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New York Times insults memory of retired naval officer killed in Sept. 11 terrorist attack

1/14/2002 10:56:39 AM
CMR: Center for Military Readiness


Insensitive Obituary of Retired Rear Adm. Wilson "Bud" Flagg Leads with Reference to Tailhook ’91 Scandal "Newspaper of Record" Ignores Letters of Protest from Navy Colleagues and CMR

Four days after the September 11 Attack on America, the New York Times published an obituary of retired Rear Adm. Wilson "Bud" Flagg, who was a passenger on the American Airlines flight that was seized by terrorists and slammed into the Pentagon. The astonishingly insensitive item highlights widespread ignorance about the Tailhook scandal and the overly zealous investigations and "witch-hunts" that followed it.

To clear up some of the confusion and to discourage future affronts to the families of naval aviators who were affected by Tailhook, CMR has written directly to the New York Times, and posted the March 1994 National Review article by Elaine Donnelly, titled "The Tailhook Scandals," elsewhere on this website.

The September 15 New York Times obituary reads as follows:

"Wilson Flagg, a Retired Admiral, Dies at 62

Wilson Flagg, a retired rear admiral who was one of three admirals censured by the Navy over the 1991 Tailhook sexual-assault scandal, died in the American Airlines plane that crashed into the Pentagon, his family said yesterday. His wife, Darleen, also died in the crash. Both were 62.

On Oct. 15, 1993, the secretary of the Navy, John H. Dalton, censured Admiral Flagg along with Vice Adm. Richard Dunleavy and Rear Adm. Riley Mixson for failing to prevent misbehavior by junior officers at the 1991 Tailhook Association naval aviators convention, at which women were sexually molested. Admiral Flagg was one of Admiral Dunleavy’s deputies in organizing the convention.

The letter of censure in his file effectively blocked further promotion and led to his retirement from the Navy. He became an American Airlines pilot and retired from that job. His brother-in-law Ray Sellek said that he was still called on by the Pentagon for technical advice and had an office there.

Admiral Flagg lived at Daybreak Farm in Millwood, VA. He is survived by two sons."

Retired Rear Adm. Stephen T. Keith, USNR, sent a Letter to the Editor protesting the inaccuracy and callous tone of the Times obituary. Among other things, Adm. Keith pointed out that Adm. Flagg was a dedicated Naval Reserve officer who remained in the Navy for two years after he was unfairly censured for alleged involvement in the Tailhook scandal.

Adm. Keith noted that "Bud" Flagg was a respected naval aviator who joined American Airlines in 1967, following active duty and until his retirement from the Naval Reserve in 1995. Prior to that time, he served his country with distinction in Vietnam, flying the F8 Crusader during two combat tours. Keith continued:

"He completed six assignments as Commanding Officer in the Naval Reserve and in each he and his wonderful wife, Dee, set the benchmark for taking care of Sailors and their families. Many of those he led--and many neighbors and parishioners that they truly touched--were among 450 mourners at a Memorial Service at Grace Lutheran Church in Winchester, VA, on September 20. On Friday, September 21, nearly 600 friends, colleagues and shipmates participated in a service and internment at the United States Naval Academy. Full military honors were rendered to this wonderful patriot and his Navy wife."

Bud Flagg was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for serving his country extremely well. He flew the F-8U aircraft for more flight hours (over 3,700) than any pilot in history, including two combat tours in Vietnam. The Crusader was the Navy’s first high performance fighter and not an easy aircraft to fly, especially from the relatively small decks of carriers such as the USS Hancock and the USS Oriskany.

Many other letters were sent to the New York Times by Navy Academy and Naval Reserve colleagues spreading the word via e-mail, but none are known to have been published. Elaine Donnelly sent the following letter:

Letters to the Editor

New York Times

229 West 43rd Street

New York, NY 10036

October 12, 2001

To the Editor;

Obituaries are supposed to be sensitive, enlightening, and scrupulously accurate. Your September 15 obituary about retired Navy Rear Admiral Wilson "Bud" Flagg failed to meet minimal professional standards.

Admiral Flagg was one of several officers who were unfairly punished in the post-Tailhook hysteria ten years ago. Contrary to allegations made at the time and gratuitously repeated in your obituary, Adm. Flagg was not even involved in the planning of the event in question. This did not matter to feminists in Congress and the media, who demanded that the Navy punish high-ranking officers for the scandal, even if there was no evidence of personal wrongdoing. Adm. Flagg’s life in distinguished service to his country, before and after Tailhook ‘91, was not defined by this unfortunate experience. It was inexcusable for the Times to insert such a callous obituary in the midst of compassionate articles about others who were murdered by terrorists.

Sincerely,

Elaine Donnelly

President, Center for Military Readiness

P.S.: I did not know Admiral Flagg personally, but I do know many of his friends and others whose names were publicly tarnished by one-sided, incomplete news accounts. I hope that someday, in the far-off future, they and their families will be spared similar treatment at the hands of obituary writers who rely solely on such reports. I am enclosing an article I wrote for National Review in 1993, titled "The Tailhook Scandals," which I hope you will keep on file for future reference. For a more detailed chronicle and analysis, see "Tailhook: What Happened, Why & What’s to be Learned," by Col. W. Hays Parks, USMCR (Ret.), published in the September 1994 edition of the Naval Institute’s prestigious magazine, Proceedings.

Retired Rear Admirals Riley Mixson and Bud Flagg are not the only ones who were unfairly censured by John Dalton during post-Tailhook investigations that deteriorated into witch-hunts. A "Tailhook Certification Process" flagged the promotion files of anyone who attended the convention and many who did not. Raucous behavior at Tailhook ’91 was reprehensible, but allegations of sexual assault, actually experienced by only two women, were greatly exaggerated.

Some aviators who were investigated but cleared of wrongdoing were nonetheless denied promotions and forced to resign. Eleven female officers engaged in misconduct equal to that of the men. One recanted false allegations of sexual assault against a male colleague, but none of the female officers were punished for their actions.

Contrary to charges made at the time, Admirals Mixson and Flagg were not even involved in the planning of the infamous Tailhook ’91 convention, which immediately followed the Gulf War. Flagg did not join the Op 5 Directorate for Air Warfare, which was supposedly responsible for the event’s planning, until some months after it occurred. During the time in question, Mixson was half a world away directing combat operations during Desert Storm.

Virtually all of the other obituaries published in the New York Times have said only good things about the victims of terrorism, as related by family and friends. It is most regrettable that the newspaper did not checking the facts and show reasonable respect for a distinguished naval officer who was murdered by terrorists. To discourage similar affronts to families in the future, letters to the New York Times may be addressed to Letters@nytimes.com.




New York Times, Sept. 15, 2001, "Wilson Flagg, a Retired Admiral, Dies at 62" and Proceedings, Sept. 1994  


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