US – Former Navy leader Adm. Frank Kelso dies in Norfolk

Adm. Frank Kelso, who died Sunday, was chief of naval operations from 1990 to 1994.

Adm. Frank Kelso, who died Sunday, was chief of naval operations from 1990 to 1994.

In the place where he was born and where he retired, he was known as a hometown hero who made it all the way to chief of naval operations, influenced men of power and maintained the humility of an ordinary guy next door.

In Norfolk, where he served pivotal years in his 38-year career, Adm. Frank Kelso was a senior regional commander who helped run operations at the end of the Cold War and during heated years in the Middle East before being tapped to run the entire Navy.

Kelso, 79, died Sunday after suffering a fall, according to Navy officials. He was in Hampton Roads visiting his son Robert, a Navy captain who was chief of staff of Navy Cyber Forces until this year. Kelso attended the high school graduation of his grandson, Robbie Kelso, who, following in his grandfather’s footsteps, will go to the Naval Academy in the fall.

“As CNO, he led our Navy through the Gulf War and the uncharted early days of the post-Cold War era with skills and dedication,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a statement. “Adm. Kelso was a submariner, an accomplished commander and an unmatched leader known for his intelligence and integrity.”

Kelso spent nearly four decades building a career from his days as a submariner to his place at the Navy’s helm. He led forces in strikes against Libya, helped rescue hostages of Palestinian hijackers, and oversaw a difficult drawdown of the Navy at the end of the Cold War. During that period, he realigned the Navy to work more closely with the other services.

But he told a historian that despite his career of nearly four decades, he feared his name would always be tied to the 1991 Tailhook scandal, in which dozens of women were sexually assaulted during a convention of Navy and Marine Corps aviation officers in Las Vegas.

“He lamented… that for many people, that may be the only thing people will remember about him – and he did so much,” said Paul Stillwell, who conducted 37 hours of oral interviews with Kelso as the director of the U.S. Naval Institute’s history division.

The scandal marked the end of numerous officer careers and ultimately led Kelso to retire early. He said he had become “a lightning rod” and hoped his stepping down would shift the focus forward.

Kelso was accused of witnessing abusive acts and turning a blind eye, something he vehemently denied, Stillwell said.

“My assessment was that was not something he would stand for, nor would he lie about it,” Stillwell said. “He was just an individual for whom I had great admiration. He was unpretentious, down to earth, and for someone who accomplished as much as he did, that was very refreshing.”

Kelso’s two sons both served in the Navy, and two weeks ago he attended the graduation of a grandson who is headed into the Navy.

Kelso led the Navy’s 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea during the 1980s, leading the operation to capture hijackers of the Achille Lauro cruise ship and the subsequent air strikes on Libya in response to state-sponsored terrorism.

He served in Norfolk from 1986 until 1990, first as commander in chief of the Atlantic Fleet and then as NATO’s supreme allied commander, Atlantic and as commander in chief of U.S. Atlantic Command.

Retired Vice Adm. Robert Dunn, who commanded Naval Air Force Atlantic in those years, said he never saw Kelso fall short of his duties as a leader.

“He always had a kind word for everyone,” Dunn said. “Good people just naturally flocked to him.”

Kelso became chief of naval operations in 1990 and served until his retirement in 1994. He oversaw the Navy in the Gulf War even as he managed severe budget cuts. Kelso realigned the Navy to meet new, tighter demands. He also supported the integration of women into more wide-ranging roles and command, particularly in the wake of Tailhook.

In Fayetteville, Tenn., where Kelso is to be buried Saturday, businesses lowered flags to half-staff for a man described as a lifelong friend and active community leader, said Ann Hatcher, associate pastor at the First United Methodist Church.

“He was a remarkable man and what has always impressed me so much about him was his humility,” said Hatcher, who knew Kelso from the time she was a young girl.

“He was probably the most important person I would ever meet in my lifetime, but it was never about him. It was always about someone else.”

Source – PilotOnline.com

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One thought on “US – Former Navy leader Adm. Frank Kelso dies in Norfolk

  1. Tom

    CDR Frank Kelso was my first boss on CSL staff when I reported in as PCO Los Angeles (SSN-688). Frank was waiting for orders to be C.O. Bluefish (SSN-675). He shared with me his values and perceptions of events in the Navy. I came away from having known Frank with a deep appreciation of his moral fiber and insightful knowledge of human behavior. Later after he made Admiral and I had finished my tour as XO Los Angeles we remained good friends. The Submarine Force, the Navy and the world lost a great leader when Admiral Frank Kelso passed.

    Reply

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