Retired Navy Rear Adm. Norvell G. Ward, 92, who served as a chief of naval forces in the Vietnam War during a period of escalating U.S. involvement, died July 19 in a special care unit of a retirement community in Atlantic Beach, Fla. He had congestive heart failure.
Adm. Ward graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1935 and became a much-honored submariner during World War II. He received the Navy Cross, the highest decoration for valor after the Medal of Honor, as commanding officer of the submarine USS Guardfish for sinking eight Japanese ships on one patrol.
After commanding a submarine squadron that tested the Regulus surface-fired missile, he entered the Polaris nuclear missile program in 1958. He commanded Submarine Squadron 14, the first group of Polaris subs deployed overseas, which provided a breakthrough in long-range nuclear strike capability because the subs could fire while submerged.
An expert in strategic planning and war gaming, he was promoted to rear admiral in 1963. Two years later, he arrived in Saigon as chief of the Naval Advisory Group under the U.S. Military Assistance Command, and soon after became commander of naval forces in Vietnam.
He oversaw the launch of river patrol boats and played a major role in implementing Operation Market Time, which tried to stop the North Vietnamese from smuggling arms along the coast.
Capable, efficient and utterly unflamboyant, Adm. Ward did not emerge as one of the vibrant personalities of the war. He turned down opportunities for promotion to vice admiral as a gesture to his wife, who had bouts of cancer and from whom he endured long separations while on assignment.
He retired from the Navy in 1973 as commander of the Caribbean Sea frontier and commandant of the 10th Naval District, based in Puerto Rico. He weathered confrontations between the Pentagon and residents over continued use of the island of Culebra as a Navy target range.
Norvell Gardiner Ward was born Dec. 30, 1912, in Indian Head, where his father was a civil service supervisor at the Naval Powder Factory. A graduate of Henry E. Lackey High School, he received a congressional appointment to the Naval Academy in 1931. He was an all-American lacrosse player during his senior year there.
On Sept. 11, 1942, during one of his five Pacific war patrols aboard the submarine USS Seadragon, he assisted pharmacist's mate Wheeler Lipes in performing a remarkable emergency appendectomy on a seaman. Using only instruments on hand and sitting 120 feet below enemy-held waters in the China Sea, Adm. Ward's job was to place tablespoons in the seaman's side as Lipes cut through layers of muscle.
"I chose him for his coolness and dependability," Lipes told Chicago Daily News reporter George Weller in his Pulitzer Prize-winning account. "He acted as my third and fourth hands."
Adm. Ward won a series of decorations as executive officer on the submarine USS Gato before taking command of Guardfish in May 1943. From June 14 to July 31 of that year, he patrolled enemy-controlled waters, engaging in six "well planned and executed" torpedo attacks that sunk eight enemy ships totaling more than 38,000 tons, according to his Navy Cross citation.
He spent the rest of the war as assistant operations officer on the staff of the commander of Pacific submarine forces.
During the Korean War, the admiral asked for command of the destroyer USS Yarnall -- an unusual posting for a submariner at the time but one that gave him operational knowledge of a surface ship.
Besides the Navy Cross, his decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, three awards of the Silver Star and five awards of the Legion of Merit.
A son, Marine Corps Capt. Alexander K. Ward, died in 1968 from wounds he received in Vietnam.
Survivors include his wife of 68 years, Elizabeth Kearney Ward of Atlantic Beach; three children, Norvell G. Ward Jr. of Dripping Springs, Tex., retired Navy Cmdr. William H. Ward of Tacoma, Wash., and Elizabeth Schafer of New Hartford, N.Y.; two sisters, Ora Ward and Louise Borden, both of Bethesda; 13 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.