WASHINGTON -- Holding the top echelon of the Navy and Marine Corps accountable for the Tailhook scandal, the Pentagon censured three admirals yesterday and reprimanded another 30 top-ranking officers for failing to stop or report sexual assaults that occurred while they were attending the group's 1991 convention in Las Vegas.
The disciplinary actions were taken by Navy Secretary John Dalton with the approval of Defense Secretary Les Aspin. Among the 30 receiving reprimands was Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, the nation's top naval officer, whom Mr. Aspin decided not to fire last week as punishment over the Tailhook incident.
The three letters of censure are considered grievous blemishes for officials of such high military rank. The lesser reprimands will become a part of the 30 officers' permanent personnel files and may affect future assignments and promotions. Two other top officers were exonerated.
"The naval service has suffered greatly as a result of Tailhook," Mr. Dalton said in announcing the punishments. "Some senior officers who were there failed to exercise active leadership and take the necessary actions to prevent behavior that was wrong.
"It's clear to me there was a failure of appropriate leadership at Tailhook '91."
An Inspector General's report earlier this year found that as many as seven dozen women were sexually assaulted and up to 140 service members engaged in improper behavior during the fliers' convention. The activities ranged from attacking women along a hallway "gantlet" at the Las Vegas Hilton, to other incidents of crude nudity and indecent exposure.
The three harshest reprimands went to Vice Adm. Richard M. Dunleavy, and rear admirals Riley Mixson, director of Navy air warfare, and Wilson Flagg, his reserve counterpart.
Admiral Dunleavy, assistant chief of naval operations for air warfare at the time of the convention, will retain a two-star rank, instead of the three-star rank he had achieved when he retired in the summer of 1992. The penalty could cost him as much as $100,000 over his retirement.
"This is not a minor sanction," Mr. Dalton said.
"More than any other individual, Admiral Dunleavy was responsible for the failures at Tailhook. His performance of duties after Tailhook was similarly flawed."
Admiral Dunleavy, 60, who joined the Navy in 1955, could not be reached for comment. But in an interview with the Inspector General, he acknowledged that he encouraged "leg shaving," that he knew strippers were performing for the male aviators and that he was aware of the activities during the gantlet.
His letter of censure said he "should have discouraged the atmosphere of hostility to women."
Rather, the letter added, Admiral Dunleavy "condoned and did not act to terminate such conduct as the gauntlet, mooning and the presence of strippers in the [hotel] hospitality suites.
"Of all the senior officers present at Tailhook '91, your conduct was the most improper and your lack of leadership was the most significant."
Admiral Mixson, a 35-year Navy veteran, returned from command of a three-carrier battle group during the Persian Gulf war just three months before the Tailhook gathering.
"If by this action we have finally come one step closer to closing the book on this regrettable chapter in Naval aviation, then I am truly gratified," said Admiral Mixson, 57. "I most of all regret the actions of a few which brought discredit to so many of our nation's young heroes."
But, he added, "Tailhook in and of itself is a symbol of pride for carrier pilots, separating them from and above all the rest who take to the skies. We will work hard to reinstill that pride."
His letter of censure stated that he knew of improprieties at past Tailhook conventions, but "did not take effective action to prevent a repetition of such conduct at Tailhook '91."
In one instance, he observed a woman drinking from a "Rhino penis dispenser," as well as incidents of leg shaving, but did nothing to stop the conduct. "In failing to do so," the reprimand said, "you exercised poor judgment."
Admiral Flagg, a 1961 graduate of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, was also cited for being aware of previous crude behavior at Tailhook conventions, as well as failing to act when "a woman was touched or patted without her permission" during the 1991 session.
Admiral Flagg, 53, could not be reached for comment.