CDR Lionel Herbert Olmer
American Naval Officer and Cryptologist
Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade

CDR Olmer biography follows:

Lionel Olmer graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1957 and was commissioned as an Ensign after completion of OCS, Newport, R.I. in 1958. Following a brief assignment at Barin Field in Foley, Alabama, he spent 8 weeks at Imperial Beach, California preparatory to transfer to Kami Sea, Japan for a tour with the Naval Security Group Department. He later said that these two months proved exceptionally valuable because he learned the Morse Code which proved useful during later duty on “900 Missions.”

Olmer in the Conning Tower of the USS Pickerel

After Japan, he was ordered to NSG Headquarters, Washington, D.C. in 1960, where he was assigned to the Operations Division under Captain Slim Everson. During his three year tour, he attended law school at night, graduating in 1963 and became admitted to the Connecticut Bar later that year.

He was then assigned to the commissioning crew of the USS Georgetown (AGTR-2) in Norfolk, Virginia for a two year tour that included voyages around Cuba and South America.

From the USS Georgetown, Lieutenant Olmer was ordered to Wahiawa, Hawaii as Communications Division chief.

Following a three year tour of duty, and now a Lieutenant Commander, he was ordered to San Miguel, Philippine Islands as a Security Group Operations Division Officer. This included temporary duty assignments afloat and to Danang, Vietnam where he served as Officer in Charge of the detachment working with VQ-1, flying WV-2Q aircraft providing early warning to U.S. Forces.

Left to right: LCDR Lionel H. Olmer, CTR2 William F. Erhardt, CT3 S.P.
Renken, CTR3 Jackie P. Judice, LT(jg) Robert A. Cavaluchi, LT(jg) Shaun M. Byrnes. (Photo courtesy of Rich Ellis via Bill Erhardt – taken circa Dec. 1967)

Following his tour at San Miguel, LCDR Olmer was assigned to Washington, D.C. as Special Assistant to Rear Admiral Fritz Harlfinger, the Director, Naval Intelligence. This tour lasted three years, after which, now Commander Olmer, was assigned as a student at the National War College in Washington, D.C. (the first Naval Security Group officer to attend that institution.)

Following graduation, Commander Olmer was assigned to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), an entity created by President Eisenhower to advise him on the adequacy of intelligence. The PFIAB consisted of luminaries in American science, the military, industry and law. CDR Olmer remained at the PFIAB through the Presidencies of Nixon and Ford. He was notified of his selection to the rank of Captain in 1978, but chose to retire at that time on 20 years of service.

President Reagan, his staff (Olmer to his right) and Chinese officials

He then worked for the Motorola Corporation (the Chairman of which had been a member of the PFIAB), where he designed and implemented a successful strategy to open Japan’s hi-tech market. He was asked to remain as a consultant to President Carter’s Intelligence Advisory Board (IOB), retaining his White House credentials.

Upon the election of Ronald Reagan as President, Mr. Olmer was selected to become Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade an organization with 2,300 employees. He was unanimously confirmed by two Senate Committees. He remained in that assignment for four years, during which he sometimes travelled with President Reagan as in his historic visit to China. The job of Undersecretary of Commerce kept Mr. Olmer frequently in the news and required him to testify often to the Congress. It also required a lot of travel, to the 40-some Commerce Department offices in the U.S. as well as to the many Commerce Offices in foreign countries. Negotiations, sometimes very intense, on trade issues with Japan, Korea, China, the USSR, and the European Community were ongoing throughout his tenure.

President Reagan, Undersecretary Olmer and the Mexican trade minister at Camp David

Mr. Olmer left government service in 1985 to join the Washington, D.C. law office of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. In 1989, he (and his wife Lisa) moved to Tokyo, Japan, assigned to his law firm’s office there, returning to its Washington, D.C. office in 1991. He retired a year later; he remains Of Counsel to the firm.

Lionel served on the Board of Directors of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the world’s largest non sectarian refugee relief organization, founded in the 1930’s by Albert Einstein and other luminaries to save people fleeing from Hitler’s pogroms. In this regard, Lionel traveled to refugee hot-spots around the world, such as Hong Kong, Thailand, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and several places in Africa. He testified to Congress on his findings and help shape pending legislation.

His awards include the Legion of Merit with one gold star in lieu of a second award, Vietnam Service Air Medal, Navy Commendation Medal with Bronze Star, Navy Achievement Medal, RVN Armed Forces Meritorious Unit Citation (Gallantry Cross), RVN Armed Forces Meritorious Unit Citation, and the Knight Commander’s Cross which was awarded by the German Government. The University of Connecticut named him a Distinguished Graduate in 1990, and awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 2000.

Olmer is on the far left.

Once asked “what was your best job?” He answered, “working closely for one of our greatest Presidents, Ronald Reagan, was beyond doubt wonderful, but looking back at everything, I’d have to say, truthfully, that being OIC of a great team of sailors on 900 missions during the Cold War, couldn’t be beat.”

Lionel was an avid Marathon Runner, having completed 25 full marathons around the world. He is also a long-time SCUBA diver and underwater photographer whose videos have been presented at various forums. 

Lisa and Lionel left Washington, D.C. then, and moved to Sarasota, Florida where they now live. His two children from his first marriage reside in Connecticut and California. His son, Stuart, was a Chinook Helicopter pilot who participated in the 1st Gulf War and who left the Army as a W-5.  In addition to his two children, Lionel has three grandchildren; a U.S. Army First Lieutenant in the Nurse Corps; a grandson living in Connecticut; a college sophomore in Manhattan Beach, California; and a step daughter, who is a business executive in Washington, D.C.

Thank you for sharing your story, Shipmate!

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