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 »  Home  »  Friends  »  Rear-Admiral J. Robert Lunney: A Portrait of an Honorable American - part 1
Rear-Admiral J. Robert Lunney: A Portrait of an Honorable American - part 1
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  09/2/2006 | Friends | Unrated

Admiral James Robert Lunney

By Joseph Bogovic

If you want to get to the heart of an individual listen not to their words but to their deeds and actions. Words are cheap, anyone can use them for their desired agenda but an accomplished action brings with it an undeniable reality from which much information can be obtained about the person behind. To better understand J. Robert Lunney one has to go through the accomplishments of the man through his long history, which includes a distinguished 43 year career with the US Navy both as its active and reserve member. It is through his actions that we can get a glimpse of his belief system, the very engine that drives us all. In most individuals the framework of the belief system is lax, the boundaries are not well defined, and the principles that guide it can be easily changed and shaken. The fruit of a belief system that is not well pruned and tested by social and physical forces can more easily fall to the ground as untapped potential. The few whose belief system is unshaken by inconvenience and difficulty stand out and perhaps become beacons for society at large. We may come to know through J. Robert Lunney the real meaning of commitment to country, to society at large and to fellow veterans that have made this country what it is today.     

Rear-Admiral J. Robert Lunney was born on December 15, 1927 in the Bronx, a borough of New York City, to parents Thomas and Jessie. Soon after his birth the Lunney family like most Americans was in the grip of the Great Depression. Young Robert attended public school. His father was in the real estate and insurance business. He later was appointed U.S. Marshal for the Southern district of New York by President Eisenhower where he served 1953-1962. His mother was a homemaker but took on a job of executive secretary for the Selective Service System at the beginning of WW2. Robert was the middle child his brother Thomas was 2 years older than him, David was the youngest. Father Thomas served in the US Navy in WW1 in the submarine division as did his two cousins. The photograph of his father and cousins stood proudly in the bedroom and made a lasting impression on the young man so much so that at the age of 17 he asked his father for permission to enlist in the US Navy. His brother Thomas also enlisted a bit earlier. Off to the Pacific the young man went on a Navy transport ship. On the way the ship stopped off at Pearl Harbor. It was quite an emotional moment for me knowing that my fellow navy men were entombed in the sunken ships below where I was standing, said the sailor sorrowfully. This was a moment that J. Robert Lunney would never forget and many years later would champion the deeds of a fellow sailor Peter Tomich, who lay in that tomb. Chief Water tender Tomich was recognized for his heroic actions on the USS Utah by President Roosevelt who awarded the deeds of Tomich with a Medal of Honor. Tomich, a Croatian born US Navy man laid down his life to save his crewmen by going down to the engine room of the bombed vessel to help evacuate his men and secure the area on that infamous day in our history. The medal was never presented to Tomich's next of kin because they could not be located by the US Navy. It took 9 years of persistence and effort by RAdm J. Robert Lunney. He fought the endless red tape, politics and spent his own money before the Medal of Honor could be given to Tomich's next of kin, Srecko Herceg Tonic. The medal was presented to him on the USS Enterprise which was moored at Split, Croatia on May 18, 2006. The event was a full US military ceremony. You may ask yourself the question, why did J. Robert Lunney take on this challenge?  Why not someone else? By exploring the deeds of the man we may learn the answer to the question.  

          From Pearl Harbor Lunney and his ship continued to Saipan. Once at Saipan the 17 year old sailor was assigned tasks that were not action oriented so he expressed his dismay to the commanding officer. The young sailor was then assigned to a Landing Craft along with 150 infantry and off they went to either occupy or accept the surrender of the Japanese on the smaller islands in the Pacific. These islands were not strongly defended by the Japanese and were easier to take over. Macarthur's strategy was to leap-frog the Pacific Islands, this was a strategy that worked. I felt we were fighting a just war and I was motivated to perform my duty. I didn't want to be stuck in an office somewhere shuffling papers. I wanted to be in the heart of the action. The ship was our life and our family, each one of us had a duty and a function and we knew what each one of us had to do. Navy men and sailors have a special bond that's unique, we respected one another and the duty we fulfilled.

          It turns out that throughout his life J. Robert Lunney had very high standards for persons in leadership position. When he felt that his commanding officers or their higher-ups were not up to the task to lead and were not being honest with their men he decided to build an academic career which led to a degree in law. With the help of the GI Bill and the money he earned by working on merchant ships J. Robert Lunney attended Alfred University and graduated with a Bachelor's degree in June 1950.  Before he could continue his enrollment at Cornell Law School he sailed on a merchant ship to Korea in September of 1950. The merchant ship was working for the US Navy as the war was taking place. On one trip the ship carried 10,000 drums of jet fuel as it trekked the mine filled waters of Korea. Before J. Robert Lunney knew it, he and 46 other crew members rescued 14 thousand refugees including some UN forces as the forces of North Korea closed in trapping thousands of civilians. This became the largest civilian rescue operation in maritime history as recorded by Guinness Book of World Records. I had to remind the Korean refugees that they were not to smoke or to light fires on the steel drums that held the jet fuel, smiled the elder statesman.

         In 1954 J. Robert Lunney graduated Cornell Law School and for the next 5 years worked as an Assistant US Attorney primarily focusing on drug enforcement cases. From 1959 to 1968 he worked for the law firm Shearman & Sterling in the area of antitrust and contract litigation. From 1968 to 2003 he opened his own law firm which focused on litigation, all the while remaining an active reservist with the US Navy. How did the field of law and the military changed from your beginnings to now? The courts are too clogged, there is too much litigation taking place. The other problem is that there is no training for judicial office positions. They are largely based on politics not merit. The Internal Revenue code is too complicated in our country. As for the military it too has changed over the years. Now it has become a tool to realizing a political objective without regard for human life, the life of soldiers and civilians. Im not pleased how the US government is using our forces.  

         Who are some of the people you respect and why? I respect people who lead by example, George Washington was one such man, Peter Tomich another. Chief Water Tender Tomich of course made the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life to save the life of others. Not many individuals can make such a sacrifice, said the wise gentleman with a tear in his eye. In the end Peter Tomich and J. Robert Lunney brought two nations together. The Croatian people come to the US to contribute as I have experienced. The work that I and several other Croatian friends who have helped me put the case together on behalf of Peter Tomich ( Zvonimir Mihanović, Juliana Velčić, Adam Eterovich and Vjekoslav Krsnik ) is our contribution to them and their country. I want our countries to have better relations. I also wanted the family of Peter Herceg Tomich to be presented what justly belongs to them. Hundreds of people were saved because of the actions of one Peter Tomich and I am very glad we've been successful in our research and persistence so as to locate his family.

On this journey, as well as in admiral's life he has a great support in his family. Wife Joan and son Alexander were very instrumental, intuitive and kind in finding solutions, where there seams to be none. (op-ed)

          We may conclude that the reason for J. Robert Lunney's actions lay in the heart of an honorable sailor. Commitment, duty, sense of obligation, the bond of teamwork, bravery, work ethic, care for his men and leadership by example is the framework that makes up the heart of Peter Tomich and live deep in the emotional fabric that makes up J. Robert Lunney.

Note: 1. To view the full interview with RAdm. J. Robert Lunney and to see the Medal of Honor presentation  go to (E) Rear-Admiral J. Robert Lunney: A Portrait of an Honorable American - part 2

          2. Ret. RAdm J. Robert Lunney lives in the Bronxville, New York with his wife Joan and son Alexander.  Admiral wife, Joan G. Lunney, Ed.D., recently retired from the NYC Bd. of Education as the Deputy Superintendent of a Brooklyn school district.  Their son, Alexander, a recent graduate of Colgate University is employed in Manhattan with a television media firm.

Presentation of the Medal of Honor speach by RAdm J. Robert Lunney

by RAdm Rosen

After forty-three years of service in the U.S. Naval
Reserve Bob Lunney retired as a Captain. Continuing his service in the
New York Naval Militia he was commissioned as a Rear Admiral by the
governor of New York.

           Admiral Lunney's duties during World War 2 included
eleven months service in the Pacific Kwajelein, Eniwetok, Saipan and
Iwo Jima for which he was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal.

            During the Korean War Admiral Lunney saw combat at the
Pusan Perimeter and the Inchon Landing. For his combat service at
Hungnam, North Korea, in support of the Choisin Reservoir Campaign, he
was decorated for his courage and resourcefulness in the successful
evacuation of 14,000 military and refuges. The Guinness World
Records have recognized this dramatic rescue as the greatest rescue
operation ever by a single ship.

             Admiral Lunney has also been decorated by the Secretary
of the navy with Distinguished Public Service Award for his dedication
and leadership in improving the strength and readiness of the Navy and
the capabilities of the Department of Defense to carry our essential
wartime missions.

               Having been designated by the Department of Defense
Admiral Lunney, on two occasions, traveled to North Korea to observe
joint recovery operations of American war dead.

                Admiral Lunney received a Doctor of law degree from the
Cornell Law School and served for five years as an Assistant U.S.
Attorney in New York and continues to practice law in New York.
Amongst his many civic and charitable activities he has served as the
National President of the naval Reserve Association and later as the
national President of the Sons of the Revolution.



18 MAY 2006
USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) Split, Croatia

[Acknowledge introduction RADM Rosen and recognize distinguished guests]

     The Holy Bible teaches u that, " No greater love hath a man to
lay down on his life for his friends"

     During World War 2 at the age of 17, I was assigned to the Naval
Amphibious Forces, Pacific and while passing through Pearl Harbor I
viewed that capsized hulk of the USS UTAH. Only years later did
learn that fifty-eight crewmen, including Chief Petty Officer Peter
Tomich, are still entombed to this day in the sunken ship.
    Chief Tomich, a Croatian immigrant, in exhibiting extraordinary
courage clearly displayed the true meaning of his adopted country the
land of the free because it is the home of the brave. A true naval
hero he was awarded our nations highest recognition -the Medal of

     Unfortunately over the years Chief Tomich's family was no located
and his Medal was never presented to his next kin. However, I decided
to locate the relatives of Chief Tomich when with my wife, Joan, and
son, Alexander planned a visit to Croatia in 1997. When learning of
this, Admiral Rosen strongly encouraged me and had a New York Naval
Militia military orders issued directing me to investigate and
identify and appropriate next of kin to whom the Medal could be

     The search for Chief Tomich's family was very successful because
of the substantial assistance of many Croatian friends who should be
recognized here today. After I reviewed the Chief's entire Navy
record, Adam S. Eterovich of the Croatian Genealogical Society
generously provided me with important background information on the
Tomich family. Together with the valuable guidance from journalist,
Vjekoslav Krsnik, we set out on our search. Arriving in Croatia we
received outstanding cooperation from our good friend Zvonimir
Mihanovic who arranged for our travels into Bosnia. He enabled us to
visit the Franciscan Abbey in Humac where the Superior of the Abbey,
Fra Dragicevic, gave us full access to the birth, baptismal, marriage
and death records of the Herceg-Tonic family.

     After an extensive examination of the documentary proof of Chief
Tomich's background and family we traveled to his home town, Prolog,
where Chief Tomich was most pleased to identify Srecko Herceg-Tonic, a
highly decorated hero of Croatia's recent was for independence, as the
appropriate representative to be presented with the medal of Honor.
Throughout my investigation and acquisition of all the documentary
evidence I had the skillful and loyal assistance of Juliana Velcic,
and outstanding friend and interpreter.
    During the course of my investigation I also had the pleasure of
speaking with some of UTAH survivors, all of whom spoke most favorably
of their leader, Chief Tomich, who held the highest enlisted rating in
the Navy? His shipmates remember his quiet demeanor, someone who
rarely spoke of a family but who was constantly concerned about his
men. Survivors dramatically related how the Utah capsized within 12
minutes of the attack with the Japanese machine gunning the crew as
they abandoned ship. For over twenty years the navy was Chief's
Tomich's family and this was clearly evidenced when one of his
shipmates told me as he was escaping the engine spaces Chief Tomich
was going down the ladder to secure the boilers and insure that all
his men were out safely. With this courageous act he saved many lives
and sacrificed his own so that others would live. Other survivors
spoke of Chief Tomich's leadership qualities and his high expectations
for his men.

     In honor of Chief's Tomich's sacrifice, the Navy, in World War 2,
commissioned a Destroyer Escort, the USS TOMICH. Also in his honor,
the Navy established the Senior Enlisted Academy, named "Tomich Hall",
in Newport, Rhode Island. Significantly, the motto of the Academy is
"leadership by Example".

     As President John F. Kennedy stated, "A Nation reveal itself by
the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, honors, the men it
remembers". Today we honor Chief Tomich and we will always remember

    Thank you,

Contact Admiral Lunney at

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  • Comment #1 (Posted by Alexander G. Lunney)

    This is an outstanding presentation of my father, of whom I am most proud.
    Experiences such as my father's search and eventual success in having a Medal of Honor presented to Peter Tomich's kin should never be forgotten.
  • Comment #2 (Posted by Robert Stevens (Lunney Clansman))

    Couple of spelling mistakes. Content is excellent and well motivated - wish you could be 100% accurate in reporting - it does make the statement if it is accurate. Proud of you all for taking up the standard on behalf of all who have done their duty. Always pleasant to hear about the wonderful work of a fellow Lunney clan member. Carry on.
  • Comment #3 (Posted by peter kim)

    Astonishing, admired and respectful of what he has done! A real hero in our time.
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