UW’s first Distinguished Alumni Veteran answered the call to duty

Herb M. Bridge, ’47, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral retired, is the first recipient of the UW’s newly established Distinguished Alumni Veteran Award.

In addition to his naval service, public service and philanthropy are at the core of Bridge’s life. He founded the Seattle Housing Resources Group that builds low-cost housing, and has served on many boards including the Naval Academy Foundation and the USO Puget Sound Area. He and his son Jon are former co-chairs of the United Way campaign of King County.

A true patriot

For Bridge, the bombing of Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941 launched 43 years of dedicated service in the U.S. Navy, active duty in two wars and decades as an officer in the Navy Reserve.

Bridge joined the Navy at 17 and saw action in the Pacific Theatre during World War II and also during the Korean conflict. Of his early days in the Navy Bridge says, “I found that some of my lofty expectations of winning the war single-handedly were disappointed.” Bridge may be self-deprecating, but he received two Legion of Merit awards and the Naval Unit Commendation.

In his book Building Bridges, Bridge said, “I liked pretty much everything about the Navy, from the uniforms to working with like-minded people for a higher cause. The ultimate draw, though, was my sense of patriotism.”

A family tradition

The Navy tradition among the Bridge family is just about as strong as the UW tradition. It started with Herbert’s father, Ben Bridge, who served as a Chief during World War I. It continued with Herb, his brother Bob, ’52, who was a Navy Commander, and Herb’s son, Jon, ’72, ’76, a Navy captain with nine years of active duty and 26 years in the Reserve.

Ben Bridge taught Herb how to tie knots and how to signal flags. On fishing trips the pair practiced the Morse Code in their hip waders. By the time he joined the Navy, he already had many of the skills that were taught in boot camp.

During World War II, Bridge served in the Pacific on a destroyer escort. Immediately after the war he joined the U.S. Navy Reserve and was called up during the Korean War. He served as close air support directing planes to support the combat troops fighting on the ground.

Passing on the knowledge

He continued in the Navy Reserve teaching what he had learned. “When I left active duty in Korea I liked it so much that, instead of being bitter about losing time from the business, I got active in teaching Naval Reserves about how to use close air support,” he says. He would train new pilots by taking them into the desert and having them practice bombing old trucks and tanks to get adequate practice.

In addition, Bridge also attended the Naval War College, served on Admiral John McCain, Jr.’s staff (father of Sen. John McCain of Ariz.) and commanded a fleet in the Indian Ocean for several months in an operation off the shores of Oman.

In 1985, He became a Rear Admiral (two star), the highest rank a person can achieve in the Navy Reserve.