His ship even earned a “Silver Anchor” for retention in the mid-1970s, when the Navy was hemorrhaging people. In a Pentagon tour, he was selected to work with the CNO Executive Panel, a high-visibility position for a new O-5. He had a key leadership role in the Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous Indian Ocean deployment, shattering records for the most time at sea in a single deployment. He played a key role in transitioning U.S. Readiness Command (hardly anyone remembers that) to U.S. Special Operations Command (and everyone now knows that). A self-described “bookaholic,” he became a fixture on Capitol Hill after his retirement, with his bookstore named “best used bookstore in DC” for many years running. He was known to have a curmudgeonly streak, during and after his time in the service, but was also described as having a “zest for interacting with people and for life. Everyone knew him and he knew everybody.” Curmudgeon or not, he knew how to lead people, ships, and organizations to greatness, with his success in combat the ultimate accomplishment. He will definitely be remembered by
many, and his dedication, service, and sacrifice—and that of his family—should be remembered with gratitude by our Navy and nation.
Rest in Peace, Admiral Toole.