By Rear Adm. Sam Cox USN (Ret.)
With deep sadness the NHF reports the loss of another strong champion of naval history – Vice Adm.
William H. Rowden, USN (Ret.) who passed on 15 October 2022 at age 92. Vice Adm. Rowden served as a Director on our Board of Directors for two decades from 1995 until 2015 when he achieved director emeritus status. During his tenure he led the audit committee, assuring the organization remained on solid financial footing. Before his two decades of service to our foundation, he served the nation for four
decades as a Surface Warfare Officer. Former NHF President Vice Admiral Bob Dunn recounted: “Bill Rowden was a respected colleague who oversaw the organization’s finances during a capital campaign to build a Cold War Gallery and expand of programs such as oral history and STEM. He was ever collegial yet worked to keep the NHF on an even keel. In recognition of his outstanding work during his two decades on the NHF board, on departure he was elected director emeritus.”
A young William H. Rowden took the oath of office at the U.S. Naval Academy on 14 July 1948. As a midshipman he participated in plebe crew, company sports, and sailing yawls, and according to the Lucky Bag, he yearned to be a Marine Corps officer. Midshipman Rowden graduated on 6 June 1952 with a degree in Naval Science and was commissioned an ensign. In September 1952, Ensign Rowden reported to his first assignment, as Weapons Officer on the San Diego-based Fletcher-class destroyer USS YARNALL (DD-541) while the ship was engaged in bombardment of the North Korean port of Wonsan. He made two Korean War deployments on YARNALL, operating in the Sea of Japan escorting Task Force 77 carriers, with periodic assignment to the gunline on the coast of North Korea and one period on the Formosa Straits patrol between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) to keep that continuing crisis from flaring up. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in December 1953.
In December 1954, Lieutenant (junior grade) Rowden reported as Executive Officer for the recently commissioned Bluebird-class coastal minesweeper USS CORMORANT (AMS-122.) CORMORANT was reclassified as MSC-122 in February 1955 and LTJG Rowden assumed command in December 1955. Initially operating from her homeport of Long Beach, California, CORMORANT was permanently forward deployed to Sasebo, Japan in January 1956, conducting exercises with Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese minesweepers. CORMORANT was awarded a Battle Efficiency ribbon, and LTJG Rowden was promoted to lieutenant in July 1956.
In May 1957, Lieutenant Rowden was assigned to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington DC, as the Advanced and Functional School Assignment Officer in Enlisted Distribution. In August 1959, Lieutenant Rowden assumed duty as Executive Officer for Newport-based Dealey-class destroyer escort USS LESTER (DE-1022) for Operation Springboard annual Atlantic Fleet exercise in the Caribbean, followed by a Northern Europe deployment for the fall NATO convoy exercise. In July 1961, Lieutenant Rowden reported as a student at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California in a two-year Ordnance Engineering course; he was awarded a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering in 1963, after being promoted to lieutenant commander in January 1962.
In June 1963, Lieutenant Commander Rowden assumed command of San Diego-based Dealey-class destroyer escort USS BAUER (DE-1025) while the ship was deployed to the Far East, deploying again in June 1964 to the Gulf of Tonkin, escorting Task Force 77 carriers on Yankee Station. In July 1965 Lieutenant Commander Rowden was assigned as Aide and Flag Lieutenant for Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, in Pearl Harbor. He was promoted to commander in July 1966.
In July 1967, Commander Rowden attended the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, VA, graduating at the beginning of 1968. In March 1968, Commander Rowden assumed command of Charles F. Adams-class guided missile destroyer USS LYNDE MCCORMICK (DDG-8) while that ship was escorting the USS KEARSARGE (CVS-33) operating in the Sea of Japan in reaction to the North Korean seizure of the intelligence collection ship USS PUEBLO (AGER-2,) having just come off the gunline after being slightly damaged by Communist Vietnamese shore battery fire. LYNDE MCCORMICK deployed again to Vietnam in early 1969, where her accurate gunfire broke up a Viet Cong attack on Nha Trang, South Vietnam. Following return from deployment to San Diego, Commander Rowden reported in November 1969 to Naval Ordnance Systems Command, Washington DC, as Deputy Project Manager, Surface Missile Systems Project/Technical Program Director. He was promoted to captain in August 1971.
In June 1973, Captain Rowden assumed command of guided missile cruiser USS COLUMBUS (CG-12,) deploying to the Mediterranean in November 1973 to May 1974, a period a very high tension as a result of the 1973 Middle East/Yom Kippur War. This was the last deployment of COLUMBUS before she was decommissioned in 1975. In September 1974, Captain Rowden was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington DC as Deputy Director, Surface Weapons System Division. On 31 March 1975, he was designated a rear admiral for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank and assumed responsibility as Director, Combat Direction Systems Division (OP-35) in the Office of the CNO. He was promoted to rear admiral on 1 January 1976.
In July 1977, Rear Admiral Rowden assumed command of Cruiser-Destroyer Group THREE, responsible for three San Diego-based destroyer squadrons (7, 17 and the Naval Reserve Force DESRON 27,) deploying to the Philippines for a major amphibious exercises in the South China Sea and Philippine Sea. In June 1979, Rear Admiral Rowden returned to Washington DC as Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Surface Warfare (OP-03B.)
On 1 September 1980, he was designated a vice admiral for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank and assumed responsibility as the Deputy CNO for Surface Warfare (OP-03.) In June 1981, Vice Admiral Rowden assumed command of U.S. SIXTH Fleet, embarked on flagship USS PUGET SOUND (AD-38) operating from Gaeta, Italy. In August 1981, during a missile-exercise in the Gulf of Sidra (challenging Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s self-declared “Line of Death,”) one of a pair of Libya SU-22 Fitter fighter-bombers fired an AA-2 Atoll air-to-air missile at U.S. F-14 Tomcat fighters off USS NIMITZ (CVN-68) and both Fitters were promptly shot down by the VF-41 “Black Aces” F-14’s. Tensions increased in the Eastern Mediterranean when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 in response to cross border attacks, an event that eventually drew in the U.S. into an ill-fated “peacekeeping” mission in Lebanon. At the same time tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were at their highest point since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. In May of 1983, Vice Admiral Rowden broke his flag on destroyer USS RADFORD (DD-968) for a port visit to Constanta, Romania in the Black Sea. VADM Rowden was awarded his first Navy Distinguished Service Medal.
In August 1983, Vice Admiral Rowden assumed command of Military Sea Lift Command in Washington DC. In 1985 he was designated a Materiel Professional and in July 1985 assumed command of Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington DC. He was extensively engaged with the new Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers. VADM Rowden retired on 1 October 1988, just after the launch of USS ARLEIGH BURKE (DDG-51.)
Vice Admiral Rowden’s awards include the Navy Distinguished Service Medal (at least one, probably three,) Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Navy Expeditionary Medal, China Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal (two awards,) Korean Service Medal (two campaign stars,) Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Battle Efficiency Ribbon, Vietnam Service Medal (three campaign stars,) Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal (with device.)
The NHF acknowledges NHHC Director Sam Cox for his composition work on this narrative as well as his ongoing efforts to chronicle the lives of other Navy leaders as they part on that final voyage.