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Austin, Vice Admiral Bernard L. Papers 

Dates: 1943-1967

Collection Number: COLL/545

Finding aid (Word)

Biographical Note

Bernard Lige Austin was born on December 15, 1902 in Wagener, South Carolina to Elijah Andrew and Loula Ola (nee. Gantt) Austin. He attended The Citadel Military College of South Carolina, in Charleston, before his appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy on July 17, 1920. As a midshipman, he participated in creating the U.S. Naval Academy yearbook, Lucky Bag. He graduated and was commissioned an ensign on June 4, 1924. 

Following graduation Austin was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance, Navy Department, Washington D.C., for temporary duty under instruction at the Naval Gun Factory, Navy Yard, Washington, the Naval Proving Ground, Dahlgren, Virginia, and the Naval Powder Factory, Indian Head, Maryland. Upon completion of this assignment in August 1924, he joined USS New York (BB 34), upon which he served for two years. From July to December 1926, Austin obtained instruction at the Naval Torpedo Station, Newport, Rhode Island. He then trained on board USS Chewink (AM 39), station ship at the Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut until June 1927. The same month he joined USS R-10 (SS 87), based in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. In June 1929, he transferred to USS R-6 (SS 83), serving on board until May 1931. 

During the next three years, Austin was an instructor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Physics at U.S. Naval Academy. He returned to sea in May 1934 as the commanding officer on board USS R-11 (SS 88), serving on board until June 1937 when he was transferred to USS Potomac as the ship’s executive officer. In December 1937, he became Press Relations Officer, Navy Department, remaining in that assignment until August 1940, when he was sent to the American Embassy, London, England, as a Special Naval Observer. From February 12, 1942 until December 1942, he commanded USS Woolsey. For meritorious achievement as commanding officer of this ship during operations against enemy force off the Coast of North Africa on November 16, 1942, Austin was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device “V.”

On December 22, 1942, Austin assumed command of the newly commissioned destroyer USS Foote, and in May 1943 become Commander Destroyer Division 46. In recognition of his service in that command in the Solomon Islands area he was awarded the Navy Cross and, in lieu of a second Navy Cross, a Gold Star. In December, 1943, Austin reported as Commander Destroyer Squadron FOURTEEN, with additional duty as Commander Destroyer Division TWENTY-SEVEN. He was transferred, on April 15, 1944, to duty as Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations and Training of the Staff of the Commander Destroyers, Pacific Fleet. On June 9, 1944, he became Assistant Chief of Staff for Administration to the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for his service during this assignment. 

On October 25, 1945, Austin was ordered to duty in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Navy Department. In December of the same year, he was assigned duty as Navy Secretary of the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee. Following this he became a member of the first class of the National War College at Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington D.C. In June 1947, he was detached to duty as the Special Assistant to the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Politico-Military Affairs, Navy Department; he served in that position until October 1949. During this period, Austin performed one-year special duty at the Office of the Naval Attaché, London, England as a student at the British Imperial Defense College. 

In January 1950, he was designated Commander Service Squadron ONE. In July of that same year, he was sent to the Western Pacific to organize and command Service Squadron THREE. In May 1951 he was assigned to the International Affairs Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Austin served as that division’s Assistant Director until February 1952 when he was advanced to Director, serving in that position until May 1954. He then reported as Commander Cruiser Division TWO, and in April 1955 joined the staff of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). 

On March 15, 1956, Austin was promoted to the rank of vice admiral while serving as Director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington D.C. In May 1958, he assumed command of the SECOND Fleet with additional duty as Commander Strike Fleet, Atlantic. Beginning in March 1959, Austin served as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Plans and Policy) Department. Then, in July 1960, he became President of the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. On August 1, 1964, he was transferred to the retired list, but continued to serve on active duty as Chairman of the Inter-American Defense Board, Washington D.C. Austin was assigned to the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Navy Department from August to October 17, 1967, when he was released from active duty. Ordered to return to active duty, he served from June to August 15, 1968 and from November to December 14, 1968 as a senior naval officer in connection with the investigation of the disappearance of USS Scorpion (SS(N)-589), attached to the Staff of the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. 

In addition to the Navy Cross with Gold Star in lieu of a Second Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the Bronze Star with Combat V, Vice Admiral Austin was awarded the Ribbon for the Presidential Unit Citation to Destroyer Division TWENTY-THREE for “extraordinary heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces during the Solomon Islands Campaign from November 1, 1943 to February 23, 1944,” the American Defense Service Medal, the Fleet Clasp, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Korean Campaign Medal, and UN Medal.

Vice Admiral Austin and his wife, Isabella Murray Leith of Springfield, Massachusetts, had three daughters, Alexandra, Jane, and Leith. Alexandra married Commander Nathaniel W. James III (SC) USN and Jane married Lieutenant Frank T. Watkins, USN.

Scope and Content Note

The papers of Vice Admiral Bernard L. Austin consist primarily of a large number of photographs, both personal and professional, collected by Vice Admiral Austin during the course of his career. The collection also includes a number of speeches written and delivered by Vice Admiral Austin from 1952 to 1967, concerning topics such as the role of the naval forces and the increasing importance of Latin America in United States’ policy. A limited amount of personal correspondence and newspaper clippings concerning Austin are included as well. 

The collection is arranged into ten series. Series I makes up the majority of the collection and consists of photographs and is divided into subseries by duty, then by subject. The contents of each folder are arranged chronologically where possible. The main subseries include Vice Admiral Austin’s service as the President of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island from 1960 – 1964 and as the Chairman of the Inter-American Defense Board from 1964 – 1967. Subseries H contains a number of personal photographs of Vice Admiral Austin, his wife, and children, while Subseries G contains portraits, arranged by rank. Also of note, several subseries, including the Photographs, Subject File contain photographs of renowned historical figures including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Chief Naval Officer Chester W. Nimitz, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, President Harry Truman, and General George C. Marshall. 

Series II contains speeches written by Vice Admiral Austin from 1952 – 1967. Many of these concern his work with the Inter-American Defense Board and cover topics related to the role and significance of Latin America in determining United States’ naval policies. Series III consists of newspaper articles concerning primarily Vice Admiral Austin’s military service and the marriage of his daughter Jane. Series IV includes various letters and a large number of greeting cards sent to Vice Admiral Austin. 

Series V consists of a varied selection of business cards from Vice Admiral Austin’s service with the Inter-American Defense Board. Included in this series are Austin’s own business cards, as well as those of ambassadors and ministers of defense from various Latin American countries. Series VI holds a small number of cartoons about the Navy. Series VII contains foreign money Vice Admiral Austin collected on his travels, the majority of which is Japanese currency. 

Series VIII holds several blank post cards from Okinawa, Japan and San Francisco, California. Series IX is the Subject File Series and includes a poster of Guam in 1945, “The Enemy Submarine Bulletin” of 1918, and items relating to Austin’s daughters. 

Finally, Series X Oversize includes Vice Admiral Austin’s U.S. Naval Academy Diploma, certificates of Austin’s commission as ensign, captain, and rear admiral, as well as a scrapbook presented to Austin upon receipt of the Peruvian Cross of Naval Merit (Grand Officer) Distinctivo Blanco. 

Preferred Citation

The collection should be cited as the Photographic Collection of Vice Admiral Bernard L. Austin, Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington D.C.

For associated photographic materials, please visit the photo archive donated collections related to Vice Admiral Bernard L. Austin, UA 480.01 and UA 468.06

Published: Tue Aug 10 14:46:15 EDT 2021