Wesley L. McDonald

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For the political science professor, see W. Wesley McDonald.
Wesley L. McDonald
Wesley L McDonald.jpg
Official United States Navy photographic portrait of McDonald.
Nickname(s) "Wes"
Born (1924-07-06)July 6, 1924
Washington D.C., U.S.
Died February 8, 2009(2009-02-08) (aged 84)
Arlington County, Virginia, U.S.
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1946-1985
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg Admiral
Commands held Attack Squadron VA-56
USS Coral Sea (1970-1971)
U.S. Second Fleet
U.S. Atlantic Fleet (1982-1985)
U.S. Atlantic Command (1982-1985)
Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (1982-1985)

Vietnam War

Invasion of Grenada
Awards Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross
Bronze Star
Air Medal
Other work Business executive, advisor, fellow

Wesley L. McDonald (July 6, 1924 – February 8, 2009) was a United States Navy admiral and naval aviator. He led the first air strike against North Vietnam after the Gulf of Tonkin incident and was the commander in charge of Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of Grenada to rescue American citizens.

Early life and education[edit]

McDonald was born in Washington, D.C. on July 6, 1924. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1946 and married his high school sweetheart.[1] He began his career as a naval aviator in 1950, serving in several carrier fighter and attack squadrons.[2] In 1964, McDonald was the skipper of Attack Squadron VA-56 flying A-4 Skyhawks aboard the USS Ticonderoga.[3][4][5] On August 5, 1964, he served as a flight leader for Operation Pierce Arrow, the first retaliatory strike against North Vietnam following the Gulf of Tonkin incident.[2] McDonald led his Skyhawk strike force against oil tanks at Vinh, destroying 90% of the facility.[6]


Senior leader[edit]

McDonald's career led him to the highest levels of the United States Navy's command structure. He attended the National Defense University's National War College, graduating with the class of 1969.[7] From 1970 to 1971, he commanded the USS Coral Sea.[8] In 1972, as a rear admiral, McDonald was assigned as the carrier group commander.[9] He later served as deputy chief of Naval Personnel in Washington, D.C. in 1975.[2] In 1978, as Commander, U.S. Second Fleet, he embarked on the USS Arthur W. Radford on the way to NATO exercises in the North Atlantic.[10] In 1982, McDonald was appointed Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT), one of two supreme commanders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.[11] At the same time, he assumed command of the U.S. Atlantic Command (CINCLANT) and U.S. Atlantic Fleet (CINCLANTFLT). In 1983, McDonald, in his role as CINCLANT, was placed in overall command of Operation Urgent Fury—the invasion of Grenada to rescue U.S. nationals.[12][13] He later summed up the success of the operation in an address before the House Armed Services Committee.

Admiral Wesley McDonald speaks at the presentation of the 1984 Batternberg Cup to the crew of the battleship USS Iowa (BB-61). (USN Photo)

McDonald was the last United States Navy admiral to command all three organizations (Allied Atlantic Command, U.S. Atlantic Command, and U.S. Atlantic Fleet) at the same time.[14] He relinquished command of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet to Admiral Carlisle A.H. Trost, USN, on October 4, 1985,[14] and command of the U.S. Atlantic Command and Allied Atlantic Command to Admiral Lee Baggett Jr. in November 1985.[15]

Later life and death[edit]

Since his retirement from the Navy in 1985, McDonald played an active role in the aviation community in his leadership positions with the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) and the National Aviation Club (NAC). He helped orchestrate a merger of interests between NAA and NAC bringing benefits to both organizations. McDonald has also served on the boards of the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation, the U.S. Naval Aviation Museum and the Armed Services YMCA.[2] His first wife, Norma, died in 1989.[1] McDonald later remarried and lived in Arlington, Virginia with his wife, Helen until he died February 8, 2009 in Arlington, Virginia. He has one son and three daughters, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.[16]

Honors and recognition[edit]

Lt. Wesley McDonald
(USN Photo)

McDonald's awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and awards from several European and South American nations.[7] In 1990, McDonald was elected Grand Paramount Carabao, leader of the Military Order of the Carabao.[17] In 2004, McDonald was presented with the National Aeronautic Association's Cliff Henderson award for his 56 years of support to American aviation.[2][18] In 2007, the National Aeronautic Association renamed its Elder Statesman of Aviation Award in honor of McDonald, who was a past chairman of the organization.[19] McDonald was a Senior Fellow of the National Defense University.[7]

A number of awards are named in honor of McDonald, including:

  • The Admiral Wesley L. McDonald Leadership Award, jointly sponsored by Strike Fighter Wing Pacific, the San Joaquin Valley Squadron of the Association of Naval Aviation (ANA) and the Greater Kings County Navy League.[20]
  • The Wesley L. McDonald Elder Statesman of Aviation Award, sponsored by the National Aeronautic Association.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Norma Joy McDonald Dies. The Washington Post, July 26, 1989, retrieved February 15, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e Cliff Henderson Award Notice at the Wayback Machine (archived August 20, 2004). Atlantic Flyer, August 20, 2004, retrieved February 4, 2008.
  3. ^ Commander of Attack Squadron VA-56. James Stockdale Biography, retrieved February 14, 2008.
  4. ^ Alvarez, Chained Eagle, p. 9.
  5. ^ Grossnick, Dictionary of American Naval Aviation Squadrons, p. 109.
  6. ^ Mersky, US Navy and Marine Corps A-4 Skyhawk Units of the Vietnam War, Chapter 3.
  7. ^ a b c McDonald Biography. Stratizon Board of Advisors, retrieved February 16, 2008.
  8. ^ USS Coral Sea Commanding Officers. USS Coral Sea Tribute Site, retrieved February 4, 2008.
  9. ^ Birzer, US Navy A-7 Corsair II Units of the Vietnam War, p. 73.
  10. ^ Embarked on USS Authur W. Radford. Haze Gray & Underway DD-968 page, retrieved February 14, 2008.
  11. ^ NATO, Senior Officials in the NATO military structure, p. 9, retrieved February 14, 2008.
  12. ^ a b Grenada: Operation Urgent Fury FAQ Naval Historical Center, retrieved February 14, 2008.
  13. ^ Cole, Operation Urgent Fury Grenada, p. 3.
  14. ^ a b SACLANT Historical Note Naval Historical Center, retrieved February 4, 2008.
  15. ^ NATO SACLANT Commanders NATO web site, retrieved March 28, 2008.
  16. ^ Sullivan, Patricia, "Admiral Led Grenada Invasion", Washington Post, February 12, 2009, p. B7.
  17. ^ Past Grand Paramount Carabaos Military Order of the Carabao, retrieved February 4, 2008
  18. ^ Awards at the Wayback Machine (archived February 6, 2007). Naval Aviation News, Nov-Dec 2004, p. 29, retrieved February 13, 2008.
  19. ^ a b Elder Statesman of Aviation Award Renamed to Honor McDonald. National Aviation Club, retrieved February 7, 2008.
  20. ^ McDonald Leadership Award


External links[edit]