Former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Kelso Leaves Legacy of Service, Integrity

Story Number: NNS130624-20Release Date: 6/24/2013 7:03:00 PM
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From Naval History and Heritage Command

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Adm. Frank Kelso II, 79, former Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), died Sunday, June 23, 2013, following injuries sustained from a fall earlier in the week.
Kelso, a native of Fayetteville, Tenn., served as Chief of Naval Operations from June 29, 1990 until April 23, 1994.

As the Chief of Naval Operations and throughout his career as a naval officer, Kelso was renowned for his intelligence, integrity and upstanding character.

"Adm. Kelso was a submariner, an accomplished commander, and an unmatched leader known for his intelligence and integrity. The thoughts of the 900,000 Sailors, Marines and civilians who make up the Department of the Navy go out to our fallen shipmate and his family. Semper Fortis," said Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus.

"Adm. Frank Kelso's bold leadership and innovative thinking guided the Navy through times of war and significant draw-down at the end of the Cold War. The ability to cut against the grain and find new and creative solutions for the Navy are what set Admiral Kelso apart from his peers. It was his strength of character and sure-fire integrity that ensured his success as a former CNO and to a higher degree solidified the formidable legacy of a great life that Admiral Frank Kelso leaves behind. It was an honor to have served with him and we are a better Navy due to his leadership and faithful commitment to our Sailors, civilians and their families," said U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert.

Kelso eventually returned to live in Fayetteville, Tenn., in 2003, a decade after retiring from the Navy.

He was the third of three submariners in a row who served as CNO in in the 1980s and '90s. As CNO he led the Navy in a period of significant drawdown of U.S. naval forces in the wake of the end of the Cold War and the ballyhooed "peace dividend." Concurrently, he oversaw the introduction of new platforms and systems that improved capabilities, including precision strike operations. The nation persistently called on the naval capabilities throughout his tour, starting with Operation Desert Storm.

As CNO, he also oversaw revolutionary changes within the OPNAV staff and profoundly changed the means by which the Navy processed and made decisions. In keeping with joint staff practices, he changed "OP" codes to "N" codes, and the staff was reorganized to align with a "Napoleonic" arrangement used by both the Army and the Joint Staff. In a period of dramatic change, he helped to transform not merely the organization, but also the processes by which information could be shared and considered. He is credited with dramatically changing the means by which more informed decisions could be made by the Navy.

Kelso was a strong advocate for the integration of women, particularly in the wake of the 1991 Tailhook Convention during which numerous incidents of sexual assault and harassment were found to have occurred.

During his tour as Commander of the Navy's Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, members of the Palestine Liberation Front hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro and had killed a disabled passenger. When their demands were not met, they negotiated safe refuge and were flown towards Tunisia aboard an Egyptian commercial airliner. The plane was intercepted by U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcats and forced to land in Sigonella, Sicily, where the hijackers were arrested and later tried for murder.

In March of 1986 the U.S. initiated a series of 'Freedom of Navigation' exercises in the Gulf of Sidra that challenged Libyan leader's Col. Muammar al-Qadhafi "line of death" that spanned the Gulf of Sidra. Then Vice Adm. Kelso deployed elements of Task Force 60 including America (CV 66), Coral Sea (CV 43), and Saratoga (CV 60) with upward of 250 aircraft and 26 ships and submarines across the line and triggered Libyan action. Ultimately naval aircraft completed 1,546 sorties in support of the successful operation.

Then in April of that year, following additional terrorist attacks sponsored by al-Qadhafi, the U.S. launched Operation El Dorado Canyon-attacks against Libyan military targets. Under Kelso, U.S. aircraft attacked three target areas near Tripoli. Jets also bombed the al-Jamahiriyyah barracks and Benina Airfield, both near Benghazi.

Kelso got his start in public school and the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., prior to entering the U.S. Naval Academy in 1952. Following graduation in 1956, he served in the cargo ship USS Oglethorpe (AKA 100) before attending Submarine School in 1958. On completion of training, he was assigned to the submarine USS Sabalo (SS 302) before returning to Submarine School for nuclear power training in January 1960. He then served one year in the Nuclear Power Department at the school. Subsequent tours included the pre-commissioning crew of the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Pollack (SSN 603), Engineering Officer aboard USS Daniel Webster (SSBN 626) and Executive Officer of USS Sculpin (SSN 590).

From January 1969 to August 1971, Kelso served as Commanding Officer, U.S. Naval Nuclear Power School in Bainbridge, Md. Following tours included Commanding Officer, USS Finback (SSN 670); Staff of Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet; and Commanding Officer, USS Bluefish (SSN 675). Adm. Kelso was then assigned as Executive Assistant to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command and U.S. Atlantic Fleet and Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic from September 1975 to July 1977.

He served as Commander, Submarine Squadron SEVEN until reporting as Division Director, Submarine Distribution Division in the Naval Military Personnel Command, and Section Head of the Submarine Programs Section in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Manpower, Personnel and Training) in September 1978.

He was selected for promotion to the rank of rear admiral in February 1980.

Upon selection for flag rank, Admiral Kelso served as Director, Strategic Submarine Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, and then was assigned as Director, Office of Program Appraisal, Office of the Secretary of the Navy. On February 8, 1985, Adm. Kelso became Commander 6th Fleet and NATO Commander Naval Striking Force and Support Forces Southern Europe. On June 30, 1986, Adm. Kelso was promoted to admiral and assumed the duties of Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. Admiral Kelso became Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic and Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command on November 22, 1988. He became the Navy's 24th Chief of Naval Operations on June 29, 1990.

Adm. Kelso has been awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal (three awards), Legion of Merit (four awards), Meritorious Service, Navy Commendation and Navy Achievement Medals.

He is survived by his second wife, Georgeanna, his four children and numerous grandchildren. Landess McCown, his first wife of 56 years, passed away in 2012.

Kelso, who would have been 80 on July 11, 2013, will be buried in Fayetteville in the historic Rose Hill Cemetery on Saturday.

Complete text of statements from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert on the passing of Adm. Kelso is available at

7/19/2013 8:05:00 PM
I was one of ADM Kelso's personal photographers while he was CINCLANTFLT and USCINCLANT/SACLANT. To me, his great leadership was distinguished by his strong compassion and intelligence. After my release from active duty, I applied for a officer's commission in the U.S. Army National Guard (Reserve), and I'll always be forever grateful for the letter of recommendation ADM Kelso wrote for me. Fair winds and following seas, Admiral. I salute you, sir.

7/4/2013 9:04:00 AM
I had the privilege of serving under ADM. Kelso, while I was stationed in Norfolk, he was truly a great leader, and a person with a good sense of humor, I worked in in his quarters for a short period and got to know him and his family. It is sad to hear that such a good man has passed away.

7/2/2013 3:13:00 PM
My father, Lt. Commander, Jack M. Hanson, had Frank Kelso under his command early in his Naval career. They remained life long friends. When my Dad was dying in the Virginia Naval Hospital, Admiral Kelso asked if there was anything he and his wife could do. Dad said he would like to see Admiral Kelso in his uniform; Admiral Kelso and his wife drove down, showed up at the hospital to see Dad, IN FULL UNIFORM. My Dad was surprised, pleased and very proud. Thank you Admiral Kelso.

7/2/2013 3:05:00 PM
Great submariner. Adm rest your oar, we have the watch. With great respect!

7/1/2013 9:25:00 AM
I had the privilege of escorting the Admiral when he visited President George H. W. Bush at the White House and also during various social visits. He was a true gentleman and the mutual respect between he and the President was wonderful to see. He epitomized service to country!

6/28/2013 12:54:00 PM
ADM was one of my CNO while I was in the Navy Jan 1987- Sep 2012. Great man with great vision and integrity! RIP ADM - You did great things for the Navy!

6/26/2013 5:19:00 PM
Thank you for your services and your commitment to the safety of this country Rest in peace and God bless.

6/26/2013 2:06:00 PM
A good man. A great leader with great vision. Condolences to the Family from a shipmate

6/26/2013 9:32:00 AM
My sympathies and condolences to the family, may they ever have good memories of their husband, father, and grandfather. He was one of the great ones in my book, and I thank God such men have lived to command the helm. As a fellow submariner, I bid ADM Kelso fair winds and following seas on his last and eternal patrol.

6/26/2013 8:24:00 AM
Had a huge impact on our Navy and our nation. More pictures here:!/media/set/?setequalsa.10151454468183344.1073742244.76845133343 and typeequals1

6/25/2013 9:51:00 AM
from a Rear Admiral retired from Ecuadorian Navy, my condolences to his family.REST IN PEACE ADMIRAL KELSO.

6/24/2013 11:55:00 PM
Yes indeed. We all surely miss a great leader.

6/24/2013 11:39:00 PM
Served in Eldorado Canyon, when the Admiral was 6th Fleet. Fair Winds and Following Sea's....

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An official U.S. Navy portrait of the 24th Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Frank B. Kelso II.
910921-N-ZZ999-110 WASHINGTON (Sept. 21, 1991) An official U.S. Navy portrait of the 24th Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Frank B. Kelso II. The photo is dated Sept. 21, 1991. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Jon Blosser/Released)
June 24, 2013
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