It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral (lower half) Francis Kevin “Fran” Holian on 17 November 2023 at age 78. Rear Admiral Holian entered the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1964 and served as a surface warfare officer until his retirement in September 1996 as Commander, Training Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet. His other commands included Fortify (MSO-446), Fletcher (DD-992), Fox (CG-33), and Naval Base San Diego/Navy Region Southwest. He served in the Vietnam War in the Naval Advisory Group, Military Assistance Command, earning a Navy Commendation Medal and Navy Achievement Medal, both with Combat “V.”
Fran Holian entered the U.S. Naval Academy as a midshipman on 4 June 1964. He played varsity and intramural sports, and according to the Lucky Bag yearbook, “although some of our classmates can boast slightly better academic records, few show more determination and effort.” He graduated with a bachelor of science degree in naval science and was commissioned an ensign on 5 June 1968.
Following training at Naval Schools Command, Treasure Island, California, Ensign Holian reported in October 1968 to Fletcher-class destroyer Stoddard (DD-566) midway through a Western Pacific/Vietnam deployment, acting as plane guard for America (CV-66) and providing naval gunfire support to Marines ashore. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in June 1969 and was aboard Stoddard until it was decommissioned in September 1969. He then transferred to the pre-commissioning crew of Knox-class destroyer escort Lang (DE-1060) under construction at San Pedro, California. Lang was commissioned on 28 March 1970 and conducted initial trials. Lieutenant (j.g.) Holian then underwent training at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California, in preparation for a Vietnam War assignment.
In February 1971, Holian was assigned to the Naval Advisory Group, Military Assistance Command Vietnam, as a riverine warfare advisor to the South Vietnamese navy. Promoted to lieutenant in July 1971, he then became aide/flag lieutenant to the commander of the Naval Advisory Group. In February 1972, he reported to the Naval Destroyer School, Newport, Rhode Island, for training.
In September 1972, Lieutenant Holian was assigned to Knox-class destroyer escort Lockwood (DE-1064) as engineer officer. The San Diego–based ship conducted one of the first Harpoon anti-ship missile test firings in early 1973 before deploying to the Western Pacific and South China Sea from November 1973 to May 1974. In July 1974, he again attended the Naval Destroyer School in Newport.
In September 1974, Holian assumed duty as executive officer of Charles F. Adams–class guided missile destroyer Buchanan (DDG-14). Buchanan was part of Destroyer Squadron 31, the West Coast “Mod Squad,” an experiment by CNO Elmo Zumwalt in which destroyers were commanded by officers one grade lower than normal, in this case Lieutenant Commander James Roche. The ship went into overhaul at Long Beach in 1975 and then on to sea trials and routine operations. Holian was promoted to lieutenant commander in July 1975.
In May 1976, Lieutenant Commander Holian attended the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, graduating in December 1977 with a master of science degree in business administration and finance management. His “payback” tour was in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) as assistant head of Program Planning and Development Branch (OP-901). In May 1980, he reported to Surface Warfare Officers Schools Command in Newport prior to assuming command of the Agile-class minesweeper Fortify in September 1980. Based in Little Creek, Virginia, Fortify located two crashed aircraft lost in separate accidents. Holian was promoted to commander in July 1981. In September 1982, he attended the Naval War College in Newport.
In November 1983, Commander Holian commenced a pre-command training track at the Bureau of Naval Personnel and Surface Warfare Officers Schools Command. In July 1984, he assumed command of Spruance-class destroyer Fletcher (DD-992), homeported in San Diego. Fletcher deployed to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean as part of the Constellation (CV-64) Battle Group from February to August 1985. In September 1986, Holian returned to Washington, DC, as head of appropriations matters, Office of Budget and Reports, in the Office of the Navy Comptroller. He was promoted to captain in September 1987.
Captain Holian commenced another training track in January 1990 at Surface Warfare Officers Schools Command and Fleet Training Command, Pacific. In June 1990, he assumed command of Belknap-class guided missile cruiser Fox, homeported in San Diego. Following extensive overhaul in 1990, Fox conducted exercises and pre-deployment workups along the West Coast.
In April 1991, Holian reported to the staff of Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT), initially as the head of finance, budget and personnel, and then as deputy chief of staff for resources and logistics. In May of 1991, he was designated a rear admiral (lower half) for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank. He was then the Pacific Fleet staff officer responsible for the evacuation of military personnel and dependents from Subic Bay, Philippines, following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991 (Operation Fiery Vigil).
In September 1992, Rear Admiral Holian assumed duty as Commander, Naval Base San Diego, and Commander, Navy Region Southwest. He was promoted to rear admiral (lower half) on 1 November 1992. In November 1994, he assumed duty as Commander, Training Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Holian retired on 1 September 1996.
Rear Admiral Holian’s awards include the Legion of Merit (four awards); Meritorious Service Medal (two awards); Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V”; Navy Achievement Medal with Combat “V”; Presidential Unit Citation; National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Vietnam Service Medal (four campaign stars); Republic of Vietnam Staff Service Medal (First Class); Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
After retiring from active duty, Rear Admiral Holian worked for 10 years as vice president for Northrop-Grumman Undersea Systems Division. He served as the chairman of the Naval Training Center Foundation, responsible for converting the closed Naval Training Center in San Diego to the Liberty Station mixed commercial/residential use site. He was chairman of the board of trustees of United Through Reading, an organization directly supporting military families worldwide. He also served on the San Diego Maritime Museum Board and frequented the Coronado Yacht Club.
Rear Admiral Holian served our Navy and nation with great distinction, whether in combat operations in Vietnam, multiple deployments to the far side of the world, or taking ships through several major overhauls (in some respects more challenging than deployments). He exemplified superior leadership, with a dash of humor, in his multiple commands, from river patrol craft to guided missile destroyers and cruisers. His talents were recognized early when he was selected to be the executive officer of a destroyer as a lieutenant, working for a lieutenant commander commanding officer as part of CNO Zumwalt’s experimental program that became known as the “Mod Squad”—a case in which a program was successful but not popular among more senior officers. He then went on to command of a very elderly (but distinguished) minesweeper, which might have been taken as a bad sign, but a command is a command and something to be coveted. He then had a new Spruance-class destroyer, and finally a veteran guided missile cruiser. He had multiple difficult assignments in the financial management field (payback for his degree at Naval Postgraduate School) and serving as Navy liaison to congressional appropriations committees. Within a month of arriving at CINCPACFLT he was handed the challenge of dealing with a major volcanic eruption and evacuating a major U.S. naval base (Subic Bay), something for which there was no training track or SOP. His service in Vietnam exemplified those who answered our nation’s call and did their duty, even when it was unpopular, and his influence on the training of the South Vietnamese navy had positive impact, as that service acquitted itself comparatively well, even as the country finally fell. All this was accomplished at great sacrifice in personal and family time, for which we should all be grateful. His multiple tours in San Diego and outreach to that community made him such a well-known figure that the city declared an “Admiral Holian Day” in 1994. He will certainly be missed, but his impact on the Navy (and San Diego) will live on.
Rest in Peace, Admiral Holian.