Oct 18, 2019

TAPS: Passing of RADM Robert "Byron" Fuller, USN (Ret.)

Passing of RADM Robert "Byron" Fuller, USN (Ret.)

Sam Cox notes the death of an American Hero.

It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral Robert Byron Fuller, U.S. Navy (Retired) on 4 October 2019 at age 91. Byron enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve in July 1945, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1951 and served as an aviator until his retirement in 1982 as Commander Carrier Group FOUR. As commanding officer of VA-76 on his 110th combat mission, Byron was shot down over North Vietnam in July 1967 and was a Prisoner of War until he was released in March 1973, being awarded a Navy Cross for “Extraordinary heroism as a Prisoner of War.”

Following his enlistment in the U.S. Naval Reserve, Byron reported for active duty in October 1945, serving aboard the destroyer USS WALDRON (DD-699) as a Fireman operating in support of U.S. occupation forces in Japan before being honorably released from active duty in August 1946. He then attended Emory University before gaining an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, where “Bye” was known for athletics and always going out of his way to help others, and for whom academics were “fruit.” Graduating in June 1951, he spent several months at the academy as an instructor, before attending flight school in Pensacola, where he was designated a Naval Aviator (HTA) on 7 November 1952. In January 1953, LTJG Fuller reported to Fighter Squadron 192 at NAS Moffett Field, as the squadron transitioned from F4U Corsairs to F9F Panther jet fighters, deploying to the Far East twice aboard the carrier USS ORISKANY (CVA-34.) During one deployment, Byron was one of the naval aviators who flew flight scenes for the movie, “The Bridges at Toko Ri.” (A great movie, by the way, and source of the expression, “Where do we get such men?” which more than applies to Byron Fuller.)

 

In November 1955, LT Fuller reported for duty at the Naval Combat Information Center (CIC) School at NAS Glynco, Georgia. In December 1958, he assumed duty as Aide and Flag Lieutenant to Commander Carrier Division SEVEN. In March 1960, he reported to Attack Squadron 126, a West Coast replacement squadron, where he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander, and then to Attack Squadron 55 in October 1960 as Operations Officer, flying A-4 Skyhawks, with two deployments on USS TICONDEROGA (CVA-14) to the Western Pacific. In February 1963, LCDR Fuller reported to Washington DC as aviation detailer in the Bureau of Naval Personnel. Following six months at Armed Forces Staff College, CDR Fuller reported to Attack Squadron 44 at NAS Cecil Field in January 1966 as Combat Flight Instructor and Executive Officer, flying the A-4E Skyhawk training replacement pilots.

 

In September 1966, CDR Fuller assumed command of Attack Squadron 76, flying the A-4C Skyhawk and deploying to Vietnam embarked on USS BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA-31) in January 1967 during a period of some of the most intense air combat over Vietnam as North Vietnamese air defenses greatly improved thanks to Soviet and Chinese assistance. During this deployment he led multiple strikes against heavily defended North Vietnamese targets near Haiphong. He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for leading a strike on the Haiphong Ammunition Depot at Kien An on 25 April 67. He was awarded a Silver Star for leading a strike on the North Vietnamese fighter airfield at Kep on 31 May 1967. Opposition to the strike from fighters, SAMs and AAA was so intense that all other strike aircraft were forced to jettison ordnance and abort. However, despite being hit, and then hit again, CDR Fuller pressed home his attack alone, hitting a Mig-17 in a revetment with rockets in a high angle dive, recovering on the carrier with no fuel. On 11 June 1967, he was awarded a second DFC for leading an effective strike against intense opposition on the Ueong Bi Thermal Power Plant, and then a third DFC for a quick turn around strike on the Thanh Hoa Thermal Power Plant on 12 June 1967. He earned a fourth DFC for leading a strike on the Don Son Petroleum Storage Facility near Haiphong, resulting in a massive conflagration.

 

On his 110th combat mission, CDR Fuller was hit and forced to eject over North Vietnam on 14 July 1967 and he was captured by the North Vietnamese. As a senior officer, he was subject to extreme brutality, including two years in solitary confinement. Despite torture and maltreatment, CDR Fuller would be awarded a Navy Cross, a Silver Star, and two Bronze Stars with combat V for specific acts of resistance in captivity, and also a Legion of Merit with Combat V for his over six years in captivity. He was promoted to captain in 1971 while still a POW.

 

CDR Fuller’s Navy Cross Citation reads, “For extraordinary heroism as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam during the month of October 1967. During this period, as a prisoner at Hao Lo POW prison, he was subject to severe treatment at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors. As they persisted in their harsh treatment of him, he continued his refusal to give out biographical data demanded by the North Vietnamese. He heroically resisted all attempts by his captors to break his resistance indicating his willingness to suffer any deprivation and torture to uphold the Code of Conduct. Through those means, he inspired other POW’s to resist the enemy’s efforts to demoralize and exploit them. By his gallantry and loyal devotion to duty, he reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces.

 

Captain Fuller was released from North Vietnam in March 1973 as part of Operation Homecoming. After a period of hospitalization and recuperation and assignment to NAS Jacksonville as an instructor, he assumed command of the fast combat support ship USS DETROIT (AOE-4) in August 1974 for her third deployment to the Mediterranean, including support to the Sixth Fleet during the Cyprus Crisis (Turkish invasion.) In November 1975, CAPT Fuller assumed command of USS AMERICA (CV-66,) deploying to the Mediterranean, where she responded to the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon supporting the evacuation of American citizens, and where her crew was prevented from going ashore in Rhodes, Greece by violent anti-American riots. Following a five-week South Atlantic deployment, AMERICA deployed again to the Mediterranean in October 1977.

 

After selection to Rear Admiral in January 1978, he reported to the Joint Staff as Deputy Director for Operations (Reconnaisance and Electronic Warfare) in Washington DC. In June 1980, he assumed command of Carrier Group FOUR, embarked on USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN-69) deploying to the Indian Ocean in response to the Iranian hostage crisis, relieving the USS NIMITZ (CVN-68) three days after the failed U.S. hostage rescue attempt (Operation Eagle Claw,) for an eight month (and seven days) deployment with only one five-day port call (Singapore.) RADM Fuller retired after 37 years of service on 1 December 1982, with 6,710 flight hours and 640 carrier landings, 110 combat missions, and 2,060 consecutive days in combat with the enemy.

 

RADM Fuller’s awards include the Navy Cross, Silver Star (2,) Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (2, one with combat V,) Distinguished Flying Cross (4,) Bronze Star with combat V (2,) Purple Heart (2,) Air Medal with numeral 9, Navy Commendation Medal (3 with combat V,) Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation (Bon Homme Richard,) Naval Unit Citation (IKE,) Prisoner of War Medal, Navy Expeditionary Medal, Asia Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Navy Occupation Service Medal (Asia,) National Defense Medal (2), Korean Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (2 – Quemoy Matsu<) Vietnam Service Medal with three bronze stars, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation Gallantry Cross, United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device

 

Upon his retirement, Byron commenced a second career as Vice President and then President of Sun State Marine, a tugboat ship building and repair company. For many years he also served on the board and as Chairman of the Board of Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital, and a founding board member of the Fleet Landing Retirement Community in Atlantic Beach. He continued flying, owning a variety of aircraft, and a sailboat, which he sailed across the Atlantic in 1997. He also sailed from Fiji to New Zealand in 1999. Byron’s son Bob, Jr. and son-in-law Matt Tuohy both flew off AMERICA during Desert Storm, and Matt was later Commanding Officer of USS KITTY HAWK (CV-63.) Services were held in Jacksonville on 11 October.

 

I don’t think there are any words I can really add to address Byron Fuller’s career. His record speaks for itself, and serves as an extraordinary inspiration and example of courage under fire and exceptional devotion to duty for all who follow in the service of our nation. In his own summary of significant career events, Byron first listed, “the honor and privilege of serving with some of the bravest Warriors this nation has ever produced while a POW in Hanoi.” I would say that we were all immensely honored and privileged to serve in the same Navy as someone like Byron Fuller.

 

Rest in Peace Admiral Fuller.

 

Very respectfully,

 

Sam

 

Samuel J. Cox

RADM, USN (retired)

Director of Naval History

Curator for the Navy

Director, Naval History and Heritage Command