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Adm. Horacio Rivero Jr.: Surface Warrior, Unsung Latino Leader

24 September 2020

From Lt. Cmdr. Rolando Machado and MC1 Mark D. Faram, Chief of Naval Personnel Public Affairs

Twenty years to the day since his passing, our Navy reflects and commemorates the life of a man who, despite the odds and the obstacles placed ahead of him at every stage of his life, set the bar of excellence higher for the generations of Sailors to follow. His legacy lives on in the Surface Warriors that sail on in his wake.

Two months after the "Miracle at Midway" stopped the Japanese advance in the Pacific, the U.S. Navy was beginning the fight that would eventually lead back to Tokyo, a road that started in the South Pacific’s Solomon Islands landing Marines and soldiers on the Japanese held island of Guadalcanal. 

It was August of 1942 and Lt. Cmdr. Horacio Rivero, Jr. was in the thick of the fight as the assistant gunnery officer on board the light cruiser USS San Juan (CL-54). 

Having commissioned the ship only five months prior, Rivero had been training up his team that manned the ship's after batteries from the start. Now was their time to shine.  Rivero was no stranger to sea duty, having spent a majority of his 11 years of active duty on surface ships. 

"During this period Captain (then Lieutenant Commander) Rivero ably controlled the after batteries of the USS San Juan during the effective supporting fire in the landing of our Marines at Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942," reads his Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” device citation. 

"On the following day, when attacked by a large number of enemy shore-based torpedo planes, the batteries under his control shot down several of the attacking aircraft and inflicted hits on many others, contributing to their subsequent loss."

"While conducting a lone raid on the Gilbert Islands in October 1942, his batteries efficiently contributed to the sinking of two Japanese patrol vessels and the capture of sixteen prisoners," the citation detailed. 

"On October 26, 1942, in the Battle of Santa Cruz, he superbly controlled the after batteries with devastating effect downing many enemy carrier-based aircraft..."

Better understood, it must be noted that the medal was awarded not for a singular action of heroism, but instead for the consistency, dependability, and sustained superior performance in combat that Rivero had demonstrated from Aug. 7, 1942 through April 24, 1943.  He truly was a warfighting surface warrior. 

Taking over as the gunnery officer, his service on the cruiser San Juan continued until late 1944 and was on board the ship through most of the South and Central Pacific campaigns where the ship was part of a covering force under command of Admiral William F. Halsey. 

The San Juan saw action at Bougainville in the Solomons; the capture of the Gilbert Islands in November 1943; during the series of carrier raids on Rabaul late that year; and the attacks on Kwajalein in the Marshalls in February 1944.

In late 1944 he briefly returned to the United States to commission the cruiser USS Pittsburgh (CA-72), first as the gunnery officer and later as executive officer. 

On June 5, 1945, a typhoon struck the ships of the Third Fleet, damaging 33, but Pittsburg was hit hardest.  Rivero, now the ship's executive officer, is credited for the survival of the ship and crew. 

During the raging storm, the ship's bow was snapped off by the wind and heavy seas "like the head of a matchstick."  Imagine a ship limping back to port without a bow to break the sea waves.

Rivero is heralded for the ship’s survival and the direction he gave for preparations of the ship during the storm as well as the handling of damage control efforts once the bow was lost. For his quick and forward-thinking he was awarded with the Legion of Merit Medal.   

"...He was particularly outstanding in his intelligent and timely direction of the heads of Departments of the ship, and his immediate inspections of damaged and flooded portions of the ship under extremely hazardous conditions and at the risk of his own life," the citation read. 

His actions "resulted in correct decisions being made, damage boundaries being correctly established and the efforts of the entire ship's personnel being correctly directed to the end that no lives were lost and it was possible to bring the ship safely to port."

The ship would later see action during the Iwo Jima and Okinawa campaigns and the first carrier raids on Tokyo. 

These first two decades of his career were filled with conflict, during which he was able to demonstrate toughness and resiliency despite the challenges.  Facing obstacles head-on and overcoming them, was a routine scenario for him.

A native of Ponce, Puerto Rico, but raised in Manatí, Horacio Rivero, Jr. was born May 16, 1910, to Margarita De Lucca Vda De Rivero and Horacio Rivero. 

Upon graduation from Central High School in San Juan (now Santurce), Puerto Rico, he secured an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.  His first time on a ship, and entering the United States, was on the voyage to Baltimore that delivered him to school on the Severn.

Four years later, he graduated with distinction, third among the 441 graduates of the Academy Class of 1931.

The role model example that Rivero provides for our Navy can be best summarized as one of the underdog, albeit a persistent one that demonstrates unmatched leadership with a knack for winning.  

After the war, Rivero received command in 1948 of the destroyer USS William C. Lawe (DD-763). Again given command in 1951, this time of the transport USS Noble (APA-218), he led his ship and delivered the Marines to the amphibious assault of Inchon, Korea.

In flag rank, he commanded Destroyer Flotilla ONE. Later, he was personally selected by President Kennedy to take command of Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet during the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequently lauded for his command's readiness during this period of national crisis. 

Appointed the vice chief of naval operations in July 1964, he served as the Navy's number two admiral until February 1968, overseeing much of the operation of the Vietnam War, including the resurgence of the brown-water navy that he passionately advocated for.

When when he took the helm of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Allied Forces, Southern Europe at the height of the Cold War, he was able to merge military power with our principles for deterrence and engagement amongst our allies.  

"...In the face of limited material resources, regional political upheavals, and the dramatically increased Soviet penetration of the Mediterranean, he persuasively rallied the common determination of Southern Region nations; developed plans to counter the Soviet threat; implemented the 'Flexible Response' strategy of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and intensively exercised the allied armies, navies and air forces in a variety of complex national and multinational maneuvers and exercises..." According to his Distinguished Service Medal Citation, given him upon his retirement in June of 1972. 

It was no wonder then why he wouldn’t continue to serve the nation even after retiring from the Navy in 1971.  Appointed by President Nixon, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Spain from 1972 to 1974. 

Demonstrating the pride he maintained for his island, he became the Honorary Chairman of the American Veterans' Committee for Puerto Rico Self-Determination.

Along with his decorations from the United States, he was recipient of the Order of Abdon Calderon from the Republic of Ecuador and the Order of Merito Naval from the Republic of Brazil.

Rivero passed away on Sept. 24, 2000 and is buried in Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery on Point Loma in San Diego.

Even the word legendary falls shorts of the exemplary manner in which Rivero's service is remembered.  Nearly 40-years in uniform and rising to four stars, Rivero serves as an example to all our career Surface Warriors, regardless of rank or background.

Without a ship to bear his name, it remains on each of us to reinforce his story and example for the generations of Sailors that follow; particularly those Latino leaders in uniform.

The next time you consider overlooking someone or one of their ideas because of an accent, perceived social class, or their junior rank, remind yourself of Rivero — even the least expected, from the humblest of beginnings, with persistence, integrity, intellect and courage, can reach the summit of leadership within our organization.

Rivero may be an unsung hero, but his career proved he should be anything but.

For more information in Adm. Horatio Rivero you can visit the Naval History and Heritage Command at 

For more information on minorities in the military visit

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