Dempster McKee Jackson – Rear Admiral, United States Navy

From a contemporary press report:

Dempster McKee Jackson, 70, a retired Navy rear admiral who took part in what became one of the most important and controversial naval actions in U.S. history, died April 3, 2001, at Arlington Hospital after surgery for a heart ailment.

On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox — with Jackson aboard as executive officer and navigator — was sailing in the Gulf of Tonkin, at least 30 miles off the coast of Vietnam, on what was described as a routine patrol when it was attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo patrol boats. The Maddox returned fire, damaging all three boats.

On the night of August 4, 1964, it was reported that the Maddox, then sailing with a second destroyer, was attacked a second time by North Vietnamese forces. It was reported that the two American destroyers drove the attackers off.

President Lyndon Johnson retaliated for those attacks with air strikes, and on August 7, 1964, saw Congress pass, by overwhelming majorities, what became known as the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. It authorized the president to “take all necessary measures” to repel attacks on American forces and to “prevent further aggression” in Southeast Asia.

The resolution became a cornerstone of the Johnson administration's justification for entering and escalating the Southeast Asia conflict.

Only later did it appear that much of what the American public “knew” about the Tonkin Gulf incident was incorrect. As a result of reports by retired military officers, historians, journalists and others, it was determined that the Maddox was not on a “routine patrol,” but on an electronic intelligence-gathering mission in conjunction with South Vietnamese and Laotian forces.

It also turned out that the second attack, on August 4, never happened. Green and jumpy sailors, serving on a dark night during freak weather conditions, were probably firing at shadows.

On the Navy's Web site, its official “A Brief History of Destroyers” now refers only to the August 2 attack, in which it claims that the Maddox was “about” 30 miles off the coast of North Vietnam when it “eluded two torpedoes” and “sank one of the enemy boats.”

In 1995, the legendary retired North Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap met with Johnson administration defense secretary Robert S. McNamara and denied that North Vietnam had attacked American ships on Aug. 4, a statement McNamara accepted.

However, while admitting that facts he and others had presented to Congress and the public were incorrect, McNamara maintained that no administration official had knowingly lied. Others strongly disagree with the second part of that statement.

Admiral Jackson's daughter said he never spoke about the Tonkin Gulf incident. For his service aboard the Maddox, he received a Navy Commendation Medal with combat V. At the time of the Tet Offensive in 1968, he was an operations officer in Da Nang, South Vietnam, and received a Bronze Star with combat V.

He later commanded a destroyer escort and guided missile frigate, receiving a second Bronze Star, and held a number of staff assignments dealing with antisubmarine warfare. His last two posts, before retiring from active duty in 1983, were as commander of the antisubmarine warfare systems project with the Navy Materiel Command and as deputy commander of the combat systems directorate at the headquarters of Naval Sea Systems Command.

After retiring from the Navy, he did consulting work on undersea warfare projects and received an award from the National Defense Industrial Association. He also held the post of executive vice president of the Naval Undersea Museum at Keyport, Washington. He was a life member of the Surface Navy Association and the Sons of the American Revolution and was a member of the Society of Mayflower Descendants. His hobbies included restoring classic cars, and he was a member of the Model A Restorers Club.

Admiral Jackson, who lived in Vienna, Virginia, was born in San Diego, California. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1952, the same year he was a member of the Navy crew team that participated in the Olympic Games at Helsinki.

Before assuming his duties aboard the Maddox, he had served in Korean waters during the Korean War, had been a member of a fleet ballistic missile launch team, and had been a test officer with the Polaris project. He also had received a master's degree in physics from the Navy Postgraduate School in California.

Survivors include his wife of 45 years, Mary-lin, of Vienna; three sons, Navy Capt. David M., serving in Millington, Tenn., Dennis M., of Leesburg, and Riley W., of Portland, Ore.; a daughter, Demarie Jackson of Arlington; a brother; a sister; and five grandchildren.

Rear Admiral Dempster McKee Jackson USN Retired, 70, of Virginia and former San Diego resident died April 3, 2001. Survived by his wife of 45 years, Mary-lin; three sons, Capt. USN David M., currently serving in Millington, Tenn., Dennis M. of Leesburg, Virginia; and Riley W. of Portland, Oregon; a daughter, Demarie of Arlington, Virginia; five grandchildren; brother Remington of Del Mar, Calif. and sister Marcia Mackey Thaxton of San Diego, Calif. Funeral services will be held at the Memorial Chapel, Fort Myer, Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday May 2, 11 am.


Of Vienna, VA, on Tuesday, April 3, 2001 at Arlington Hospital. Survivors include his wife of 45 years, Mary-Lin; three sons, Capt. David M. Jackson, USN, currently serving in Millington, TN; Dennis M. Jackson, of Leesburg, VA, and Riley W. Jackson, of Portland, OR; a daughter, Demarie S. Jackson, of Arlington, VA; a brother, Remington Jackson, of Del Mar, CA; and a sister, Marcia Mackey Thaxton, of San Diego, CA. Also survived by five grandchildren. Memorial services will be held at the Memorial Chapel at Ft. Myer on Wednesday May 2, 2001 at 11 a.m. Inurnment at the Columbarium at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be made in his name to the Joslin Diabetes Center, One Joslin Place, Boston, MA 02215, Attention: Development; or to the Naval Undersea Museum Foundation, P.O. Box 408, Keyport, WA 98345.

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