Rear Adm. Theodore Torgerson, 86

May 09, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

A memorial service for Rear Adm. Theodore A. Torgerson is to be held today at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis.

Admiral Torgerson, who retired from the Pentagon in 1966 after a 35-year Navy career, died May 1 of cardiac arrest in his Melvin Road home in Annapolis. He was 86.

He was born and reared in Clarkfield, Minn., where his parents, who were of Norwegian descent, farmed. After attending Oklee High School, he enrolled in St. Olaf College, leaving after two years to teach in a one-room schoolhouse in Red Lake County, Minn. He outraged the Norwegian community by teaching classes in English.

"He planned to go to West Point," said his son, William T. Torgerson, who lives in Annapolis.

His congressman's allocations there were filled, but the Naval Academy had openings. Mr. Torgerson entered the academy in 1927 and graduated in 1931. He served as a gunnery officer aboard the battleship USS Tennessee until 1933, then switched to destroyers in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

He returned to Annapolis in 1937 to attend the Naval Postgraduate School, studying applied communications. During this time, he also acted as assistant coach of the Navy football team.

With the coming of World War II in 1939, he served in staff positions with the Atlantic Fleet on neutrality and war patrols as well as serving in protective convoy duty on the famed Murmansk run.

In 1942, he became flag secretary to the superintendent of the Naval Academy and later that year met England's King George VI aboard the battleship USS Washington at Scapa Flow, off northern Scotland.

From 1943 to 1945, he served on the staff of Pacific Fleet Cmdr. Chester W. Nimitz, helping to develop plans to invade Japan.

From 1945 to 1946, he commanded the destroyers USS Waldron and USS Soley in the Atlantic until he was sent to Italy and England, where he held several staff positions, including assistant chief of staff for communications for the 2nd Fleet.

In 1953, he commanded the attack cargo ship USS Skagit, which evacuated Vietnamese civilians from Hanoi to Saigon after the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. A year later, he assumed command of the heavy cruiser USS Toledo.

In 1956, he left the sea and returned to Washington to serve as Navy liaison to Congress. He joined the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1958 and was promoted to rear admiral in 1960. He retired from the Pentagon in 1966, where he had become director of communications for the Joint Chiefs.

"He greatly admired Adm. Arleigh 'Thirty-One Knot' Burke," said his son, "because of his aggressiveness as a commander of destroyers."

Admiral Burke got his nickname for his daring attempts to stop the Japanese from moving troops in the Solomons. To several American transports that stood in his way, he flashed the message: "Stand aside, I'm coming through at 31 knots."

"My father was a gregarious but taciturn Norwegian, and if you asked him to talk about his Navy days, then he would," said his son.

Admiral Torgerson retired to his Annapolis home and busied himself with building a road to connect it to Melvin Road.

"He had built roads in Minnesota during the summers when he was a kid, so he proceeded to build a gravel road with the drainage ditches and all. I guess it was about 150 yards long," said Mr. Torgerson. "He also was a frustrated farmer and enjoyed planting and caring for a vegetable garden."

Admiral Torgerson was active in the cultural life of Annapolis and was treasurer of the Historic Annapolis Foundation.

Today's memorial service for Admiral Torgerson was set for 10 a.m. at the Naval Academy Chapel. Interment will be in the Naval Academy Cemetery.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 54 years, the former Augusta Burwell Melvin; a daughter, Augusta T. White of Annapolis; a sister, Dora T. Bilbrough of Phoenix, Ariz.; and three grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be sent to the Historic Annapolis Foundation, 18 Pinkney St., Annapolis 21401.

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