Norvell Gardiner Ward – Rear Admiral, United States Navy

Retired Navy rear admiral Norvell G. Ward, who served as a chief of naval  forces in the Vietnam War during a period of escalating U.S. involvement,  died July 19 in a special care unit of a retirement community in Atlantic Beach in Florida. He had congestive heart failure. He was 92.

Ward graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1935 and became a much-honored submariner during World War II. He received the Navy Cross, the highest decoration for valor after the Medal of Honor, as commanding  officer of the submarine Guardfish, for sinking eight Japanese ships on one patrol.

After commanding a submarine squadron that tested the Regulus surface-fired missile, he entered the Polaris nuclear missile program in 1958.

He commanded Submarine Squadron 14, the first group of Polaris submarines  deployed overseas, which provided a breakthrough in long-range nuclear strike capability because the subs could fire underwater.

An expert in strategic planning and war gaming, Ward was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1963.

Two years later, he arrived in Saigon, Vietnam, as chief of the Naval Advisory Group under the U.S. Military Assistance Command, and soon after became commander of naval forces in Vietnam.

He oversaw the launch of river patrol boats and played a major role in implementing Operation Market Time, which tried to stop the North Vietnamese from smuggling arms along the coast.

Capable, efficient and utterly unflamboyant, Ward did not emerge as one of  the vibrant personalities of the war. He turned down opportunities for  promotion to Vice Admiral as a gesture to his wife, Elizabeth, who had bouts of cancer and from whom he endured long separations while on  assignment.

He retired from the Navy in 1973 as commander of the Caribbean Sea frontier and commandant of the 10th Naval District, based in Puerto Rico.

He weathered confrontations between the Pentagon and residents over continued use of the island of Culebra as a Navy target range.

Norvell Gardiner Ward was born December 30, 1912, in Indian Head, Maryland, where  his father was a civil service supervisor at the Naval Powder Factory.

He received a congressional appointment to the Naval Academy in 1931. He was an all-American lacrosse player during his senior year.

He served as Executive officer on the submarine Gato before taking command of the submarine Guardfish in May 1943. From  June 14 to July 31 of that year, he patrolled enemy-controlled waters, engaging in six ”well planned and executed” torpedo attacks that sunk eight enemy ships totaling more than 38,000 tons, according to his Navy
Cross citation.

Besides the Navy Cross, his decorations included the Distinguished Service  Medal, three awards of the Silver Star and five awards of the Legion of Merit.

A son, Marine Corps Captain Alexander K. Ward, died in 1968 from wounds he received in Vietnam.

Survivors include his wife of 68 years, Elizabeth Kearney Ward of Atlantic  Beach; three children, Norvell G. Ward Jr. of Dripping Springs, Texas, retired Navy Commander William H. Ward of Tacoma, Washington, and Elizabeth Schafer  of New Hartford, New York; two sisters, Ora Ward and Louise Borden, both of Bethesda, Maryland; 13 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

Rear Admiral Norvell G. Ward, Chief of the Naval Advisory Group and the first Commander Naval Forces, Vietnam, discusses with his staff Communist seaborne infiltration into the Ca Mau Peninsula at the southern tip of South Vietnam

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