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Obituary (VA): Leonard Anthony Bracken Jr. '55

Posted on 09/30/2018

Leonard A. Bracken  (OCTOBER 4, 1933 – SEPTEMBER 25, 2018)

Capt. Leonard Anthony (Tony) Bracken Jr. (1933-2018) was a U.S. naval aviator who also served two tours at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and had a second career as a successful business executive. A native of Philadelphia, he attended Chestnut Hill Academy and William Penn Charter School. After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1955, Bracken attended flight school in Pensacola, learning to fly on North American Aviation T-6 Texan aircraft. He obtained his Navy wings in 1956.

His first assignment was in Iceland as a long-range patrol pilot, flying the Lockheed P2V-5 Neptune to numerous destinations in Europe with Patrol Squadron 16, known as VP-16, which was based in Jacksonville. His second deployment with the squadron was to Morocco and Spain.

He transitioned to carrier-based aviation on his second assignment with Fleet Air Support Squadron 3 (FASRON 3), based out of Norfolk, flying Grumman C-1 Traders to carriers in the Atlantic Ocean, delivering mail and cargo, as well as transporting personnel.

Bracken married Marth Ella Dobarzynski (changed to Dobar) of Jacksonville in May of 1959. Upon his request, Bracken was transferred to intelligence school in Washington, D.C., where he also attended Russian language school. The Brackens had a son in early 1961.

Lieutenant Bracken was the assistant U.S. naval attaché in Moscow from 1962 to 1964. During this time, his work drew the ire of the Soviet government. Accusations of improper behavior involving observation of Russian military programs resulted in tit-for-tat travel restrictions of U.S. and Russian diplomats in Moscow and Washington.

Some of these incidents were the subject of articles in the New York Times and other newspapers. The Associated Press photographed Bracken in an overcoat and fedora at the Copenhagen airport and labeled him “an American spy” while erroneously reporting that he had been declared persona non grata. Returning to aviation, Bracken specialized in airborne anti-submarine warfare, flying Grumman S-2 Trackers with various squadrons on carriers deployed in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Baltic seas. Reader s Digest reported from the U.S.S. Intrepid on a patrol mission during which Bracken successfully located a Russian submarine.

Bracken was then dispatched to Athens where he headed the U.S. anti-submarine training detachment to Greece on a six-month assignment from September 1969 to March 1970. Once again stateside he became first the executive officer and then the commanding officer of Air Anti-Submarine Squadron 31 (VS-31) on the U.S.S. Intrepid. Subsequently, while commander of the West Coast based Carrier Anti-Submarine Air Reserve Group 80, which comprised six squadrons, he became a helicopter pilot.

After attending the National War College in Washington, D.C., and earning a master of science degree in international relations from George Washington University in 1976, Bracken was reassigned to the Moscow embassy as naval attaché, where he served from June 1977 to June 1979. He played a key role in the Soviet rescue of a U.S. military aircraft that crashed in the Bering Sea in October 1978 off the Kamchatka Peninsula. Bypassing normal protocols, Bracken communicated the need for emergency assistance directly to the Russian chief of naval operations, thus saving precious time. Ten U.S. airmen were rescued by a Soviet fishing trawler after 12 hours in the freezing water.

For his service on this tour, he was awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal. “By virtue of frequent travel and keen powers of observation he dramatically enhanced the accumulation of high priority information about many aspects of the enigmatic Soviet society,” the text accompanying the award said. “More specifically, his knowledge of the Soviet Navy enabled him to interpret major new Soviet initiatives in this area.”

Bracken went on to head the Nuclear Negotiations Branch of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations from August 1979 to May 1980, and he was awarded the Legion of Merit Medal for his “unique insight into Soviet motivations ” as the principal Navy advisor on several nuclear arms negotiations.

“His superior intellect and clarity of expression contributed significantly to the mission of the Strategic and Theater Nuclear Warfare Division during a period encompassing international events of historic importance, ” the text accompanying the medal said.

He retired in June 1980 and pursued a career as a business executive with a focus on international sales of oceanographic research devices with Sippican, Inc. He retired in 1993 as the vice president of marketing. While in retirement he wrote a book, Lake Barcroft History (2001), for which he received a commendation from the Fairfax County Historical Society.

Bracken also received the Navy Commendation Medal (or gold stars) for his service as:

Officer in Charge of the Mobile Training Team 3-70, Joint United States Military Aid Group, Greece from September 1969 to March 1970; Executive Officer of Air Anti-Submarine Squadron 31 (VS-31) and as a pilot of an S-2E aircraft in September 1971; Commanding Officer of Air Anti-Submarine Squadron 31 (VS-31) from July 1972 to March 1973; Commander of the Carrier Anti-Submarine Air Group Reserve 80 (CAG-80) from February 1974 to June 1975.

By Len Bracken

Demaine Funeral Home
Springfield, VA