Former NHF Executive Director Coskey Passes Away

coskeyFormer Vietnam Prisoner of War and ex-Naval Historical Foundation Executive Director, Captain Kenneth Leon Coskey, USN (Ret.) passed away Saturday, 29 June 2013, at the assisted living facility where he lived. Funeral plans for Arlington National Cemetery are still pending. Born 26 December 1929, Coskey grew up in Detroit, Michigan and entered the Navy through the Naval Aviation Cadet (NavCad) program at Pensacola in November 1951. Commissioned as an ensign on 13 May 1953, Coskey earned his Wings of Gold two months later and was assigned to the North Island based VS-21, where he flew the Grumman AF Guardian – the first purpose built anti-submarine warfare carrier-based aircraft to enter U.S. Navy service. Completing his first tour in December 1954, Coskey returned to the Florida panhandle to serve a three year tour as an instructor pilot at NAAS Whiting Field.

Returning to the West Coast, the Navy assigned Coskey orders to attend the Naval Postgraduate School from January to September 1958. With the Navy transitioning to jet aircraft, Coskey underwent jet training at Olathe, Kansas that autumn and joined VAH-3, at NAS Sanford, Florida, the A-3 Skywarrior Replacement Air Group. Coskey then rejoined the fleet as an A-3 pilot with the Jacksonville-based VAH-1, embarking with the newly commissioned USS Independence (CVA 62) during deployments between May 1959 to October 1962. Departing Independence following the Cuban Missile Crisis, Coskey continued to fly the A-3 with VAH-11 from November 1962 until June 1963. He then returned to Monterey where he obtained a BS from the Naval Postgraduate School in June 1965. For his first Washington tour, Coskey spent two years with the Navy Bureau of Personnel. He returned to the fleet following Replacement Air Group training with VA-42 based at Oceana, Virginia. Now flying the A-6 Intruder, Coskey served as first as Executive Officer and then Commanding Officer of VA-85 which deployed in USS America (CVA 66).

On 6 September 1968, during a nighttime armed reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam, Coskey’s aircraft sustained a direct hit and crashed on an island in the Song Ca River, southeast of the city of Vinh. Having initiated a successful ejection for himself and his bombardier-navigator(B/N), Coskey landed in thick brush and injured his leg. While a search and rescue helicopter was able to rescue his B/N, Coskey was captured by the North Vietnamese and would be held in various POW camps over the next five years. He was released in Operation Homecoming on 14 March 1973.  Following hospitalization to recover from injuries, Coskey attended George Washington University, where he earned an M.B.A. in May 1975. Continuing on active duty, Coskey served as the Department of Defense Liaison to the House of Representatives Select Committee on Missing Persons for a year. He then commanded the Navy ROTC unit at Northwestern University from 1976 through 1979.  Returning to Washington, Coskey’s final tour on active duty was as Deputy Director of the Naval Historical Center (now the Naval History and Heritage Command) at the Washington Navy Yard. Following his retirement on 1 October 1982, Coskey was recruited by former Chief of Naval Operations James L. Holloway III to serve as Executive Director of the Naval Historical Foundation. One of his initiatives was to establish a Naval History Prize at National History Day event held at the University of Maryland which represented the culmination of history competitions held in all 50 states and territories. Today the Captain Ken Coskey Naval History Special Prize given at this event recognizes outstanding achievement in the field of naval history to aspiring young scholars. Stepping down from the Naval Historical Foundation in 1999, Coskey enjoyed retirement in Northern Virginia with his wife Rosemary and continued his interest in naval history, from the perspective of someone who made some very memorable history himself.

Captain Coskey’s story will live on here at the Foundation, and his image has been memorialized at the Cold War Gallery, in the new “Battle Behind Bars” exhibit on Vietnam POWs. The overhead banner (shown below) entitled “Service and Sacrifice,” features two photos of him, a before and after of his POW experience, showing him in his flight suit on board the carrier America, and on the joyous day of his return home from captivity 40 years ago this year.

Coskey Banner

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  1. Robert Moore AMS3


    I was a plane captain in VA85 on the AMERICA when we lost Mr. Coskey. He was our CO at the time. I had always wondered what had happened to him. I happened on to an article about him in December, 2009. I looked him up and called to pass along that he had always been in the back of my mind. After speaking to him, I started contacting old shipmates and we ended up having an ALL VA85 Reunion at VA Beach in September 2011. Another one is in the works for 2014 at the Beach.
    GOD BLESS you Mr. Coskey and all of your family. Rest in peace “SIR”.

    • Rosemary Coskey


      Dear Robert,
      My heart is warmed by your remarks concerning my husband, Ken. It means so much to hear from someone in the squadron. Sadly, he was not able to travel out of town after 2009 so could not attend the reunion. Thank you so much for remembering him and leaving a comment that is really very moving for me. I was fortunate to be his wife for 27 years.
      With best regards,
      Rosemary Coskey

      • William H. Haskell


        Mrs. Coskey,

        I was on the USS Enterprise in 71-73 and I bought a POW bracelet at the time. I received your husband’s bracelet and have been wanting to return it to him all these years. I’m sorry to hear about his passing, but amazed by his courage and his later achievements in his life after he returned home. I would very much like to return his bracelet to you. If you would please contact me at my email address I would greatly appreciate it. Bill Haskell

      • sherri


        rosemary ..hi…wow ,,I wish I had contacted you few yrs back,,but I collect jewelry from every where one of my hobbies,but I came across a braclet with ur husband name on it,,its says cdr..Kenneth coskey 9-6-68..well I had read an article about that date,,,,,,,,,,im in Michigan……..I don’t know where u n ur husband lived …but ur husband name and his life is still being remember by his braclets that seem to get around,,,,,i buy jewelry from resale shops .stores.garage just wondering if u or ur passed husband have any relatives in Michigan,,,where I aquried the bracelet,,,,,in a bag of jewerley……ur welcome to contact me……….

        • Susan Stater Kellogg


          Mrs. Coskey,
          I, too, wore your husbands POW bracelet. I was a senior in high school when he was captured. I wore it for years and prayed for him and his family everyday. With no internet and having no info on how to search for him, I wondered what happened to him. I found his POW bracelet and the bracelet that my husband wore of another POW today and went searching for him. I was so happy that he was found and came back home and lived a good life!! I loved seeing his picture since I felt he was a part of my life for many years! I’m sorry for your loss of him, but wanted to thank him and you for his service!! I, too, would be happy to send his bracelet to you if you would like. God bless you!!

  2. Domenic A. Ricci


    Thank you for your service and as a fellow Buckeye(VA-85)we’ve taken over the watch rest in peace.

  3. John E. Vajda


    I was indeed saddened to read of the death of your sweet husband. I remember so well the endless morning cups of coffee and wonderful conversations we shared when he was the Deputy Director of the Naval Historical Foundation and I was the Assistant Director of the Navy Department Library. The pain of your loss is intense now dear lady. May God comfort you. The sense of loss will lessen, but the memories, those memories of your twenty seven years together will not. Cherish them — always; and revere them! Without becoming maudlin, permit me to share a brief prayer from the Roman Catholic liturgy of burial. It has been a comfort to me over the past twenty years since my dear wife was suddenly and tragically killed.

    May the angels bring (Ken) to Paradise. May the martyrs receive
    him at his coming and bring him into the holy city Jerusalem. May
    the choirs of angels receive him and, with Lazarus, may he have
    eternal rest.

    May God comfort you and those dear to you at this time.


    • Rosemary Coskey


      Thank you, John, for sharing your memories of Ken. The prayer is very beautiful and comforting. I am sorry to hear of the tragic loss of your wife. A sudden death with no warning must be the hardest to bear. I knew that Ken’s health was on an ever downward course so I was better able to prepare myself and to appreciate each day with him.
      With my best regards,
      Rosemary Coskey

  4. Steve Gilliland, ATN2, M.D.


    I have to thank Bob Moore for forwarding this article through NavyVets. I too remember Mr. Coskey well. Everyone in the squadron was upset, angry, and sad when the Skipper didn’t get rescued. I was sequestered in the electronics shop most of the time on the America cruise, but due to the gear I worked on I actually had much more access to what was going on and got to spend some time in the Ready Room. Mr. Coskey was always gracious and respectful to us lowly enlisted men. I was not surprised, but certainly quite happy that he had such a distinguished Navy career.

    Being a History buff myself, especially with all things Navy, I look forward to taking a side trip up to Washington next year when we have the next VA-85 reunion and visit the Naval Heritage Foundation and see more of Captain Coskey’s work. He was a fine man and an exceptional Naval Aviator and leader who served the Navy and his country about as well as it can be done. I am honored to say I served with him.

    My sincere condolences to his wife and family. You are sad, but you should also be very proud.

    Steve Gilliland, ATN2, M.D.

    • Rosemary Coskey


      Steve, I am so grateful to learn about your shipboard memories and your admiration of my husband. Ken was a very “down to earth” guy from Detroit, quite a modest man and not inclined to boast at all. The man I knew would always appreciate the contribution of each and every person in his squadron, regardless of rank, and know that a successful mission depends on every individual doing his or her best. Thank you so much for describing what it was like when Ken was shot down. It means so much. I am glad to hear you will be visiting the Foundation and museums at the Navy Yard in the future. There is so much to see and learn about there.
      With best regards, Rosemary Coskey

  5. Steve Gilliland, ATN2, M.D.



    I know it’s The Naval Historical Foundation! I apologize for the error.

    Steve Gilliland, ATN2, M.D.

  6. Bill Peerenboom



    I came to know Ken Coskey during my tenure as Deputy Director of Naval History back in the late80s. He came to the Naval History Foundation as a breath of fresh air – and we were pleased and thrilled to have him there, even though our tours did not really coincide very long.
    A great gentleman and naval officer!

    Bill Peerenboom
    CAPT USN, (ret.)

  7. Prof. Anne M. Tysszka


    Dear Coskey Family,
    In 1969, at the age of nine and a resident of Detroit, I wore CMR Kenneth Coskey’s MIA bracelet for many years. Many prayers were said in his name and for a safe return.
    I recently located his bio at, and with this info, located photos as well.
    As a Detroiter, I appreciate knowing we were raised in the same city.
    With my journalism training and profession teaching college students,I am inquiring if CDR Coskey left any historical notes of his time in Viet Nam. My students have to write a presentation about an historical world event before their own birth date. What saddens me is the present generation knows very little of American History, specifically the Viet Nam War. Having one CDR’s account reaches students more than reading a text ever would. If there are any recollections you or your family remember, I would like to use this knowledge as a case study in media, and communication courses, and other classes so this narrative lives on…….
    Anne M. Tyszka
    Wayne State Uni.,
    Rochester College
    Rochester, MI

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