Admiral led naval forces in Vietnam

Times Staff Writer

Retired Vice Adm. Jerome H. King Jr., who as commander of naval forces in Vietnam carried out a plan to end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and hand the fight over to the South Vietnamese, has died. He was 88.

King died Friday at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena from complications of pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

During a 30-year career that began during World War II, King rose to the three-star rank, one of the first Navy ROTC graduates to do so. He held several key positions in the Navy, including director for operations of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs in the early 1970s.


With a masters of science in nuclear physics from MIT, King was considered an expert in nuclear weapons and was commander of a nuclear weapons training center.

In 1969, King was tapped to head a panel investigating the collision of an Australian aircraft carrier and the U.S. destroyer Frank E. Evans in the South China Sea. The incident left 74 U.S. sailors dead.

The inquiry garnered international media attention, said Paul Stillwell, a historian and former director of history of the U.S. Naval Institute.

“King felt he needed to make sure things were done absolutely right and were perceived to be done correctly,” Stillwell said.

During the inquiry, an Australian told the panel that the Evans crew had been warned of the danger by radio.

“American ships are a little slower to react than Commonwealth ships,” the Australian said, according to a 1969 Times article.

King retorted: “Are you intimately familiar with the training of officers of the deck in the U.S. Navy?” The panel found that the U.S. was largely responsible for the collision.

In 1970, King was promoted to vice admiral and sent to Vietnam. Antiwar sentiment in the U.S. and in Congress was high. King was responsible for turning the naval war over to the South Vietnamese, a strategy known as “Vietnamization,” Stillwell said.

“It was a frustrating time for Adm. King because he was a person who believed in victory,” Stillwell said.

King was born July 14, 1919, in Youngstown, Ohio. His father was a teacher, his mother a homemaker. At Yale University, King joined the ROTC. In 1941, the year he received his bachelor of engineering degree, King received a naval commission through the NROTC program.

His numerous honors include three Distinguished Service Medals and the Bronze Star with Combat V.

King retired in 1974 and moved to California, where he worked for Research and Development Associates. His survivors include his wife, Annette Neely King of Palos Verdes Estates; daughters from a previous marriage, Judith Griggs of Norcross, Ga., Anne McFarland of San Diego, and Sally King of Snohomish, Wash.; stepsons Timothy McElhannon of Lexington, Va., and Stephen McElhannon of Woodstock, Ga.; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

A celebration of King’s life will be held later. Burial will take place Sept. 12 at Arlington National Cemetery. Memorial donations may be sent to the Wellness Community, 109 W. Torrance Blvd., #100, Redondo Beach, CA 90277.