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Fair Winds, Rear Admiral James B. Morin, USN

It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral James Brendon “Jim” Morin, U.S. Navy (Retired), on 4 July 2021 at age 93. Rear Admiral Morin enlisted in the U.S. Navy V-5 Naval Aviation Cadet program in November 1945 and served as a naval aviator until his retirement in 1979 as Joint Chiefs of Staff Representative for Law of the Sea Matters. His commands included VA-155, CVW-7, RCVW-4, Light Attack Wing ONE (LAW-1), USS LaSalle (LPD-3), and USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42). As executive and then commanding officer of VA-155, he was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star, Air Medal with three gold stars and 15 strike flights, and three Navy Commendation Medals (two with Combat “V”), while his squadron earned two Navy Unit Commendations for numerous strike missions into North Vietnam at the onset of Operation Rolling Thunder in 196566.

In September 1945, James Morin enlisted in the V-5 program for two years of college and initial ground syllabus training. Within only a few months after VJ-day, the Navy suffered an acute pilot shortage as World War II combat pilots returned to civilian life. He was among those who transitioned into the Naval Aviation College Program (NACP) as part of the “Holloway Plan,” which were known as “Flying Midshipman.” In February 1947, he reported to Naval Aviation Training Command at NAS Pensacola for flight instruction. He was promoted to midshipman in April 1947. Morin was designated a naval aviator on 7 October 1948.

In January 1949, Midshipman Morin was assigned to Attack Squadron FOUR FIVE (VA-45) “Fishhawks,” based at NAS Jacksonville flying the AD-1 Skyraider single-engine attack aircraft. Serving as assistant maintenance officer, he received his ensign’s commission on 30 April and deployed to the Mediterranean with his squadron embarked on carrier USS Midway (CVB-41). Upon return from deployment in June 1950, VA-45 was disestablished and Ensign Morin transferred to Fighter Squadron FOURTEEN (VF-14) “Tophatters,” (with a squadron lineage back to 1919) flying the F4U Corsair in an all-weather interceptor role. VF-14 deployed on USS Wright (CVL-49) in January 1951.

In September 1951, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Morin (promoted June 1951) reported to NAS Pensacola, then NAAS Saufley Field, and then back to NAS Pensacola for duty as a flight instructor. In October 1953, he was assigned to Ellyson Field, Pensacola, for training as a helicopter pilot, qualifying in November 1953. That same month, he reported to Attack Squadron ONE ONE ONE (VA-111) “Sundowners” as operations officer and landing signal officer. Flying the F9F-6 Cougar (first swept-wing version of the F-9 Panther straight-wing jet fighter) he deployed to the Western Pacific embarked on carrier USS Wasp (CVA-18) in 1954–55 and then a second deployment to the Western Pacific on USS Lexington (CVA-16), flying the F9F-8, which had been modified to have safer handling characteristics than the -6. He was promoted to lieutenant in July 1954.

From February to October 1957, Lieutenant Morin attended the Navy General Line School at Monterey. In November 1957, he was assigned to NAS Kingsville, Texas, as a jet flight instructor and safety officer. In February 1959, he returned to attend the University of California at Berkeley to complete his bachelor’s degree under the NACP program, a condition for retaining his commission. He was promoted to lieutenant commander in June 1959.

In July 1960, Lieutenant Commander Morin reported to the staff of Commander, Naval Air Forces Pacific in San Diego as enlisted personnel assignment officer, with additional duty at Enlisted Personnel Distribution Office, Pacific (EPDOPAC). In September 1962, he reported to Attack Squadron ONE TWO FIVE (VA-125) at NAS Lemoore, California, for replacement pilot training in the A-4E Skyhawk light attack jet. In February 1963, Morin was assigned as operations officer for Air Wing Group NINE (CVG-9), re-designated Attack Air Wing NINE (CVW-9) in December 1963. CVW-9 embarked on attack carrier USS Ranger (CVA-61) for a Western Pacific deployment from November 1962 to June 1963. He was promoted to commander in February 1964.

In June 1964, Commander Morin assumed duty as executive officer of Attack Squadron ONE FIVE FIVE (VA-155) “Silver Foxes,” flying the A-4E Skyhawk. Embarked on attack carrier USS Coral Sea (CVA-43), VA-155 commenced a Western Pacific/Vietnam deployment in December 1964. Following the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in August 1964 and retaliatory U.S. Navy airstrikes into North Vietnam (Operation Pierce Arrow), a relative lull existed until February 1965, when Viet Cong attacked American advisors at Pleiku, South Vietnam, destroying eight aircraft and five helicopters with demolition charges. In reprisal, U.S. Navy and South Vietnamese air force aircraft responded with Operation Flaming Dart I on 7 February 1965. Commander Morin led a 29-plane strike on North Vietnamese barracks just north of the demilitarized zone; one A-4E was shot down and the pilot killed. A 17-plane strike from attack carrier USS Hancock (CVA-19) followed up. The Viet Cong retaliated in turn by attacking a hotel billeting U.S. personnel in Qui Non, South Vietnam, leading to Operation Flaming Dart II, a 99-plane strike from Coral Sea, Hancock, and Ranger. The Flaming Dart strikes were the precursor to Operation Rolling Thunder, a 44-month bombing campaign of North Vietnam that commenced on 2 March 1965.

With the onset of Rolling Thunder, Morin and most of the pilots of VA-155 had flown over 100 combat missions by the time Coral Sea was supposed to depart, but her deployment was extended until November 1965. Morin assumed command of VA-155 in June 1965. During this extension, he would earn his first Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for action on 10 September 1965 as leader of a special strike group in a Rescue Combat Air Patrol (RESCAP) mission near Vinh, North Vietnam. He earned a second DFC for leading a coordinated two-carrier strike on the Kep Highway Bridge on 5 October 1965. After a quick turnaround, Commander Morin redeployed with VA-155 on Coral Sea in May 1966 for additional combat missions against rapidly improving North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery defenses. He would be awarded a Bronze Star with Combat “V” for this command tour to go with 19 Air Medals (15 Strike Flight) and three Navy Commendation Medals with Combat V in the two combat deployments. Morin detached from VA-155 in July 1966. His relief as commanding officer, Commander C. H. Peters, was shot down and killed a few days later while leading an attack on the Duang Nham petroleum facility in North Vietnam. VA-155 was awarded two Navy Unit Commendations, one for each deployment.

In August 1966, Morin was ordered to Washington, DC, to the Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS) in charge of Enlisted Plans. In December 1967, he returned to flying at Readiness Air Wing FOUR (RCVW-4) as prospective air wing commander. In June 1968, he assumed command of Attack Carrier Air Wing SEVEN (CVW-7), embarked on attack carrier USS Independence (CVA-62) for a Mediterranean deployment. This occurred during the tense period known as the War of Attrition between Egypt and Israel along the closed Suez Canal in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War and the Israeli attack on the U.S. intelligence collection ship USS Liberty (AGTR-5). In June 1969, Morin assumed command of Readiness Air Wing FOUR (RCVW-4), was promoted to captain the next month, and remained in command until RCVW-4 was disestablished in June 1970. He then became the first commander of Light Attack Wing ONE at Cecil Field, Florida, equipped with the new A-7 Corsair II light attack jet.

In October 1971, Captain Morin assumed command of amphibious transport dock USS LaSalle for a deployment to the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf, her last deployment before being reconfigured as a command ship and redesignated AGF-3 in 1972. In April 1972, Morin assumed command of attack carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42), while deployed to the Mediterranean, deploying again to the Mediterranean in 1973–74. In December 1974, he reported to Commander, Naval Air Forces Atlantic in Norfolk for indoctrination as chief of staff. However, upon his selection to rear admiral in May 1975, he was assigned to the Joint Staff in Washington, DC, as deputy director, National Military Command Center.

Promoted to rear admiral on 1 July 1975, Morin was then assigned in July 1976 as chief, Studies, Analysis and Gaming Agency, in the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In August 1977, he assumed duty as Joint Chiefs of Staff Representative for Law of the Sea Matters, also in the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rear Admiral Morin retired from active duty on 1 May 1979.

Rear Admiral Morin’s awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal; Legion of Merit; Distinguished Flying Cross (three awards); Bronze Star with Combat “V”; Defense Meritorious Service Medal; Meritorious Service Medal (two awards); Air Medal with three gold stars and numeral 15; Joint Service Commendation Medal; Navy Commendation Medal (three awards, two with Combat “V”); Navy Unit Commendation (two awards); China Service Medal; American Theater Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; Navy Occupation Service Medal (Europe); National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Vietnam Service Medal with four bronze stars; Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry; Republic of Vietnam Unit Citation; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. (This list probably does not include his last awards).

I have very little information about what Rear Admiral Morin did after retiring from active duty. He was the general manager of Butler Aviation at Washington National Airport during the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, which—according to one press report—resulted in one of the largest assemblies of private and corporate jets in the airport’s history. He remained with Butler until the mid- 1990s before moving to Virginia Beach, and then to Tallahassee in 1997. He had two sons, a daughter, and a son-in-law who served in the U.S. Navy, plus one granddaughter who served and a grandson who is still in the service. The number-one student in the strike-fighter “RAG” still receives the “Captain James Morin” award and there is a scholarship fund at Harvard University in his name. Jim also wrote a book, with John H. Bradley, Wind at Our Backs: Leading During the Cold War.

“Where do we get such men?” This question is associated with the Korean War, posed by a fictional admiral in The Bridges at Toko-Ri, but it is certainly applicable to Jim Morin. Historians and other armchair generals can debate whether the United States should have gotten involved in Vietnam or whether the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign would have ever achieved its desired objective. Nevertheless, it is the civilian political leaders of this country who set policy, at the same time expecting Jim Morin and others who followed him to fly into the teeth of the ever-more lethal North Vietnamese air defense system. Nevertheless, Jim Morin did exactly what his country asked, with extraordinary courage and skill, in an environment where virtually every mission was more dangerous than the last, and despite micromanagement and restrictions levied from afar. As a leader of the first Flaming Dart and Rolling Thunder strikes into North Vietnam, he set an early example of duty above self, and kept faith with Navy tradition of leading from the front, sharing all the same danger as those he led. Many other Navy squadron and wing leaders followed his example, but to a very high cost: 67 air wing and squadron commanding officers and executive officers were lost during the war doing what the Navy expected of them. Jim Morin’s extraordinary leadership before, during, and long after the Vietnam War gave him a reputation as a “legend” in the light attack community, and rightly so. A true testament to his character was his years-long fight with the bureaucracy to have members of his squadron receive awards for valor that had been administratively “lost.” It took 35 years, but Jim persevered and, in 2000, 10 former members of VA-155 were finally awarded the Distinguished Flying Crosses they had earned in the skies of North Vietnam. Jim’s loyalty to his men never wavered. This nation owes Jim Morin and the men he led into harm’s way a great debt of gratitude, and the Navy will always remember so that his legacy of courage, dedication and sacrifice will live on.

Rest in Peace, Admiral Morin.

Published: Tue Oct 05 15:19:10 EDT 2021