Admiral Harry D. Train II is part of a Navy family. He is the son of the late Rear Admiral Harold Cecil Train and the father of Rear Admiral Elizabeth L. Train. “I was absolutely steeped in Navy from my first conscious thoughts,” he reflected at the start of his oral history, published by the U.S. Naval Institute in 1997. “I can’t remember a day in my entire life that the Navy was not a dominant element in my life.”
During 1945-1982, Train rose from midshipman to admiral in an active-duty career that included operational surface ship and submarine commands, destroyer flotilla and carrier battle group commands, and service as Commander, Sixth Fleet. From 1978 to 1982, he was triple-hatted as Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command, and Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. Ashore, his assignments included director of the Joint Staff, as well as individual tours with the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
In the early 1960s Train was elated to receive orders as commanding officer of the USS Barbel (SS-580), one of the new teardrop-shaped diesel submarines.
The boat operated like a Swiss watch. It went fast . . . handled like a dream. We were still in the process of learning how to handle that hull shape, and we were, as a crew, virtually in the position of being test pilots for that hull form. In very high-speed operations, it would do things that all your previous submarine experience didn’t condition you for. . . .
We had Admiral Chick Clarey, who was the submarine force commander, out with a bunch of SecNav guests. He asked us to do what they call hydrobatics, very high-speed maneuvering. We were doing 23 knots and changing depths and making course changes. The boat would roll 37 degrees, what is called a snap roll at a max-speed, max-rudder turn. On one occasion we were turning and changing depth at the same time. The bow went down instead of up, and all the inclinometers and the gauges went off the scale. . . . The more the planesman pulled back on the yoke, to put more stern planes on it, the tighter the turn became. . . . We were in what the aviators call a graveyard spiral. . . . The stern planes became the rudder, and we were turning tighter, and the rudder became the stern planes. . . . So we took all the rudder off and the boat pulled itself out.
On the rewards of command, he noted:
Accountability. I mean, you can almost wallow in accountability, knowing that there’s no one else to turn to, that you’re the ultimate accountable authority. . . . And I found that a very comfortable role to be in. No one was looking past you; they were just looking at you. It’s hard to explain, but it’s very satisfying.
In July 1970, Train became executive assistant to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer. The Vietnam War and, in November of that year, a commando raid to free U.S. POWs held in North Vietnam were an important focus.
In connection with Vietnam, I thought that the Son Tay prison raid was one of the more interesting events that occurred during the time I was executive assistant to the Chairman. It was a very, very, classified planning evolution and very highly classified operation. . . .
We decided that we really did know where a large group of prisoners were. We planned a raid to go in and take those prisoners out. But in order to train for that raid, we had to assemble a force and build a full-size replica of the prison camp down at Eglin Air Force Base. We erected it at night and collapsed it during the daytime so that the Soviets couldn’t see it from their satellites. . . .
The night before the raid, the Secretary of Defense approved the execution of the raid and gave it a specific date. The night before, Mr. John Hughes, from the Defense Intelligence Agency, came in to see Admiral Moorer. . . . I was present at the meeting when Hughes told the Admiral that the prisoners weren’t there. . . . He said the photos showed that the grass hadn’t been walked on in a week or two, and that would indicate to him that the prisoners weren’t there. . . .
So Admiral Moorer and I went up to see Secretary Laird, and Admiral Moorer recommended that we cancel the operation. Secretary Laird said he didn’t believe there was any way we could cancel the operation. . . . So we went ahead and executed the operation, knowing—at some high confidence level—that the prisoners were not there. . . . As indeed they were not.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Admiral Train