Rear Adm. Robert Waring McNitt, a naval officer whose career spanned two wars and who, after retiring from the Navy, was dean of admissions at the Naval Academy for more than a decade, died Sunday of heart failure at the Ginger Cove retirement community in Annapolis.
He was 97.
The son of an industrial engineer and a homemaker, Robert Waring McNitt was born and raised in Perth Amboy, N.J., where his interest in boats and sailing began as a youngster. He was a teenager when he and a brother built a dinghy, which they enjoyed sailing on nearby Raritan Bay.
As a teenager, he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. After graduating from Perth Amboy High School in 1934, he was appointed to the Naval Academy, where he graduated in 1938.
As a midshipman, he helped restore the academy's sailing and yacht racing program.
His initial service was in the Atlantic aboard the heavy cruiser USS Chicago, and after a year, he joined the destroyer USS Rhind, where he served for three years as chief engineer.
After graduating from submarine school, he was assigned as executive officer to the USS Barb in the Pacific.
The submarine was under the command of Cmdr. Eugene B. "Gene" Fluckey, who is considered one of the greatest naval heroes of World War II. "Lucky Fluckey," as he was known, and his 80-man crew were credited with sinking 29 Japanese ships, including an aircraft carrier, a destroyer and a cruiser. He later attained the rank of rear admiral.
"He was extraordinary," Admiral McNitt told The Washington Post at the time of Admiral Fluckey's death in 2007.
Admiral McNitt completed five wartime patrols and was decorated with two Silver Stars, one of which was for rescuing Allied POWs who had been aboard a torpedoed Japanese transport.
"In addition to being executive officer on the Barb, Bob's secondary job was serving as navigator. They were the farthest sub out, and when they went to rescue those men, he navigated so precisely that they got right to the area," said retired Rear Adm. James A. Winnefeld Sr.
"In those days, we didn't have all the navigational tools we have now; it was all done by celestial navigation and dead reckoning. And what he did was a marvelous piece of navigation," he said.
"He had to take into account the wind, tide and floating of the wreckage. When they got there, they were able to pull 14 men, who were covered in oil and had been in the water for five days, aboard the Barb," said Admiral Winnefeld.
After the war, Admiral McNitt earned a master's degree in ordnance engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and then served from 1947 to 1949 aboard the carrier USS Midway as a gunnery officer.
While working at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory at White Oak near Silver Spring, Admiral McNitt helped design the Navy's first underwater atomic weapon.
During the Korean War, Admiral McNitt commanded the destroyer USS Taylor, Destroyer Division 322 and Destroyer Squadron 25 in the China Sea.
Land assignments included the Bureau of Ordnance Research Division, the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and serving as director of the Atlantic fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Tactical School.
From 1962 to 1964, he was assigned to the Naval Academy, where he played a major role in revising the curriculum and hiring the first academic dean.
In the mid-1960s, he was the U.S. representative on the staff of the commander in chief of allied forces in the Mediterranean, stationed in Malta, and commanded Cruiser Destroyer Flotilla 4. He was then assigned as superintendent of the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, Calif.
Admiral McNitt retired from active service in 1971, and the next year he was appointed the first civilian dean of admissions at the Naval Academy.