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Ronald ‘Zap’ Zlatoper, former Pacific Fleet commander active in community affairs, dies at 80

  • HAWAII MILITARY AFFAIRS COUNCIL
                                A memorial Mass and remembrance for retired Adm. Ronald “Zap” Zlatoper will be held at 2 p.m. today at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Chapel.

    HAWAII MILITARY AFFAIRS COUNCIL

    A memorial Mass and remembrance for retired Adm. Ronald “Zap” Zlatoper will be held at 2 p.m. today at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Chapel.

Hawaii’s military and civilian communities are saying goodbye today to retired Adm. Ronald “Zap” Zlatoper, a longtime Hawaii resident and former commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, who died April 21 while on a trip to the mainland.

His family said he became suddenly ill and died in Atlanta. Zlatoper was 80.

A memorial Mass and remembrance will be held at 2 p.m. today at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Chapel.

Zlatoper continued to support military causes after leaving the Navy in 1997 and was involved in a wide range of business and civic endeavors. He was CEO of Sanchez Computer Associates for 10 years and served as a trustee of the James Campbell Estate, board chairman of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and on the boards of the East-West Center and many other organizations.

“I knew Zap for almost 30 years, and it’s hard to separate his personality and gifts by the positions he’s held or the organizations that benefited by his involvement,” said retired Gen. David Bramlett.

Zlatoper was born in 1942 in Cleveland. He began his military career as a pilot and bounced between serving at sea and in influential posts at the Pentagon.

Over the course of two tours in Vietnam, Zlatoper flew 150 combat sorties. During his second tour he served aboard the carrier USS Forrestal with future U.S. Sen. John McCain. The two were among the survivors of a fire on the ship in 1967 that killed 134.

In October 1980 he was ordered to Washington to serve as executive assistant to the director of program appraisal, then-Maj. Gen. Colin Powell. After another stint at sea, he returned to Washington in 1983 as a military assistant to then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.

In July 1990, Zlatoper assumed command of Carrier Group Seven and deployed to the Arabian Gulf for Operation Desert Storm, where he oversaw surface combat in the northern Persian Gulf.

After returning from the Middle East, Zlatoper served as chief of naval personnel from 1991 to 1994, overseeing major changes, including the integration of women onto combat ships and aircraft. In August 1994 he took command of the Pacific Fleet on Oahu.

“He made sure the community leadership was increasingly invited to important Navy ceremonies, ship embarks and facility tours,” said Roy Yee, a founding member of the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce’s Military Affairs Council. “His work with the community has helped increase the understanding of the military contributions in Hawaii.”

After retiring from the Navy in 1997, Zlatoper decided to stay in Hawaii and joined the Military Affairs Council in 2000.

“Hawaii has been very fortunate to have Zap retire here and immediately integrate himself in the community,” said Yee.

Zlatoper was a major advocate for investing in “dual use” technology and infrastructure — military projects that could also have civilian applications.

Retired Maj. Gen. Edward “Rick” Richardson, who commanded the Hawaii National Guard when Zlatoper took command of the Pacific Fleet, frequently traveled with him to Washington after the two became members of chamber’s Military Affairs Council. Richardson recalled that Zlatoper knew the halls of power inside and out from his time working with Powell and Weinberger.

“Very seldom did we go into a meeting in the Pentagon or Congress where he did not know the subject person or one of the participants,” said Richardson. “He also knew how to ask a question or steer the conversation so that we always addressed the issue at hand toward a positive outcome.”

Zlatoper’s other activities included stints on the boards of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation, USS Missouri Memorial Foundation and Catholic Charities of Hawaii, and as chairman of Chaminade University’s Board of Regents. He was a member of the Dean’s Council of the University of Hawaii College of Engineering and was honorary consul for Slovenia and a member of the Consular Corps of Hawaii.

Near the end of his life, Zlatoper played a key role in establishing the Navy ROTC program at UH, which launched in August.

He is survived by wife Barry Lane, daughter Ashley Stolle, son Michael Zlatoper, son-in-law David Stolle, daughter-in-law Amy Zlatoper and five grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Zap’s Grandchild’s Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation or the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.

Correction: A memorial Mass and remembrance will be held at 2 p.m. today at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Chapel. A previous version of this story gave an incorrect time.
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