Capt. Larry (Hoss) Pearson, the highly decorated commanding officer of Miramar Naval Air Station, the home of the Navy's Top Gun pilot school, was reprimanded and relieved of his command Friday on charges of fraternization, Navy officials said.
In an abrupt and embarrassing end to a highly decorated and distinguished career, Pearson was caught in a relationship with the female head of the legal department at Miramar, the Navy's largest master jet air station. Navy officials declined to elaborate on the exact nature of the fraternization, but sources said Pearson and the woman were having an affair.
Pearson, 46, who has been regarded as a rising star of the Naval Aviation community, may be the most senior Navy officer in a prestigious position to have his career ruined on such charges.
The relationship between Pearson, a married Vietnam War hero who has two children, and the attorney, Lt. Janet McCully, was discovered earlier this month by her husband, a source said. Navy officials said a complaint was filed with authorities.
The Navy has strict rules prohibiting close personal relationships--fraternization--between personnel of different ranks to avoid any conflict in military decision-making.
Vice Adm. Edwin Kohn, commander of the Pacific Fleet's Naval Air Force, elected to handle the sensitive matter in separate closed-door administrative sessions Friday with Pearson and McCully, said Cmdr. Sheila Graham, spokeswoman for Kohn.
"Pearson certainly has the right stuff but we can't have someone making those kinds of errors in judgment," said one official familiar with the case. "He screwed up big time."
In the administrative hearing, Pearson was given a letter of censure that is permanently entered into his service record, fined $3,000 pay over the next two months and reassigned to serve on Kohn's staff at North Island Naval Air Station, Graham said. Pearson will retire from the Navy shortly--which he intended to do before disclosure of his involvement with McCully, said Senior Chief Petty Officer Bob Howard, another Navy spokesman.
Pearson, who joined the Navy 25 years ago, was slated to leave Miramar in August. Sources said he had planned to assume duties at another high-level Navy job, with a seagoing staff overseeing several units and planning operations.
Pearson, former commanding officer of the Blue Angels, the Navy's crack flight demonstration team, was unavailable for comment.
"Capt. Pearson is one of the finest Naval aviators we have," Howard said. "He is extremely highly regarded throughout the aviation community for his experience, knowledge and expertise. He is truly a pilot's pilot."
Pearson became Miramar's commanding officer in July, 1989. Before assuming his duties at Miramar, Pearson reported to the staff of chief of naval operations in the aviation plans and analysis office in Washington. There, he worked as strike warfare plans analyst.
A renowned pilot, Pearson has commanded three squadrons: VF-154 fighter squadron; the Blue Angels, the Navy's famous precision aerobatics team, and the VX-4, a test and evaluation squadron for fighter jets. Miramar was Pearson's fourth command.
Pearson graduated with distinction from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Maryland in 1976. As a test pilot, he has flown eight aircraft models, including the F-14, F-4, F-8, and F-86. His career, which included several combat tours during the Vietnam War, where he won nine Air Medals and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He has also been awarded two Meritorious Service Medals, the Navy Commendation Medal and the Navy Achievement Medal.
McCully, who joined the Navy six years ago, was fined $1,500 in pay over the next two months, relieved of her duties and reassigned April 18 to the Navy legal offices at 32nd Street Naval Station.
McCully declined to comment Friday.
At Miramar Naval Air Station, McCully was in charge of a five-person department for the last two years. She served as Pearson's attorney on official matters and was assigned to the position of judge advocate. She performed the same duties during her entire stint at the air station, Howard said. Navy officials do not intend to re-examine legal decisions mades during her tenure, Howard said.
"There is absolutely no indication that the official actions previously taken by either are subject to being changed," Howard said.
For McCully and Pearson, officials acknowledge, their careers in the Navy have effectively been derailed.
Kohn issued close to the maximum possible penalties to each. The maximum penalty would have been a fine of up to half their base pay for up to two months, restriction to a specified area for up to 60 days, 30 days arrest in quarters and a punitive letter of censure, Howard said.
Under the policy of fraternization, higher-ranking officers are prohibited from having "unduly familiar personal relationships" with those of lesser rank--a tradition maintained for more than 200 years.
The Navy's handling of Pearson's case "sends a signal that fraternization will not be tolerated and will be dealt with, despite the level it occurs," said Navy spokesman Howard. "The Navy is serious about the fraternization issue and will take appropriate action when charges of fraternization come to light."
According to a recent report, fraternization is widespread. But the Navy has not established a tracking system to monitor such incidents. Lt. Mary Hanson, a Navy spokeswoman in Washington, said records show that the highest-ranking officers punished for fraternization had been captains at smaller commands.