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In Memoriam: Rear Admiral Stephen K. Chadwick, USN

Jan. 25, 2024 | 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 (lower half) Stephen Kent “Steve” Chadwick on 18 January 2024 at age 85. Rear Admiral Chadwick entered the U.S. Naval Academy in July 1957 and served as a surface warfare officer until his retirement in September 1990 as Commander Naval Surface Group Mid-Pacific/Commander Naval Base Pearl Harbor. His commands included Warbler (MSC-206), Peterson (DD-969), Fleet Mine Warfare Training Center Charleston, and Destroyer Squadron THREE SIX (DESRON-36). He served as the 71st Commandant of Midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy from 1985 to 1987. Rear Admiral Chadwick had significant Vietnam War service in command of Warbler during Operation Market Time and as a senior advisor in the Naval Advisory Group at Nam Cam, Republic of Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star with Combat “V,” a Combat Action Ribbon, two Navy Unit Commendations, and a Vietnam Service Medal with five campaign stars, among other awards.

Steve Chadwick enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps when he was 17 years old, the day after he graduated from high school. After boot camp, he attended Birmingham Southern College and earned an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. He entered the Academy on 1 July 1957. Midshipman Chadwick sailed in Luders yawls to Newport, Rhode Island; Bermuda; and throughout Chesapeake Bay. According to the Lucky Bag yearbook, “the only thing that cut into his sailing time was academics, which always seemed to have a boat-length lead on him” (proving that it is leadership that counts the most). He graduated on 6 June 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in naval science and was commissioned an ensign.

In July 1962, Ensign Chadwick reported to the destroyer-class namesake Gearing (DD-710) in Norfolk. In October 1962, Gearing sortied with the Essex (CVS-9) anti-submarine group during the Cuban Missile Crisis for the establishment of a U.S. Navy “quarantine” around Cuba to prevent the Soviets from bringing nuclear ballistic missiles to the island. At 0715 on 25 October, Gearing made the first interception of a Soviet ship heading for Cuba, the tanker Bucharest from Odessa. While Gearing maintained contact on Bucharest, the National Command Authority debated whether to stop and board the tanker, which would have escalated the already exceedingly tense situation (Defense Condition—DEFCON—2 was in effect). The Soviet ship was allowed to pass after it was determined that it was unlikely to be bringing missiles to Cuba. After the crisis abated, Gearing participated in Operation Springboard ’63, an extensive training exercise in the Caribbean. The ship then deployed to the Mediterranean in March 1963, returning in September, followed by overhaul to Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization I configuration. Chadwick was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in December 1963, which was followed by more operations by Gearing in the North Atlantic in the spring of 1964.

In April 1964, Lieutenant (j.g.) Chadwick reported to Naval Destroyer School, Newport, for duty under instruction. In November 1964, he reported as weapons officer to San Diego–based Dealey-class destroyer escort Evans (DE-1023), then at the end of a Vietnam deployment. He was promoted to lieutenant in December 1965. Chadwick then deployed again to the Vietnam War zone on Evans, which provided anti-submarine warfare protection to U.S. carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin in from April to September 1966.

In August 1966, Lieutenant Chadwick reported to Naval Schools Command, Charleston, South Carolina, for mine warfare training. In September 1966, he assumed command of Bluebird-class minesweeper Warbler. Based out of Sasebo, Japan, Warbler served as flagship for Mine Division THREE TWO (MINDIV-32) and spent most of the next few years participating in Operation Market Time, interdicting the seaborne flow of Communist arms and supplies from North Vietnam to the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. Warbler intercepted, boarded, and searched numerous vessels.

In April 1968, Lieutenant Chadwick reported to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, DC, as an assignment officer. He was promoted to lieutenant commander in January 1970. In April 1970, Chadwick was enrolled in the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, graduating in 1971 with a master of science degree (his service transcript indicates his major as business administration, but his obituary states it as materials management). He then volunteered for in-country Vietnam War service.

In July 1971, Lieutenant Commander Chadwick reported to the Naval Inshore Operations Training Center, Mare Island, California. In December 1971, he arrived in South Vietnam and was assigned to the Naval Advisory Group as a senior advisor at the austere intermediate support base in the far south of the country. He led a team of about 30 advisors, supporting the South Vietnamese navy in taking over riverine patrol duties from withdrawing U.S. forces. He was in this position when the North Vietnamese launched a conventional armored assault into South Vietnam (the “Easter Offensive”), supported by Viet Cong actions throughout the country. The offensive was defeated primarily by U.S. carrier airpower, but South Vietnamese navy units, trained by the U.S. Navy, acquitted themselves well.

In October 1972, Chadwick attended the Naval School, Transportation Management, Naval Schools Command. Commencing in June 1973, this was followed by a training track that included Naval Destroyer School, Newport, followed by training duty with the staff of Destroyer Squadron FOURTEEN (DESRON-14) and then Fleet Combat Direction Systems Training Center Atlantic, Dam Neck, Virginia.

In November 1973, Lieutenant Commander Chadwick assumed duty as executive officer of Mayport-based Forrest Sherman–class destroyer Jonas Ingram (DD-938), which spent much of this period (September 1974–June 1975) in dry dock. In June 1975, Chadwick reported as flag secretary on the staff of Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Group TWELVE (CRUDESGRU-12). This was just after the staff, embarked on guided missile destroyer leader Leahy (DLG-16, later CG-16), in company with guided missile destroyer Tattnall (DDG-19), had completed a historic port visit to Leningrad, Soviet Union, in May 1975 (the first visit of U.S. warships to the Soviet Union since World War II). This period in U.S. Soviet relations was known as “détente” (French for “easing of hostility”)—it wouldn’t last (the port visit was on the heels of OKEAN 75, the largest Soviet global naval exercise ever conducted).

In June 1975, after Chadwick had joined, the CRUDESGRU-12 staff deployed to the Mediterranean in embarked on attack carrier John F. Kennedy (CVA-67). During the deployment, the staff shifted flag to Forrestal (CVA-59); ashore to Rota, Spain; then to guided-missile cruiser Belknap (CG-26) and to destroyer tender Piedmont (AD-17) in Naples, Italy. The staff was on Piedmont when Belknap collided with “JFK” on 19 November 1975. The collision severely damaged the cruiser and killed eight sailors. By the end of 1975, CRUDESGRU-12 had re-embarked on John F. Kennedy, then responding to the increasingly precarious crisis in Lebanon.

Lieutenant Commander Chadwick was promoted to commander in September 1976, and in December he attended Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport. In February 1977, Chadwick assumed duty as pre-commissioning commanding officer of the new Spruance-class destroyer Peterson (DD-969), then completing construction at Pascagoula, Mississippi. Upon the commissioning of Peterson on 9 July 1977, Commander Chadwick became its first commanding officer, taking it through trials, workups, and then its first deployment to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Gulf from June 1979 to January 1980. During the deployment, Peterson served as the flagship for Commander Middle East Force (COMIDEASTFOR) and was awarded a Battle Efficiency Ribbon.

In July 1980, Commander Chadwick reported to Tactical Training Group Atlantic (TACTRAGRULANT) as a tactics instructor. In June 1981, he assumed command of Fleet Mine Warfare Training Center, Charleston. He was promoted to captain in October 1981.

In November 1983, Captain Chadwick assumed command of DESRON-36, responsible for the training and readiness of up to 15 destroyers and frigates operating in the Atlantic and deploying to the Mediterranean. In November 1984, he executed orders to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, DC, to serve as the director of Surface Warfare Manpower and Training Division (OP-39). However, due to the untimely death of the Commandant of Midshipmen, Captain Leslie N. Palmer, from a heart attack, Chadwick was nominated and selected as the 71st Commandant of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, serving from January 1985 to January 1987 (initially during the first tenure as superintendent of then–Rear Admiral Charles R. Larson). In December 1986, Chadwick was designated a rear admiral (lower half) for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank.

In January 1987, Chadwick assumed duty in the Naval Military Personnel Command as director for distribution (the “Head Detailer”). He was formally promoted to rear admiral (lower half) on 1 September 1987. In June 1988, Rear Admiral Chadwick assumed command of Naval Surface Group Mid-Pacific/Naval Base Pearl Harbor, responsible for surface ships operating out of Pearl Harbor as well as the naval base. Rear Admiral Chadwick retired on 1 September 1990.

Rear Admiral Chadwick’s awards include the Legion of Merit (at least four awards); Bronze Star with Combat “V”; Meritorious Service Medal; Navy Commendation Medal; Combat Action Ribbon; Navy Unit Commendation (two awards); Battle Efficiency Ribbon; Navy Expeditionary Medal (Lebanon); National Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Cuba); Vietnam Service Medal (five campaign stars); Sea Service Deployment Ribbon; Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Gallantry Cross Colors); Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Civil Action Colors); Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal; and the Republic of Vietnam Staff Service Medal (First Class).

After retiring from active duty, Rear Admiral Chadwick became, according to his obituary, “chief operating officer of Prodesco, Inc., a Pennsylvania technology company that designs and manufactures textile-based components for the chemical and aerospace industries. Under his leadership, Prodesco established a wholly owned subsidiary, Secant Medical LLC, to provide textile-based components for human implantation in the medical device industry. In 2008, he guided the sale of Prodesco and Secant Medical to Fenner PLC. At the request of the new owners, he remained CEO of both until his second retirement in February 2013. He also received an honorary doctor of letters from Delaware Valley University.”

Also according to his obituary, Rear Admiral Chadwick, “continued his mission of service on boards of many non-profit organizations, including the Naval Academy Athletic and Scholarship (USNA ASP) Foundation, Doylestown Hospital Foundation, Heritage Conservancy, Pearl S. Buck International, Travis Manion Foundation, All Saints Episcopal School Board of Trustees, and as a court-appointed special advocate for children at C.A.S.A. of the South Plains. For five years, he was president of the Naval Academy Class of 1962.” He was an active trustee of the USNA ASP Foundation since 2006.

Of note, Rear Admiral Chadwick was father of Rear Admiral Robert B. Chadwick II, USN (Ret.) (USNA ’91), who also served as Commandant of Midshipman (87th, 2017–2019), as well as Commander Naval Surface Group Mid-Pacific. He was also the father of Dr. Jonathan L. Chadwick, CDR, USN (Ret.) (USNA ’93).

Funeral services will be held at the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel at 1030 on Friday, 10 May 2024.

In 1962, DEFCON 1 was defined as “nuclear war imminent.” Within four months of graduating from the Naval Academy, Ensign Chadwick was at DEFCON 2 aboard the destroyer Gearing, making the first intercept of a Soviet ship heading for Cuba, which would test the resolve of the United States to enforce the declared quarantine. Meanwhile, and nearby, the destroyer Beale (DD-471) was hammering Soviet Foxtrot-class diesel submarine B-59 with practice depth charges to force it to the surface. Unable to communicate with Moscow, the skipper of B-59 decided to fire a 15-kiloton nuclear torpedo at Beale, but was overridden by the submarine flotilla chief of staff, who was embarked on B-59 (this would not be known until after the end of the Cold War). Ensign Chadwick, and the rest of the world, came that close to being in a nuclear war. He had plenty enough other danger in his career, including serving in five campaigns during the Vietnam War: as weapons officer on a destroyer escort (Evans) protecting carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin and as commanding officer of a minesweeper (Warbler) in Operation Market Time, intercepting small boats, junks, and other vessels, any one of which could have been a Viet Cong ambush. In 1972, he volunteered for an in-country assignment to Vietnam at a time when many, including some in the U.S. Navy, were trying to avoid doing so. He would later say that he believed it was his duty to volunteer, having previously served as a junior officer detailer issuing orders to some lieutenants to go to Vietnam—a few of whom didn’t come home. Academics may not have been his strongest suit at the Academy, but he certainly displayed exemplary leadership throughout his career. When he was selected to be the first commanding officer of Peterson, he established a command culture of excellence (with a Battle “E” to prove it). He became Commandant of Midshipmen due to an accident of fate, but his proven performance and reputation were such that when an unexpected opportunity knocked, he was ready to answer the door—and there are few positions in the Navy that provide the opportunity to so profoundly influence so many future officers. It’s hard to know a person’s character from official records, but a passage from the 1962 Lucky Bag gives a hint: “When a friend was in need, ‘Big Rock’ was the friend who saved the day. He always had time for others.” He certainly had time for the U.S. Navy and our nation, at no doubt considerable sacrifice of personal and family time, for which we should all be grateful.

Rest in Peace, Admiral Chadwick.