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Michael McCabe '70

Mike McCabe, the first University alumnus to achieve the rank of admiral in the United States Navy, is fond of quoting a fellow naval officer: “Any man who may be asked what he did to make his life worthwhile can respond, with a great deal of pride and satisfaction, I served in the United States Navy,” as President John Kennedy said.

McCabe graced this nation’s Navy with a rare diligence and creativity for more than three decades. Eighteen months after leaving The Bluff (where he ran track, majored in history, and became dear friends with the Uni ver sity’s legendary Father Chester Prusynski, C.S.C.), McCabe was flying combat missions in the Vietnam War; during his more than 150 missions from the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk, he shot down a MiG-21 in 1972. After Vietnam, he was selected to be the junior aviator in the first F-14 Tomcat squadron. Eventually he rose to executive officer of the Navy Fighter Weapons School — the Navy pilot graduate school better known today as Topgun. “The most amazing organization I have ever seen, in or out of the Navy,” says McCabe. “Topgun standards for excellence, professional performance, and competence represent the highest level of achievement you can find in any field, I think. Looking back on my career, my time directing Topgun was my most noteworthy and memorable assignment.”

McCabe subsequently commanded two fighter squadrons, worked with the National War College and the Chief of Naval Operations (in which capacity he was in the Pentagon when the airplane hijacked by terrorists struck the building directly below his office), received some 25 medals and awards (among them the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal), commanded Navy Aviation in the first Gulf war, traveled the world meeting diplomats and military leaders from many countries, and finally retired from the Navy in 2005, after a final tour of duty commanding the Navy’s Third Fleet in the Pacific—the Fleet once commanded by Admiral Bull Halsey in the Second World War, and the same fleet Mike’s father flew with during that titanic struggle. Mike then became president and CEO of Ryan International Airlines, a position he holds today.

“My father died flying in the first swept-wing squadron of Navy jet fighters,” says McCabe. “So I think a lot about the price of freedom. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of the friends I’ve lost…It was a privilege commanding the wonderful men and women of the Navy. They are national treasures. But the people who perform the greatest service to their country are their families, who sacrifice tremendously for our country…

“I think a lot about America’s incredible chance to affect how history will unfold. Engagement with friends and potential adversaries is the right way. I think it is crucial, as the strongest country in the world, that we help the world...this is not the time to retreat to our shores and turn a cold shoulder, but to engage, to show our character and creativity and generosity…”