Capt. Glen Berree started out a Navy pilot and ended up a destroyer skipper

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Colin Powell (left) shakes hands with Capt. Glen Berree, Western Hemisphere Branch Chief for the joint chiefs, when they both worked in the Pentagon in 1993. Photo provided

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Colin Powell (left) shakes hands with Capt. Glen Berree, Western Hemisphere Branch Chief for the joint chiefs, when they both worked in the Pentagon in 1993. Photo provided

Glen Berree spent the first two decades of his life as a Navy brat. His father was a fighter ace in World War II with nine kills to his credit. The next quarter century Berree carved out a career as a pilot, like his dad, almost became a SEAL and completed his Naval career as skipper of a guided missile destroyer following the Vietnam War. When he wasn’t at sea he was serving in positions at Annapolis and working in the Pentagon with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Colin Powell.

Berree was in a Naval aviation program at Florida Southern College in Lakeland where he graduated in the 1960s. He went to flight school at Pensacola.

“I went through the Pensacola pipeline until 1970. The Vietnam War was winding down and the Navy had all these pilots they didn’t need,” the 66-year-old retired Naval officer explained. “One day they called 600 of us to a meeting at the auditorium. Each of us got an envelope with our name on it. We were told if your name had a blue line under it you stayed in the Navy. If it had a red line under it you were out of the service in six months. Mine had a red line.

“It was at this point I decided to become a Navy SEAL. I was sent to Coronado, Calif., headquarters of the SEALS. I got half way through the training course and washed out because of an old shoulder injury I sustained in a high school gym class.

“At that point I became a deck officer on my first ship, the USS Ogden (LPD-5). The lieutenant commander, in charge of the deck section I was assigned to, got sick and had to leave the ship. The captain named me the replacement officer for the ill deck officer. I became a lieutenant during my first deployment aboard ship.

“The U.S. was negotiating for its prisoners of war at the end of the Vietnam War. The Ogden was sent to North Vietnam to sweep the American mines out of Haiphong Harbor.

“Each time negotiations between the U.S. and the North Vietnamese broke down we’d stop mine sweeping. When they resumed we’d start sweeping the harbor again. We did this until all our prisoners were released from North Vietnam.

“Sometime in 1974 I was sent to a river boat squadron located at San Clemente Island, off of California’s coast. I became the officer in charge of PTF-24. She was an 85-foot double-hulled mahogany “Trumpy Class” PT boat.

“Powered by two 3200 hp. engines she could do 40 knots or better. We had a .50-cal. machine-gun with an 81-mm mortar mounted together on a stand in the bow. There were two 20-mm cannons on either side and a 40 mm cannon on the stern.

“It was a lot of fun. We ended up playing the bad guys in fleet exercises while serving aboard PTF-24.”

After serving two years, from ’74 to ’76, on the PT boat Berree was assigned to destroyer school at Newport, R.I. After graduation he became the operations officer aboard the USS Vreeland, a frigate whose home port was May Port near Jacksonville.

“I was chief engineer aboard the Vreeland. We took a four month cruise around South America. We showed the flag and interacted with other South American navies,” he said. “We would be hosted in port by the various navies. It as a great cruise.

“At one point I went aboard the USS Luce (DDG-38), a guided missile destroyer, in the North Arabian Sea when the Shah of Iran was deposed by the Ayatollah Khomeini. We had a special unit aboard ship with a helicopter.

“They’d take the helicopter up and listen to conversations between the Shah’s troops and the Ayatollah’s people. We were sending these messages back to our headquarters in the States. We were the eyes and ears for our people on the ground.

“I was serving on the Luce when she became the first American ship to sail into Mogadishu, Somalia after the Soviets left. This was before the ‘Back Hawk Down’ incident,” Berree explained. “This was a big deal because we didn’t know what to expect because it was a lawless place.

I’ll never forget as long as I live, negotiating with a bunch of rag-tag local militia who were sitting on the other side of a big table from where we were setting.

In the foreground is an 85-foot “Trumpy Class” PTF boat used on the rivers in Vietnam during the war. It was a double-hulled, mahogany craft with twin 3200 hp engines like one Berree skippered after the war. In the background is a aluminum 95-foot “Osprey Class” patrol boat. Photo provided

“I went from the destroyer to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. were I served as the head of Nominations and Appointments for a couple of years. My family and I lived on the grounds of the academy. It was a great job.

“After serving at Annapolis I became the XO aboard the USS Leyte (CG-16), a guided missile cruiser. The skipper was Capt. Fred Bailey who the Navy sent board ships where their captain’s had gotten canned. I learned a lot aboard the Leyte during my two years with him.

“By this time I was a lieutenant commander. I was sent to the staff of Cruiser-Destroyer Group-5 located in San Diego. I became the scheduler for the group. I was in charge of scheduling all the ships in the command for the next two years.

“I was picked for command and went back to Commanding Officers School at New Port. It was after this schooling I commanded the guided missile destroyer Henry B. Wilson (DDG-7).

“It was like grabbing the brass ring. It didn’t get any better than this,” Berree recalled with a smile.

“We made two deployments to the Persian Gulf. I was captain of this ship when Iran started threatening the Straits of Hormuz.

“In 1988 or ’89 I was captain of the Wilson when she became the first American ship to sail into Karachi, Pakistan in a long while. When we moored the people on the dock were throwing bricks of marijuana up to our sailors on the destroyer.

“After that I was sent to the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at Fort McNair, Md. While there I got a master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University.

“Then I was selected for a really great job. I became the Western Hemisphere Branch Chief for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This was a position in the Pentagon I held for three years. This was ground zero for all operations that originated in the U.S. military.

“I served Gen. Colin Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He probably had the greatest amount of common sense of anyone I’ve ever seen,” Berree said. “He was so liked on Capital Hill when he went up to the hill to testify before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, by the time he was through everyone in the room was on his side.

“Powell would have made a great president.”

This is the guided missile destroyer Henry B. Wilson (DDG-7) Berree served as skipper of the ship in the late 1980s. Its home port was San Diego. Photo provided

This is the guided missile destroyer Henry B. Wilson (DDG-7) Berree served as skipper of the ship in the late 1980s. Its home port was San Diego. Photo provided

About the time Bill Clinton became president, Berree was about to be appointed defense attache to Denmark. It was the same time Powell and Secretary of Defense Dick Chaney were paring down the U.S. military from 2.1 million service personnel to 1.7 million through attrition and retirement.

“President Clinton decided, on his own, he wanted to cut another 200,000 service people out of the military’s ranks. Both Powell and Chaney objected, but Clinton did it anyway.

“I was about ready to be sent to Denmark when I got a call from the admiral I worked for in the Pentagon. I was a Navy captain by then and my admiral told me, ‘Glen I’m sorry, but in six months you’ll be out of the military.’ I had spent 25 years in the service by then.

“After feeling sorry for myself for a couple of days I started looking for civilian job. I was 47 and not ready to hang it up,” Berree said. “Eventually I became the Associate Director of Admissions at Florida Southern College where I had graduated. It was a position I held for 10 years.

Then he and his wife, Kathy, built their retirement home in Burnt Store Marina, south of Punta Gorda. They’ve lived there for a decade. The couple has two grown daughters: Charisse and Alicia.

Berree’s File

Name: Norman Glen Berree
D.O.B:  30 August 1947
Hometown:  Philadelphia, Pa.
Currently:  Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service:  10 Oct. 1969
Discharged:  1 Aug. 1994
Rank:  Captain
Unit:  USS Ogden, Trumpy Class PT Boat, USS Luce, USS Leyte,  Guided missile destroyer Henry B. Willson, USS Vreeland
Commendations: Command at Sea Insignia, Joint Staff Badge, Surface Warfare Insignia, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal (2 awards), Navy Achievement Medal (2 awards), Meritorious Unit Citation, Navy “E” Ribbon (2 awards), Navy Expeditionary Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (5 awards), Vietnam Campaign Medal

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, June 2, 2014 and is republished with permission.

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Click here to view Berree’s collection in the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Click here to search Veterans Records and to obtain information on retrieving lost commendations.

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