Two-star Rear Admiral Lyle Bull joined the Navy Reserve before graduating high school at 17 and completed Officer Candidate School in two, 10-week sessions during summers while attending college. Bull went out on the USS Bon Homme Richard (CV/CVA-31) and flew the A-3 Skywarrior, the largest jet ever assigned to carriers. The “Bonnie Dick” offered Pacific cruises and Cold War missions around the Pacific Rim. Bull completed his four-year reserve contract and got out of the Navy.
However, in less than a year Bull was recruited back into the Navy and in January 1965, he was selected as one of VAH-123 six bombardier/navigators to be trained on the A-6A Intruder at Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia Beach, Va. Then he returned to NAS Whidbey to help set up VA-128, the first Intruder training squadron on the West Coast.
In 1967, Bull and his pilot, Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Hunter took a replacement A-6 Intruder to USS Constellation (CVA-64) on Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of Vietnam, after three A-6’s were lost on a strike on Hanoi. And then they were in the thick of the Vietnam War.
During his three cruises to Vietnam — two on the Connie and one on the USS Ranger (CV-61) — he lost approximately one-third of the flight crew every time. Bull flew 273 missions in Vietnam and he is one of only a handful of recipients of the Navy Cross, the Navy’s highest honor. Retiring in 1993, his 30-year career included a September 1982 to June 1984 stint as Admiral of the now decommissioned USS Constellation. Today, Bull lives on the waterfront in Oak Harbor with his wife, Diane.
Why did you want to join the Navy?
I thought flying airplanes would be about the most fun you could have. And it was.
What has been the most rewarding part of your military career?
I think dealing with people. Learning how to be a leader. I had six commands, made lots of mistakes but hopefully not the same ones. I was raised to use the Golden Rule, and that works. If you use that, all other leadership direction is obsolete.
What do you think is special about the Navy?
They have ships, and they fly off of those. The Navy is always the first one the President calls when he’s in trouble … where are my carriers? It puts you right in the forefront right away, and where the action is. And that’s not blowing smoke, that’s the truth. The Air Force have to find a place to land their aircraft, so they have to build runways and all that. We don’t have that problem.
How did your family deal with your deployments?
It’s tough on families, the separation. But my wife and I decided that the way we handled it is I would give them quality time when I was at home. And I don’t think my four boys ever thought they were without a father. The first deployments were eight or nine months long. Then they changed it to six months, and now it’s whatever they need. And they usually wanted a one-year turn around. Now, a five-month turn around is common. The less assets we have, the more demand. And the families suffer. People don’t understand that.
How’d you feel the first time you were in combat?
You want me to say I was scared? Yeah. I was in North Vietnam. We warmed up with some single — we called them milk runs where people had been before. Then they put you in the breach with a 30-plane alpha strike. Missiles coming up at you, flack all around you. I didn’t see how I was going to make it through many more missions. How could I keep doing this? I talked to a lot of guys about combat after they had done it … because you want to talk about it. And I think I helped a lot of guys. The trip to Hanoi was never fun. I’d have been glad to give it to a drone.
What would you say to someone who is considering the Navy as a career?
I can’t imagine doing anything but that. The challenges and the adrenaline that was there was very high. You get addicted to it almost. You can walk down the street and it gives you a confidence you can’t get anywhere else. I’ve been shot at and made it. You see it in all the veterans that have been in combat, they have a confidence you can replace with anything else. And every day was different. You have a camaraderie that is second to none because you’re in the same business. You don’t get rich in this business, but you’re not in poverty either.