The U.S. Naval Institute lost a good friend earlier this week with the passing of Rear Admiral Robert McNitt at age 97. Tall, slender, friendly and invariably gracious, the
admiral was the personification of the word “gentleman.” Long-time Naval Institute volunteer George Van served on board the destroyer Taylor (DDE-468) during the Korean War, when McNitt was the commanding officer. Van remembers his skipper as, “the finest naval officer I ever met.”

In the 1960s, then-Captain McNitt was a member of the Naval Institute’s board of control, which provided governance for the organization and also reviewed articles for publication in Proceedings.

McNitt was an experienced seaman, starting before he became a Naval Academy midshipman in 1934. He had a lifelong interest in sailing. Among his achievements was serving as a crew member during Newport-to-Bermuda yacht races in the late 1930s.

In 1996 the Naval Institute Press published his book Sailing at the Naval Academy: an Illustrated History.

During World War II, Lieutenant McNitt was executive officer of the submarine Barb (SS-220), commanded by the noted Commander Gene Fluckey. In his Naval Institute oral history, McNitt recounted the Barb receiving a radio dispatch in September 1944 that reported a Japanese ship filled with Allied prisoners of war had been torpedoed and sunk four days earlier, about 450 miles from the Barb’s position. McNitt, as part of assembling his seabag of professional knowledge, had filed away a Proceedings article written by a Coast Guard officer. It explained how to calculate the drift of objects at sea when there was a lapse of time. McNitt used the information in the article to navigate the Barb into position to find and rescue the prisoners two days later. For years afterward McNitt kept in touch with a British survivor who expressed gratitude to the submarine for the rescue.

In 1964, as a new flag officer, McNitt’s duties carried him to at NATO billet on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean. There he absorbed a great deal of the local history and tradition and fit in so well that he learned to play polo. He had learned the game from a book written by Lord Louis Mountbatten, Royal Navy, whom he met during the course of a visit. In 1967, as commander of a cruiser-destroyer flotilla, McNitt provided the 8-inch-gun heavy cruiser Newport News (CA-148) with the pre-deployment maintenance, testing, and upgrades the ship needed to fire effectively when she got to Vietnam.

In the early 1970s, as a rear admiral, he was president of the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California. Sadly, his wife Barbara was killed in a road accident when the family was en route to the next duty station. He married his second wife, Pat, in 1973. Very likely, the admiral was headed for promotion and more responsible jobs in the Navy, but that would have meant going to sea, which he could not do with the family of small children who survived the loss of their mother. Instead, McNitt took billets ashore and then retired from active duty to serve for many years as the dean of admissions for the Naval Academy.

Rear Admiral Robert McNitt embodied naval professionalism and passed the trait of excellence on to the thousands of midshipman he touched at the academy and then monitored their efforts to become successful career officers.

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  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    Fair winds and following seas, Sir.

    Thanks for keeping the watch.