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In Memoriam: Rear Admiral William E. Newman, USN

Dec. 11, 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 William Edward “Bill” Newman on 4 December 2023 at age 83. Rear Admiral Newman entered the U.S. Naval Academy in July 1957 and served as a naval aviator and material professional until his retirement in July 1996 as Commander, Naval Air Warfare Center. His other commands included Attack Squadron ONE NINE FIVE (VA-195), Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron (Blue Angels), Carrier Air Wing NINE (CVW-9), White Plains (AFS-4), Pacific Missile Test Center, and Naval Air Warfare Center, Weapons Division. He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and other medals for valor in the Vietnam War during his first deployment, where he also survived being hit by North Vietnamese ground fire and ejecting at sea.

Bill Newman entered the U.S. Naval Academy on 1 July 1957. He graduated on 7 June 1961 with a bachelor of science degree in naval science and was commissioned an ensign. He then reported to the Naval Air Basic Training Command at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Florida, for flight training. In May 1962, he transferred to Naval Auxiliary Air Station Beeville, Texas, for advanced jet training. Ensign Newman was designated a naval aviator (heavier-than-air) on 10 October 1962. He then reported to VA-125, the West Coast replacement air group for the A-4 Skyhawk, located at NAS Lemoore, California. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in December 1962.

In April 1963, Lieutenant (j.g.) Newman reported to VA-22 “Fighting Redcocks” flying the A-4C Skyhawk. He was promoted to lieutenant in March 1965 as the squadron embarked on attack carrier Midway (CVA-41) with CVW-2 for a momentous Vietnam War deployment in the early days of Operation Rolling Thunder. This deployment included the first North Vietnamese MiG fighters shot down (by Midway fighters) and the first U.S. Navy losses to North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) (also a Midway Skyhawk). In June 1964, Midway aircraft conducted some of the first strikes on the infamous Thanh Hoa (“Dragon’s Jaw”) Bridge, which would survive repeated American attacks until 1972.

Lieutenant Newman would be awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross as part of a four-plane coordinated strike on a heavily defended target near SAM sites and a North Vietnamese airfield in a low-angle, low-altitude bomb attack against intense enemy opposition, accurately delivering his bombs, destroying one building and damaging another. Later in the deployment, during an air wing fly-off to Cubi Point, Philippines, the tail of an A-4 sliced into the fuel tank of another A-4 flown by (future Vice Admiral) Paul Ilg. Newman, flying a tanker-configured A-4, streamed his refueling drogue, enabling Ilg to plug in, and the two flew together until final approach. Ilg’s plane caught fire upon landing but was saved and repaired for future combat operations. Ilg would subsequently be shot down and then rescued after three days of evasion.

On the night of 11–12 August, a VA-23 Skyhawk off Midway gained the distinction of being the first Navy aircraft shot down by a North Vietnamese SAM, while a second Skyhawk was damaged but made it back to the carrier. On 13 August, the carriers on Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin (five carriers at the time) launched 76 Skyhawks to seek out and destroy the SAM sites, billed as the “First Ironhand” (SAM suppression) mission. It did not go well. Five Skyhawks were shot down (two pilots killed, three rescued at sea), seven others were hit and damaged, but no SAM sites were destroyed or damaged. The nose of Newman’s A-4 was blown off by a large caliber anti-aircraft shell, and debris damaged the engine. He was able to get the plane out over the water, and he ejected near a U.S. destroyer five miles off the coast and was rescued. Midway returned from deployment in November 1965.

In November 1965, Lieutenant Newman reported to the Naval Test Pilot Project, NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, for duty under instruction, prior to reporting to the Empire Test Pilot School, Farnborough, Hampshire, England for test pilot training. (During his career he would pilot over 50 types of U.S., British, and German aircraft.)  

In December 1966, Newman was assigned to the Weapons Systems Test Division, Naval Aviation Test Center, Patuxent River, serving as an ordnance project pilot conducting experimental weapons separation tests. In January 1969, he was assigned to VA-44, the East Coast A-4 replacement air group at NAS Cecil Field, Florida, for refresher training.

In April 1969, Lieutenant Newman reported to VA-83 “Rampagers” at NAS Cecil Field. Flying the A-4C Skyhawk, he embarked on the first deployment of attack carrier John F. Kennedy (CVA-67), deploying to the Mediterranean in April–December 1969. He was promoted to lieutenant commander in July 1969. Upon returning from deployment, VA-44 transitioned to the A-7E Corsair II before deploying again to the Mediterranean from January–July 1971, embarked on attack carrier Forrestal (CVA-59).

In July 1971, Lieutenant Commander Newman reported to the Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, graduating in June 1972. He then served as flag secretary and aide to the commander of Carrier Division FOUR. As the carrier division transitioned in July 1973 to Commander, Carrier Group FOUR, it developed the concept of the commander being responsible for all aspects of the battle group, not just the carrier and division. Prior to this, a separate flag officer was responsible for the surface ships/escorts.

In December 1973, Newman was assigned as operations officer for VA-122, the West Coast A-7 replacement air group, located at NAS Lemoore. In April 1975, he assumed duty as executive officer of VA-195 “Dambusters” at NAS Lemoore, deploying to the Western Pacific embarked on carrier Kitty Hawk (CV-63) from May–December 1975. He was promoted to commander in July 1976 and assumed command of VA-95 the next month for pre-deployment workups.

In October 1977, Commander Newman assumed command of the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron (Blue Angels), serving as flight leader for over 200 air shows. In December 1979, he commenced a training track at Commander, Naval Air Force, Pacific Fleet, prior to assuming command of CVW-9 in July 1980. Based at NAS Lemoore, CVW-9 deployed to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean embarked on carrier Constellation (CVA-64) from February–October 1980, including a reaction to the Iranian Hostage Crisis. In October 1981, he was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, DC, as air-launched weapons program coordinator in Air-Launched Weapons Requirement Branch (OP-507). He was promoted to captain in September 1982.
In July 1983, Captain Newman became head of OP-507. In February 1984, he commenced a training track at Surface Warfare Officer School Command, Newport, Rhode Island, and then at the Bureau of Naval Personnel.

In August 1984, Captain Newman assumed command of combat stores ship White Plains (AFS 4), which shifted its homeport from Yokosuka, Japan, to Guam in September 1984, followed by an Indian Ocean deployment with carrier Midway (CV-41) from October to December 1984 and Western Pacific operations in February–March 1985.

In January 1986, Newman attended the Defense Systems Management College at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, as he became one of the first to transition to the new material professional designator, a program established by Secretary of the Navy John Lehman. He graduated in June 1986 and was assigned to the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIRSYSCOM) Headquarters as executive director for group operations, Systems and Engineering Group (Air-05B). In July 1987, he became NAVAIRSYSCOM major program manager, Defense Suppression Systems (PMA-242), including the AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), which had begun deploying in late 1985. In March 1989, he became NAVAIRSYSCOM program director, Tactical Aircraft Programs (PDA-10). He was promoted to rear admiral (lower half) on 1 July 1990.

In November 1990, Rear Admiral Newman assumed command of the Pacific Missile Test Center, Point Mugu, California. In January 1992, he assumed command of Naval Air Warfare Center, Weapons Division, Point Mugu. He was promoted to rear admiral (upper half) on 1 January 1993. In December 1993, Newman assumed duty as NAVAIRSYSCOM organization transition executive (AIR-03TE), which included merging Point Mugu and NAS China Lake into a single command. In April 1994, he assumed duty as NAVAIRSYSCOM assistant commander for research and engineering (AIR 4.0).

In July 1994, Rear Admiral Newman assumed command of Naval Air Warfare Center. He retired on 1 July 1996. During his career, he had accumulated over 5,200 flight hours, over 900 carrier fixed-wing landings, and 47 rotary-wing landings.

Rear Admiral Newman’s awards include the Distinguished Service Medal; Legion of Merit (two awards); Distinguished Flying Cross; Meritorious Service Medal; Air Medal (2 individual and 12 strike/flight); Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V” (three awards); Navy Achievement Medal; Navy Unit Commendation; Battle Efficiency Ribbon; Navy Expeditionary Medal; National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Vietnam Service Medal (one campaign star); Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (one star); Navy Overseas Service Ribbon; Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal; and Expert Pistol Shot Medal.

He was a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, the Association of Naval Aviation, the United States Naval Institute, and the District of Columbia Masters Swimming Club (president, 1987–89).

Following retirement from active duty, Rear Admiral Newman held executive management positions with Boeing for several years, acting primarily as a “change agent” to optimize the newly merged company’s 850 nationwide laboratories, test facilities, and related test processes.

I have no information at this time regarding his funeral arrangements.

Sadly, our flag wardroom has lost yet another of our Vietnam War heroes. In Bill Newman’s case, his first deployment on his first operational tour was a baptism of fire as the U.S. Navy suffered the highest per-sortie loss rate of the entire war during mid-1965 after the North Vietnamese brought in massive numbers of anti-aircraft artillery pieces and SA-2 Guideline SAMs. That period would also start to show the dysfunction that would hamper U.S. air operations, as permission to preemptively destroy the new SAM sites was denied, due to concern of killing Soviet military “advisors.” Not until the SAMs started shooting down U.S. aircraft was permission given to take them out, and even then there were substantial restrictions. Nevertheless, Bill hit his targets (and was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and multiple individual and strike/flight air medals). He would go on to serve in other edge-of-the-seat tours as a test pilot and then as Blue Angel flight lead (gave new meaning to the word “concentration,” he said). His shift to material professional does not appear to be what he wanted (he used the words “following infarct,” which suggests a medical issue). Nevertheless, he made the most of it in Secretary Lehman’s new program, as he served in multiple key roles in missile and aircraft development. He served in major acquisition program management and engineering oversight of naval aviation development programs, as well as flag command of the Naval Air Warfare Center’s research and experimental activities performed on 53,000 square miles of test ranges in Southern California. There is some poetic justice in that he was shot down while attempting to destroy SAM sites and then later had a key role in deploying the HARM missile (intended to blind or destroy the radars of SAM sites) that served the U.S. Navy so well in subsequent combat operations. (Without Navy HARM aircraft, USAF F-117 stealth fighters would not go into “downtown” Baghdad during Desert Storm.) As always, such a dedicated and consequential career entailed great sacrifice on the part of his family, for which the Navy and nation should be most grateful.

Rest in Peace, Admiral Newman.