Merton Dick Van Orden was born in Austin, Texas, on 24 February 1921, son of Merton Leroy and Thelma (Murphy) Van Orden. Following six months as a Private in the Texas National Guard, he attended Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College at College Station for two years. On 30 July 1941, he was appointed to the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, from his native state. Graduated and commissioned Ensign with the Class of 1945 on 7 June 1944 (accelerated course due to World War II), he subsequently advanced in rank to that of Rear Admiral, to date from 1 November 1971.
Following graduation from the Naval Academy in 1944 he joined USS Independence (CVL-22) and served as Gunnery Officer and Officer of the Deck from August 1944 to August 1945. He was next assigned successively as Gunnery Officer, Navigator, Engineering Officer and Executive Officer of USS Tanager (AM-385) between November 1945 and May 1947. During the period June 1947 to February 1949 he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Cambridge, from which he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electronic Engineering. He served as Operations Officer, C.I.C. Officer and Electronics Repair Officer in USS Marquette (AKA-95) until June 1950 and the next month joined the Staff of Commander Charleston Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet as Electronics Officer.
During the period July 1953 to June 1956 he was Ship Superintendent Assistant Electronics Officer, and Production Officer at Boston (Massachusetts) Naval Shipyard and in that capacity introduced the Production Planning and Control Systems and applied workload forecasting by computer methods. The next month he reported as Program Officer for Research and Development Programs in radio, radar, and navigation (Project OMEGA), Navy Electronics Laboratory, San Diego, California. While there he was Project Officer VANGUARD; and was Navy Technical Representative on the Tri-Service Mark XII IFF Program and published his paper: “OMEGA-A World Wide Navigation System.” He also had scuba diving training at Scripps Institute of Oceanography (1958), and as a qualified scuba diver participated in scientific dives. In July 1960 he became Electronics Research and Development Officer and Programs Control Officer at the Defense Communications Agency, Washington, DC. For outstanding service in that capacity he was awarded a commendation by Lieutenant General Starbird, Director of DCA.
He was a student, June 1963 to June 1964, at George Washington University, Washington, DC from which he received a Master’s degree in Business Administration (Financial Management) then became Research and Development Officer in the Office of Naval Material, Navy Department, Washington, DC. During the period August 1965 to June 1969 he was Project Director of Satellite Communications in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (1965-1966) and concurrently, Project Manager of the Satellite Communications Project in the Bureau of Ships and the Naval Electronics Systems Command, Washington, DC (1966-1969). During this period (1968) he attended the Advanced Management Program, Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. He also participated in 1968 in the Future Professional Manpower Requirements Study, Navy Future Professional Manpower Definition Study. In June 1969 he assumed command of the Naval Electronics Laboratory Center, San Diego, California and “for exceptionally meritorious service…” in that assignment was awarded the Legion of Merit. The citation further states in part: “Captain Van Orden’s inspiring and resourceful leadership, together with his awareness of the needs and goals of the Navy, has enabled him to direct the 1500-man military-civilian team of the NELC to peak effectiveness…”
In January 1972 he assumed duty in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Navy Department and in August of that year became Vice Commander of the Naval Electronic Systems Command, Navy Department. He reported in May 1973 as Chief of Naval Research, Arlington, Virginia, until 1975.
In addition to the Legion of Merit, Rear Admiral Van Orden has the American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal; Navy Occupation Service Medal, Europe Clasp; National Defense Service Medal with bronze star; and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon.
He is the author of The Book of United States Ships, an illustrated book for youth.