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William Joseph Cowhill was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 29, 1928, son of Joseph H. and Lucy R. (Foppiano) Cowhill. He attended Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, where he was a member of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps Unit. Upon graduation he received a bachelor of science degree and was commissioned Ensign, USN, on June 2, 1950. He subsequently advanced in rank to that of Captain, to date from June 1, 1970. His selection for the rank of Rear Admiral was approved by the President on March 28, 1973.
After receiving his commission in 1950, he served as Communications Officer on the USS Ellyson (DMS-19) until May 1952, then had instruction at the Naval Submarine School, New London, Connecticut. From January 1953 to December 1955 he was Communications and Engineer Officer on the USS Trigger (SS-564), then returned to Naval Submarine School for six months' further instruction. He reported in June 1956 for further training at the Nuclear Power Training Unit, Idaho Falls, Idaho, and in February 1957 was assigned as a member of the pre-commissioning crew of the USS Skate (SSN-578), building at the Electric Boat Company, General Dynamics Corporation, Groton, Connecticut. He assumed duty as Reactor Control Officer upon her commissioning, December 23, 1957. He served in that nuclear submarine for two years during which time the ship was twice awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for historic Arctic explorations.
In July 1959 he joined the pre-commissioning detail of the USS Sculpin (SSN-590), building at Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation, Pascagoula, Mississippi, and became Engineer Officer of that nuclear submarine upon her commissioning June 1, 1961. During the period March 1962 to January 1963 he served as Executive Officer of the USS Thresher (SSN-593), then was assigned as Tactical Training Officer and Nuclear Power Advisor on the Staff of the Deputy Commander Submarine Force, US Atlantic Fleet. He next attended the Prospective Commanding Officers Course in Naval Reactors, September to December 1964, and the next month assumed command of the USS Dace (SSBN-607), "For meritorious achievement…” in that capacity he was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal. The DACE, under his command, won two Battle Efficiency “E” awards.
Following instruction, October to December 1966, at the Naval Guided Missiles School, Dam Neck, Virginia he became Commanding Officer of the Gold Crew of the USS Will Rogers (SSBN-659). In November 1968 he reported to the Division of Naval Reactors of the US Atomic Energy Commission, Washington, DC, where he was Assistant for Training of Prospective Commanding Officers of Nuclear Powered Ships until January 1971 when he assumed command of the USS Holland (AS-32). "For outstanding meritorious service…” in the latter capacity he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. The citation further states: “…An extremely competent and inspiring leader, (he) provided outstanding support to the deterrent forces of Submarine Squadron SIXTEEN and to units of the SIXTH Fleet..."
In May 1972 he became Head of the Submarine/Nuclear Power Officer Distribution Control Branch and Nuclear Power Enlisted Rating Coordinator in the Bureau of Naval personnel, Navy Department, Washington, DC. As such he serves additionally as Special Assistant for Nuclear Power matters to the Director, Naval Education and Training, Chief of Naval Training, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. In September 1973 he assumed command of the Training Command, US Atlantic Fleet, with additional duty as Staff Director of Fleet Training on the Staff of the Commander in Chief, US Atlantic Fleet.
In addition to the Navy Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Navy Unit Commendation Medal with Bronze Star, Rear Admiral Cowhill has the Navy Occupation Service Medal with Europe Clasp and the National Defense Service Medal with bronze star.
He is married to the former Jennifer Jackson of New London, Connecticut, and they have four children, Robin L., Joseph H., Michael W., and Douglas W. Cowhill.