The words of “Eternal Father, Strong to Serve” could be heard Wednesday from the Virginia Beach United Methodist Church as dozens of community members and former Navy sailors gathered to remember Rear Adm. Fred Metz.
The Navy hymn was a favorite of the naval aviator and longtime resident of Virginia Beach. Metz died July 27 at age 87.
Metz had “a life well lived,” said Rev. Tim Craig. “A life of service — commitment to country, family and to the church.”
Metz enlisted in the Navy in February 1956, receiving his Wings of Gold and being commissioned an ensign in October 1957. It was the start of a 35-year naval career that took him to the Pentagon, the Gulf of Tonkin, President Ronald Reagan’s briefing room, and — of course — the sky.
“Fred was an aviator’s aviator,” his family wrote in his obituary.
During his career, Metz flew more than 5,000 hours, beginning with the A-4 Skyhawk and in 1964 transitioned to A-6A Intruder. He made four combat deployments to the Gulf of Tonkin starting in 1965 and completed his Vietnam service in 1974 as the Commanding Officer of Attack Squadron 145 in Oak Harbor, Washington.
In 1979, he met Cmdr. Tom Chafin.
“I was the executive officer of the USS Caloosahatchee. Fred was coming on board to be my commanding officer. He started out as my boss, but became my brother,” Chafin said after Wednesday’s memorial service.
Metz later served in Washington D.C. and was responsible for the daily briefing of President Ronald Reagan. His final Pentagon assignment placed him in charge of all aircraft carriers and naval air stations.
Metz retired in 1990 as a rear admiral. His awards include the Legion of Merit with two gold stars, the Distinguished Flying Cross with three gold stars, the Meritorious Service Medal with two gold stars, the Air Medal with gold numeral 7 and bronze numeral 15, the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device and three gold stars, and numerous service and campaign awards.
“In 1969, Paul Anka wrote a song called ‘My Way’ for Frank Sinatra — he didn’t write the music, he wrote the lyrics. Well, he also wrote that for my dad,” said Fred Metz Jr. “He liked things his way, and those who served with him, know he was tough but he was fair and that was probably why he was so successful in his Navy career.”
Upon retirement, Metz and his wife of 65 years settled in Virginia Beach. Metz became active in various local veteran and civic organizations, including the Association of Naval Aviation, Kiwanis, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Intruder Association.
Over the years, he connected with other military veterans and became fast friends over a shared bond of battle stories and patriotism.
“I actually met him when he was in his backyard. He had slipped and broken his ankle and needed help. We were friends from that day forward,” said Ken Wilson.
Wilson went on to join the Association of Naval Aviation at Metz’s encouragement.
“I was an enlisted man in the Navy, an aircraft carrier sailor, but not a flier like Fred,” Wilson said.
Wilson, who served from 1952-56 through the Korean War, said he and Metz exchanged sea and sky stories, including how Metz came to be so committed to his faith.
“He had a conversation with God on his last flight from bombing Hanoi. He was all shot up and wasn’t sure he was gonna get back to the ship. So, he told me he said to God, ‘If you get me back,’ I will be your number one disciple forever’,” Wilson said.
Metz sought to live up to that.
“He was the best Sunday School teacher around — taught me more about the Bible in a week than I ever knew,” Wilson said with a laugh.
Metz was also devoted to maintaining the relationship between the city of Virginia Beach and the Navy. He served on Virginia Beach’s Military Economic Development Advisory Committee, and was instrumental in the design and construction of the Naval Aviation Monument at the Oceanfront.
“Fred was very involved. He met with the architect to design the whole thing,” said retired Cmdr. Dave Moore.
Moore and Metz met through church 10 years ago.
“It was important to Fred that the memorial be very family oriented because of how important family is to the military. If things are not going well at home, members are not going to be focused on the mission,” Moore said.
Loved ones gathered for a reception following the memorial service. They exchanged hugs and condolences.
But occasionally, laughter would burst out following as they began sharing stories that began with “Remember when Fred…”.
Looking around at full room, Wilson said, “Wonderful guy. We are all gonna miss him, but his legacy is strong.”
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