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James Calvert; led historic polar sub mission

The USS Skate, a nuclear submarine, after breaking through a polar ice pack. At an earlier mission, the sub became the first to surface at the North Pole. The USS Skate, a nuclear submarine, after breaking through a polar ice pack. At an earlier mission, the sub became the first to surface at the North Pole. (File 1959)
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post / June 17, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Retired Navy Vice Admiral James F. Calvert, commander of the nuclear-powered submarine USS Skate, the first vessel to surface at the North Pole, and former superintendent of the Naval Academy in Annapolis during the late-Vietnam War era, died of a heart ailment June 3 at his home in Bryn Mawr, Pa. He was 88.

He wrote about the 1959 polar trip in “Surface at the Pole’’ (1960). The trip had been made to test how well a submarine could operate in the Arctic Ocean.

Admiral Calvert served as the Naval Academy superintendent from 1968 to 1972, when he implemented the academic majors program, which broadened the academy’s curriculum beyond engineering to include more than 20 other majors, including political science. He also expanded the school’s civilian faculty.

Admiral Calvert created the academy’s James Forrestal Lecture in 1970, which focuses on leadership and has been given by prominent political, athletic, and military leaders, including Henry Kissinger, football coach Dick Vermeil, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

James Francis Calvert was born in Cleveland on Sept. 8, 1920. He attended Oberlin College for two years before receiving an appointment to the Naval Academy, from which he graduated in 1942.

He immediately went to submarine school and then served on the USS Jack, where he helped aim torpedoes. The Jack made eight war patrols against the Japanese between 1942 and 1945 and ranked ninth in tonnage sunk among all American submarines during World War II, credited with sinking 15 enemy ships. The sub’s attack was so fierce in one 24-hour battle that the Japanese commander of the crippled convoy wrongly reported to his superiors that he had been attacked by a “wolf pack of submarines.’’

Admiral Calvert later became executive officer of the submarine USS Haddo and was present in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered, an experience he related in a 1995 memoir, “Silent Running.’’

After serving at the Naval Academy, Admiral Calvert became commander of the First Fleet in the Pacific. He retired from the military in 1973. His decorations include two awards of the Silver Star and two awards of the Bronze Star.

His first wife, Nancy Calvert, died in 1965. A daughter, Margaret, died in 1994.

Admiral Calvert leaves his wife of 41 years, Margaretta Harrison Battle Calvert of Bryn Mawr; two sons from his first marriage, James of Klamath Falls, Ore., and Charles of Bellevue, Wash.; four stepsons, Craig Battle of Princeton, N.J., David Battle of Suffield, Conn., John Battle of Sag Harbor, N.Y., and Kemp Battle of West Shokan, N.Y.; and 15 grandchildren.