ADMIRAL HORACIO RIVERO JR.
Born on May 16, 1910 in the city of Ponce on the island of Puerto Rico, Horacio Rivero Jr. was the first Hispanic to become an admiral of the United States Navy. With ambitions fueled by his father’s extensive library collection, Rivero Jr. pursued his dreams despite the many obstacles he faced along the way.
Rivero’s parents, Horacio Rivero Sr. and Margarita DeLucca Rivero encouraged him to pursue his education. He attended public schools for his primary and secondary education and was an exceptional academic student. Having been previously educated about maritime and nautical information, he was made governor of Puerto Rico for a day as a senior in high school, which later inspired him to join the Naval Academy in 1927.
Thomas Wesley Hogan Jr., Rivero’s son-in-law later remembers how he was able to join the academy despite his short stature. “He was a little fella, 5’ 2” or 5’4,” says Hogan. I think the doc who measured him put his thumb in between his head and the measuring stick to give him height so he could get into the Navy.”
An eager Rivero wanted the challenge of taking French while in the Navy, but because he spoke only Spanish, he had to take English as a second language. He became very fluent in English and never again allowed language to be a barrier for him.
The Navy made an exception to the height requirement for Rivero and his determination and hard work proved their risk would not go in vain. He graduated from the Naval Academy 3rd in his class of 441 students in 1931 and continued his education at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Electrical Engineering towards a Master’s Degree, which he received in 1940. Hogan adds, “Everybody always knew he was very intelligent.”
While in the academy, an officer had trouble reading his name and subsequently called him “Rivets.” Instead of becoming offended, Rivero took it all in stride and adopted it as his new nickname. “Rivets,” as he became famously known was shortened again to “Riv” by his closest friends.
After graduating from MIT, Rivero was then assigned to the Bureau of Ordinance as the first Officer in Charge of Radio Detection and Ranging, better known as RADAR. He was the driving force that developed the tracking and target acquisition for weapons deployed for the U.S. Navy to be used during World War II.
In addition to his success in developing new war technology, Rivero was not afraid to be part of the brave men who courageously fought in close range combat. “Once during an air attack, an enemy plane hit his ship and the phone talker next to him was killed. He narrowly missed death himself,” says Hogan. “He would consistently meet dangerous challenges selflessly.”
His quick thinking strategies also proved to be necessary when he was reassigned to the USS Pittsburgh from the USS San Juan.
Aboard it, Lt. Rivero and his admiral disagreed about the navigation of the boat. It had lost its bow in a hurricane in the middle of World War II and Lt. Rivero suggested they slow down, while the admiral decided to push ahead. In the meantime, Rivero set in the Zebra (a condition that helps keep the ship watertight) where he was able to save the ship and take it to Guam. His clever plan earned him the Legion of Merit award.
Throughout his active career, Rivero still managed to squeeze in a personal life. In 1941 he married Hazel Hooper, and adopted her daughter Mary Lynn Hogan. He has two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
He held strong ties with his family and took his career very seriously. “The most important thing to him was his family and the Navy. He considered the Navy like his family; he loved to stay on the ship, he would stay around for hours when everyone left,” says an admiring Hogan.
After the war, Rivero commanded the USS Noble in the Korean War, which was prominent in Operation Big Switch that moved North Korean prisoners from Koje Do to Inchon.
Later, in October of 1962, under the instruction of President John F. Kennedy, Admiral Rivero commanded the American Fleet to set up a blockade of the Soviet Union in an effort to prevent the Cold War from becoming World War III.
Feeling the need to expand his military knowledge, Rivero studied nuclear weaponry at the National War College and in 1954 became Assistant Chief of Staff for Naval Operations, a title he held even through the Vietnam War where he was the lead overseer. Towards the end of his military career, Admiral Rivero served as commander-in-chief of NATO’s Allied Forces in Europe from 1968 until his retirement in 1972.
Rivero made an impression on many high-ranking officials, even outside the U.S. “He served as a U.S. Ambassador to Spain from 1972-1975. Hogan remembers that while there, Rivero had an appointment with Franco who did not normally see Ambassadors for more than a few minutes, but he spent 45 minutes to an hour with Riv. “He got to be a pretty popular ambassador,” adds Hogan.
Hogan’s grandson Thomas later remembers his grandfather as “a loving grandparent,” who remained very humble despite all his great success. He was genuinely interested in what people had to say and “he was good at making everyone he dealt with feel important.”
“I remember a man who had a lot of things against him from the start of his career. He wasn’t tall enough to be in the Naval Academy and most people would have probably let that defeat them. He managed to get in and do exactly what he wanted and he went for it.”
Hazel passed away in 1997 and three years later on September 24, 2000 Admiral Rivero joined her. Rivero lived a very fulfilled life and was able to share his wonderful experiences with those who loved and cared for him the most, his family.
“I’ve written a letter recommending that a ship be named after him,” explains Hogan. He was a leader to the nation, especially the Hispanic community; he deserves this.
Rivero is an inspiration to anyone who has ever had a dream. During his career, he received over thirteen awards and recognitions from the United States, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Brazil and Ecuador. He has courageously proven that no matter what situation you are in and despite the many challenges you will face, your dreams can come true if only you try and believe in yourself. With the changes he’s made to military and the Hispanic community, Rivero’s life and hard work will definitely not go in vain.
— Story and Interview by: Michael Caro
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