Retired Navy Rear Adm. Robert E. M. Ward, 66, a highly decorated combat veteran of World War II who served as the Navy's chief of legislative affairs in the early 1960s, died April 9 in a hospital in Santa Cruz, Calif. He had a heart ailment.

Adm. Ward's wartime medals included two Navy Crosses and two Silver Stars. The submarines on which he served in the Pacific received a Presidential Unit Citation and a Navy Unit Commendation.

Adm. Ward, then a lieutenant commander, was skipper of the submarine Sailfish on the night of Dec. 3, 1943, when he earned his first Navy Cross. s

The citation said that he "fearlessly attacked a heavily guarded enemy aircraft carrier and, after inflicting initial damage, held tenaciously to his target and pressed home the final attack which sent the 22,000-ton hostile fleet unit to the bottom."

The sinking of the Japanese aircraft carrier on the Sailfish's 10th war patrol, also resulted in the boat's receiving the Presidential Unit Citation.

Adm. Ward received a Silver Star on the Sailfish's 11th patrol, which resulted in the destruction of 13,200 tons of enemy shipping. On the ship's 12th patrol, Adm. Ward earned his second Navy Cross. During this tour the Sailfish sank one enemy destroyer, crippled another, and rescued 12 airmen who had been shot down near enemy guns and radar installations.

Adm. Ward began his combat career as a lieutenant aboard the submarine S-26. He was one of three survivors when that boat was sunk in February 1942.

In June of that year he was named executive officier of the submarine Gurnard. During that tour of duty he was awarded his first Silver Star for "sound judgement and cool courage" that helped the Gurnard penetrate destroyer screens and led to the sinking of a destroyer and serious damage to a carrier.

During this time the Gurnard received the Navy unit Commendation for its four war patrols that resulted in the loss of 11 Japanese ships and 107,200 tons of shipping.

Following the war, Adm. Ward commanded a submarine division and attended the National War College before becoming an administrative aide to the assistant secretary of the Navy for material in 1954.

After tours as a submarine squadron commander and commander of the cruiser Rochester, he joined the staff of the chief of naval operations in Washington in 1959, He was chief of legislative affairs for the Navy from 1960 to 1962.

He received the Legion of Merit for his tour of duty as commander of the Naval Reserve Training Command before retiring for reasons of health in 1965.

Adm. Ward was a native of San Acacio, Colo., and a 1935 graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis. Before World War II, he served aboard the battleship Texas and aboard the heavy cruiser Augusta when the latter was flagship of the old Asiatic Fleet. He graduated from the Submarine School in New London, Conn., in 1940.

Since retiring from active duty, Adm. Ward had made his home in Santa Cruz, Calif. Survivors include his wife, Frances I. Larco Ward, of Santa Cruz; two sons, Robert M., of Los Angeles, and Spencer R., of Santa Cruz, and a daughter, Patricia H., of Fairfax, Calif.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Western Heart Institute, 2101 Forest Ave., No. 222, San Jose, Calif. 95128.