John M. Tierney, 92, decorated Navy pilot who taught astronauts is your source for free local news and information in Virginia Beach

John Mark Tierney
John Mark Tierney

Rear Admiral John Mark Tierney passed away in Virginia Beach, Va., on Sept. 15, 2016. John was born in Newark, Del., on May 29, 1924 to William A. Tierney and Helen O’Rourke, the fourth of eleven children. He entered the United States Naval Academy in 1942, graduating three years later in 1945 in the top ten percent of his class.

After graduation, he attended Naval Mine Warfare School, then served on YMS-163, a minesweeper, and USS Henry A. Wiley, a destroyer-minelayer, before taking over on USS PCE 891, a weather ship operating around the Aleutian Islands. John entered flight school in May 1949 and earned his wings five months later, after carrier qualifications in the F4U Corsair. He flew A-1 Skyraiders with Attack Squadron VA-25 at Naval Air Station Oceana, and made several deployments to the Mediterranean on USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, CVA-42, and USS Midway, CVA-41.

While stationed at Oceana, he met and married, Frances “Stu” Rumfelt. John received a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Princeton University in 1955, before assuming duty as maintenance officer of VA-25, flying the new FJ-3 Fury jets on USS Forrestal, CVA-59, and deploying to the Western Pacific on USS Bennington CVA-20. He made five deployments prior to attending test pilot school. Graduating at the top of his class at Naval Test Pilot School, John went on to become a test pilot instructor for the next two years, developing the Navy’s syllabus for testing aircraft during uncontrolled spins and teaching five future astronauts.

John served as operations officer and landing signal officer for Air Group 8 on the USS Forestal before assuming command of attack squadron VA-66, flying A-4 Skyhawks off the USS Enterprise, CVAN-65, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. After completing the senior course at the Naval War College and earning his second master’s degree, John took command of Air Wing 19 on USS Bon Homme Richard, CVA-31, off the coast of Vietnam. He led over 100 combat missions, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for single handedly sinking an enemy ship.

After completing an assignment in systems analysis at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, John took command of USS Thomaston, LSD-28, supporting U.S. Marines in Vietnam. Then he returned to Vietnam as chief of staff to Carrier Division 1. He assumed command of USS Constellation, CVA-64, in January, 1970, off the coast of Vietnam, completing combat operations and returning to the U.S. without any fatalities.

John was selected as a flag officer during a tour in the Pentagon as director of plans, program, and budget, then took command of the A-6 and A-7 attack air wings and the EA-6B electronic warfare air wings on the West Coast, retiring after a 30-year Naval career in 1975. He also served as a director of the Navy Federal Credit Union.

After active duty, John worked as vice president for development at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia for five years, before taking a vice president position at a company which operated ports and ships for the Navy. His final job was president of the Catholic League of the United States, retiring in 1993 to Virginia Beach.

John is survived by his wife, Stuart Tierney of Norfolk; son, Mark; daughters, Brenda, Maureen, and Terri; 13 grandchildren; one great-grandchild; his brothers, Francis and Joseph; and his sisters, Gertrude and Marguerite.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016 at Saint Gregory the Great Catholic Church, in Virginia Beach, with interment at a later date in Arlington National Cemetery.