Harold E. Shear – Admiral, United States Navy

February 7, 1999 — Admiral Harold E. Shear dies at 80.

Groton, Connecticut – Retired Navy Admiral Harold E. Shear, who rose from crewman on his stepfather's fishing boat to Vice Chief of Naval Operations during a 42-year Navy career, died Monday at home. He was 80.

Shear had a lifelong connection to the sea, becoming vice president of a steamship line after leaving the Navy. He was later named head of the U.S. Maritime Administration. The four-star Admiral retired from the Navy in 1980 when he was 62.

In recent years, he had been the driving force behind the renovation of State Pier, which was named the Admiral Harold E. Shear State Pier in his honor.

“There's a pretty good chance it wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for his leadership,” said Governor John G. Rowland. “He inspired the community to come together, and he had the vision to get people excited. He was also able to bring together people from the community and state government.

“He was a role model. He was the epitome of integrity,” Rowland said.

Rear Admiral John B. Padgett III, commander of Submarine Group Two at the Naval Submarine Base, said Shear had a “remarkable intellect … He was a patriot, he was a hero, and we're all much better off for having known him. He contributed to the Navy and the submarine force for a full career, then upon retirement goes on with another career that most folks would have been proud of. He just never stopped.”

Paul Stillwell of the U.S. Naval Institute, who did an oral history of Shear that was published last year, said the admiral had “a sense of impatience that got things done, that got results. He wanted what was best for the Navy.” Vice Admiral William D. Houser, a classmate of Shear at the U.S. Naval Academy, said Shear was “a real patriot, a great sailor, someone whose dedication to his profession and to his country is unequaled.”

Shear's son, Kenneth Shear, recalled that his father also had a strong conservation ethic, and sought to preserve the hunting and fishing grounds that helped mold him in his youth. He worked hard in the early 1960s to prevent Mashomic Point on Shelter Island, New York, from becoming condominiums and golf courses. He persuaded the Nature Conservancy to step in, and served on the board of directors for the preserve for several years. Today, an overlook at one of the harbors is named in his honor. “He was a hero to many – certainly a hero of mine, but to many others as well, because of his ability to lead, to command,” his son said.

Shear is survived by his wife, the former Elizabeth Perry of Falmouth, Maine, and two children, Kathleen Shear of New York City and Kenneth Shear, who divides his time between Groton and London, England. Shear will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Eight flag officers will serve as his pallbearers.

Shear's father, an officer in the Army Medical Corps, died in an influenza epidemic about six weeks before he was born. Shear was raised on Shelter Island by his mother, Jane Dillon Shear Payne, and stepfather, Kenneth Payne, who owned a fishing boat. Shear started working on the boat when he was 10.

“I had two jobs – keeping out of the way, and making friends with the cook,” Shear joked during a fund-raiser at the Custom House in 1990.

Shear graduated from high school in 1937 and entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1938, a member of the class that graduated five months early because of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His first job was on the destroyer USS Stack, but he soon transferred to the submarine fleet.

Shear served aboard submarines for 25 years, commanding the diesel-powered submarine Becuna and the nuclear ballistic missile submarine Patrick Henry, as well as the Navy's first fast combat-support ship, the Sacramento, during the Vietnam War.

Retired Navy Captain Edward L. Beach, author of “Run Silent, Run Deep,” said that after he took command of the USS Trigger, the first post-World War II submarine built at EB, he met the up-and-coming Shear.

“I said I wanted the best executive officer the Navy had, and they said, ‘You've got him. His name is Harold Shear.' The only unfortunate thing is that they took him off the boat too early, at least from my perspective,” Beach said. “They gave him his own submarine. But I wish he could have stayed longer.”

During a deployment after Shear left, Beach fired off several angry radio messages about problems on the Trigger, and when he arrived back at the pier in Groton, Shear was waiting for him.

“He climbed right up and grabbed me and said I had to take it easy, I was getting myself in trouble,” Beach recalled. “He was going out of his way to warn me, and I was grateful. He would always go out of his way to do the right thing for his friends, for the Navy. He didn't give his friendship lightly, but when he gave it, it was permanent.”

Beach said Shear was the only submarine officer he ever knew – perhaps the only submarine officer ever – to bring a boat home to Groton on the backside of Fishers Island.

“He knew that water like the back of his hand, because he spent so much time there, and he drove right through it,” Beach said, just to show that it could be done.

“Many of the things I've done in my life, I've patterned after what I think he would have done,” Beach said. “I might have been the skipper and he might have been my exec, but he was the superior officer in every way.”

Shear had a significant influence on the development of the ballistic missile submarine force when, early in the Polaris program, he took part in a war game in which he commanded the Soviet Union's submarine fleet, and simulated an attack that eliminated the U.S. Strategic Air Command. Although it did nothing to improve Navy-Air Force relations, it prompted a realization that the nation needed survivable strategic weapons, which submarines represented.

During the Cuban missile crisis, Shear was the ballistic missile submarine operations officer on the Joint Staff, and within a day got all of the submarines and a tender out of Holy Loch, Scotland, and into operation, a clear signal to the Soviets that the nation was prepared for any action.

Shear was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1967 and served as director of anti-submarine warfare, then promoted to Vice Admiral in 1971 and full Admiral in 1974, when he was named commander-in-chief of the U.S. Naval Forces in Europe.

In 1975 he was named vice chief of naval operations, a job he held two years. He was then named commander-in-chief of Allied Forces in Southern Europe, with headquarters in Naples, a post he held until his retirement in 1980.

He received numerous medals and awards, including the Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry in action, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal with Gold Star, the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Star.

Though he characterized himself as the best ship driver in the Navy, his skills went far beyond that. He was widely recognized as a fine diplomat. Preparing for a job as Chief of the Navy section of the U.S. Military Group in Brazil, for instance, he learned the native tongue.

“He gave all his speeches in Portuguese and was greatly loved by the people of Brazil because of that,” recalled his son, who graduated from high school during that assignment.

On his retirement from the Navy, Shear accepted a job as vice president of Norton, Lilly & Co., a steamship company in New York City, and in 1981 was selected by President Reagan to become the head of the U.S. Maritime Administration, where he served until 1985.

Returning home to New London, he soon led the battle to save State Pier. Shear was a frequent critic of shipping subsidies and overregulation. He chafed at restrictions on free enterprise and a lack of competitive spirit, especially in the transportation industry.

“The combined assets of the state, the Vermont Central Railroad and New London must be brought into this enterprise under the direction of an experienced, competent, competitive and aggressive terminal operator who can bring commerce into the port,” he wrote in a 1992 commentary.

“He saw it as a means of restoring the prominence of maritime commerce in New London,” said New London attorney Robert Anderson, who knew Shear as a client, and as a fellow member of the Thames Club and the Ariston Club, local social organizations.

“He got the project back on track and saved it, benefiting not only New London but the whole area,” Anderson said. “The community lost a great man, but he has accomplished a lot. I talked to him about it recently, and he had a sense that he had his work all wrapped up. With the governor's commitment to the funding to finish it, he felt his work was complete.”

… The family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, the Navy League or the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.

Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment