William Daniel Leahy
Graduate, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1897
Engagements: • Spanish-American War (1898)• Boxer Rebellion (1899 - 1901)• World War I (1914 - 1918)• World War II (1941 - 1945)
The Early Years
William Daniel Leahy was born in Hampton, IA, on 6 May 1875. Later, his family moved to Ashland, WI. His father, Michael Leahy, a lawyer, had been Captain of Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers during the Civil War. Young Leahy originally hoped to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point,NY, and follow in his father's footsteps, but no appointments were available. However, when he graduated from high school in Ashland in 1893, he was able to win an appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD. He graduated in 1897; 15th in a class of 47.
Midshipman Leahy's first naval assignment was aboard the newly-commissioned (15 July 1896) battleship USS Oregon (BB-3), then serving in the Pacific. He was on that battleship during 19 March - 24 May 1898 when she went on what was to become one of the most historic voyages ever undertaken by a Navy ship. Oregon departed San Francisco on 19 March for Callao, Peru, the first coaling stop on her trip around SouthAmerica to the East Coast for action in the impending Spanish-American War. On 24 May, Oregon anchored off Jupiter Inlet, FL, and reported ready for battle. Altogether, Oregon had sailed over 14,000 miles since leaving San Francisco 66 days earlier. On 26 May, Oregon proceeded to the Navy Base at Key West, joined Admiral William T. Sampson's fleet two days later, and on 1 June arrived off Santiago, Cuba to shell military installations and to help in the destruction of Admiral Cervera's fleet on 3 July. [This was the only battle Leahy ever saw in person.] Oregon's dogged determination to fight acquired for her the nickname "McKinley's Bulldog."
Having completed two years of sea duty, Leahy was commissioned Ensign on 1 July 1899. [When Leahy graduated from the USNA in 1897, the law required two years of post-graduation sea service as warrant officers before commissioning as an Ensign. In 1912, Congress authorized commissioning midshipmen as ensigns on graduation day.] At that time, he was on the Asiatic Station, where, during the Philippine Insurrection and the Boxer Rebellion in China, he served on the gunboat USS Castine (PG-6); the stores ship USS Glacier (AF-4); and commanded the gunboat USS Mariveles (1886). He returned to the U.S. in 1902 (he was promoted to lieutenant Jr. Grade on 1 July of that year) and for the next five years (he was promoted to lieutenant on 31 December 1903) did duty onboard the protected cruiser USS Tacoma (CL-20) and the protected cruiser USS Boston (1884) which were stationed in Panama during the early period of construction of the canal.
His first shore duty was at the Naval Academy where, beginning in 1907, he served as Instructor in the Department of Physics and Chemistry for two years. He went to sea in 1909 (he was promoted to lieutenant commander on 15 September of that year) and served as navigator of the armored cruiser USS California (ACR-6) in the Pacific Fleet. On 18 October 1911, Lt. Cmdr. Leahy served as naval aide to President William H. Taft, at the laying of the keel of USS Jupiter (AC-3), at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard of Vallejo, CA. During the American Occupation of Nicaragua in 1912, he was Chief of Staff to the Commander Naval Forces there.
World War I
Late in 1912, Leahy came ashore in Washington as Assistant Director of Gunnery Exercises and Engineering Competitions. In 1913, he was assigned to the Bureau of Navigation as a detail officer where he served until 1915. At that time, shortly after the start of World War I, he took command of the gunboat dispatch USS Dolphin (PG-24), and established a very close friendship (that lasted for the rest of their lives) with, the then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt who cruised with him on the ship. (Leahy was promoted to commander on 29 August 1916.) He was in that assignment in early 1917 in West Indian waters and had additional duty as Senior Aide on the Staff of Commander Squadron Three of the Patrol Force Atlantic Fleet.
He served for almost a year as the Executive Officer of battleship USS Nevada (BB-36) and in April 1918 (he was promoted to captain on 1 July of that year) went to command the transport ship USS Princess Matotika (ID-2290), [formerly the ocean liner Princess Alice] transporting troops to France. It was during this tour that he was awarded the Navy Cross. He came ashore after WWI ended in 1918.
The Interwar Years
In late 1918, Leahy began a three year tour as Director of Gunnery Exercises and Engineering Competition in the Navy Department, and as senior member of the Fire Control Board. In 1921, he went to sea in command of cruiser USS St. Louis (CA-18), flagship of the Naval Detachment in Turkish waters during the war between Turkey and Greece. At the end of that war, he was given command of Mine Squadron One and, in 1922, additional duty as Commander, Control Force.
He returned to the U.S. and, from 1923 to 1926, he served as Director of Officer Personnel in the Bureau of Navigation; he then had one year in command of the battleship USS New Mexico (BB-40). On 14 October 1927, Leahy was promoted to the two-star rank of rear admiral (the one-star rank of rear admiral LH was not in use at that time) and became Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance. His son, William Harrington Leahy, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1927 and was engaged in pre-World War II naval intelligence. After almost four years of shore duty, he went to sea in 1931 as Commander, Destroyers Scouting Force.
In 1933, he returned to shore duty, in Washington DC, as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation. Two years later, as a vice admiral (date of rank 13 July 1935) he went to sea as Commander of Battleships Battle Force. On 2 January 1937, he hoisted his four-star flag on battleship USS California (BB-44) as Commander-in-Chief, Battle Force.
Leahy was appointed Chief of Naval Operations to serve a two-year term. He took the oath of office in January 1937. As CNO, he was the senior officer in the Navy and remained busy overseeing the preparations for war. Before retiring as CNO, Leahy joined his wife Louise when she sponsored the oiler USS Cimarron (AO-22), which commissioned on 20 March 1939. At the end of his term in August 1939, Leahy was placed on the retired list. On that occasion, President Roosevelt said "Bill, if we have a war, you're going to be right back here helping me run it."
Governor of Puerto Rico
After his retirement from active duty from the Navy, Leahy served as Governor of Puerto Rico from September 1939 until November 1940. As governor, he oversaw the development of military bases and stations across the island. He took an open stance of not intervening directly in local politics; attempted to understand and respect local customs; and initiated various major public works projects in the island. Although given the unflattering sobriquet "Almirante Lija" ("Admiral Sandpaper" based on his family name) by locals, he was regarded as one of the most lenient American governors of the several that served Puerto Rico in the first half of the 20th century.
Ambassador to France
Leahy was appointed Ambassador to France (later referred to as Vichy France for the city in which the capital was located) in 1941 following that country's surrender to Germany. Leahy's major task, as he relates in his memoir "I Was There," ("was to keep the French on our side insofar as possible.") The U.S. supplied food and medical aid to the Vichy regime, and to French North Africa, hoping in return to moderate Vichy collaboration with Germany and to avoid an open Vichy-German alliance in the Mediterranean. However, American aid proved too little to buy French support over NorthAfrica and Leahy was entirely unsuccessful. While in France, his beloved wife, Louise, passed away. He was recalled in May 1942 and a heartbroken Leahy returned to America.
Recall to Active Duty in the U.S. Navy
After the U.S. entry into World War II, President Roosevelt decided he needed a senior military officer as personal adviser and point of contact with his three service chiefs: Admiral Ernest King of the Navy; General George Marshall of the Army; and General Henry Arnold of the Army Air Forces. The service chiefs resisted this move until Marshall suggested that only Leahy would be accepted in this post. On 6 July 1942, Leahy was appointed Chief of Staff to the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Army and Navy: The President of the United States. Leahy held this position, the equivalent of what eventually became the post of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during most of World War II. (The first person to formally be called Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was Leahy's successor, five-star General of the Army Omar Bradley.)
In this (then-unprecedented) role, Leahy played a critical role in the strategy, diplomacy and execution of WWII. In fact, he was at the center of all major American military decisions made during the war.
[Leahy spent D-Day, 6 June 1944, in his hometown of Hampton, Iowa. This well-publicized "sentimental journey" was part of the deception efforts surrounding the Allied invasion of Europe. The idea was to lull any German agents in Washington, DC, or elsewhere in the U.S., into believing that an invasion would not take place while such an important officer was out of the capital.]
In recognition of his crucial achievements, Leahy was appointed the first U.S. Navy Fleet Admiral on 15 December 1944; thus making him the first U.S. military officer ever to hold a five-star rank in the U.S. Armed Forces.
After Roosevelt's death in April 1945, Leahy continued in his posts, assisting President Harry S. Truman in bringing about final victory against Germany and Japan and then helping to guide the Nation in the early post-war years. After mediating between the U.S. Navy and the Government of Puerto Rico over the involuntary transfer of part of the islands of Vieques and Culebra to naval authorities, Leahy resigned in March 1949 and the following year published his war memoirs, I Was There.
Use of the Atomic Bomb
After Leahy was appointed Fleet Admiral on 15 December 1944, Vannevar Bush (primary organizer of the Manhattan Project) explained to him how the atomic bomb would work. Leahy then told President Harry S. Truman, "This is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives." After the bomb was tested, Leahy was strongly opposed to its use in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In his memoir, he wrote:
"Once it had been tested, President Truman faced the decision as to whether to use it. He did not like the idea, but he was persuaded that it would shorten the war against Japan and save American lives. It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons... My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make wars in that fashion, and that wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."
Military Medals and Awards
During Leahy's military career, his country awarded him the following medals and awards:
The destroyer leader USS Leahy (DLG-16) was named in honor of Fleet Admiral William Daniel Leahy and was commissioned 4 August 1962. On 30 June 1975, Leahy was redesignated CG-16 (guided missile cruiser) as part of the United States Navy 1975 ship reclassification. Her sister ships were also redesignated as guided missile cruisers. She was decommissioned on 1 October 1993 and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register (NVR) the same day.
Death and Burial
Fleet Admiral Leahy remained on active duty until he died at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, MD, on 20 July 1959 at the age of eighty-four. [By law, those who accept five-star rank are obligated to be on active duty for life; they also receive full payment and benefits for life.] He was preceded in death by his wife, Louise Harrington Leahy, in 1942. They are now buried together at Arlington National Cemetery. The gravesite is in Section 2, about midway between Memorial Gate and the Memorial Amphitheater. A Special Military Funeral was held for Admiral Leahy and the complete details of that service are contained in the final portion of this biography.
Final Remarks and Observation
An interesting and true tale of two 'would-be soldiers' in the U.S. Army:
In 1893, a high school teenager in Wisconsin wanted very badly to get an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point so he could follow in the footsteps of his father who served in the Army. An appointment to the USMA was not available but he was able to get an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and graduate in the class of 1897.
In 1901, a high school teenager in Texas wanted very badly to get an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point so he could be a soldier in the Army. An appointment to the USMA was not available but he was able to get an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and graduate in the class of 1905.
The former teenager from Wisconsin served as the Chief of Naval Operations from 1937-39. On 15 December 1944, he became the first five-star Fleet Admiral in the U.S. Navy; he was also the first member of the U.S. Armed Forces to be granted five-star rank. His name: William Daniel Leahy.
On 19 December 1944, the former teenager from Texas became the third five-star Fleet Admiral in the U.S. Navy. He then served as the Chief of Naval Operations from 1945-47. His name: Chester William Nimitz.
[Although Admiral Leahy had some 'firsts' that Nimitz did not have; Nimitz too had a rather remarkable 'first' that, so far, remains unequaled. He took the competitive examination for Annapolis, and was accepted, when he was only 15 years old. He left high school to enter the Naval Academy and was not awarded his high school diploma until many years later; in fact, he didn't receive it until after he had retired from active Navy duty. As a result, he was probably the only person ever to graduate from high school wearing the uniform of a 5-star fleet admiral.]
From this study (although it is very limited) it would appear that, while some would initially like to be a soldier in the Army, once they 'settle' for the Navy they tend to do really well.
Interestingly, Leahy's name resurfaced in early April 2004 when it was discussed in the media whether or not National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice should testify in front of a congressional panel investigating the 11 September 2001 attacks. The discussion resulted from a photo of Leahy testifying in 1945 to a congressional panel investigating the 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, thus demonstrating a precedent for Rice's testimony.
Thank you for your outstanding service to America, Admiral. May you rest in peace.
Special Military Funeral (For those who might be interested)
Former Chief of Naval Operations, Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy
Under policies published the year before Admiral Leahy died, the service of which he was a member was responsible for coordinating arrangements for the Special Military Funeral. In this instance the responsibility rested with the Commandant of the Potomac River Naval Command, Rear Admiral Elonzo B. Grantham, Jr. Dignitaries asked to participate in, or attend, the ceremonies received invitations from the Secretary of the Navy; the Office of the Chief of Naval Personnel dispatched these invitations and recorded the responses.
The ceremonies planned by Admiral Grantham and his staff, with due regard for the wishes of Rear Admiral William H. Leahy, son of the fleet admiral, followed, with one exception, the general prescriptions for a Special Military Funeral. The body of Admiral Leahy was to lie in Bethlehem Chapel at the Washington National Cathedral from noon on 22 July until the same hour on the 23d; the funeral service was to be held in the nave of the cathedral at 1400 on 23 July; and burial was to take place in Arlington National Cemetery (ANC). The gravesite was in Section 2, about midway between Memorial Gate and the Memorial Amphitheater.
The exception to the prescribed ceremonies had to do with the formation of the main funeral procession, an exception for which there was precedent in the recent funeral for Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald A. Quarles. In the 1958 plan, the main procession for a funeral in which burial was to take place in ANC was to form at Constitution Avenue and 15th Street, N.W., in Washington. The body was to be brought to this point by hearse from the place where the funeral service had been held, transferred to a caisson, and taken to ANC in full procession. But in the ceremonies for Admiral Leahy, as in the funeral for Secretary Quarles, a motorized cortege was to take the body of the admiral from the Washington National Cathedral to the Memorial Gate of the cemetery. The casket was to be transferred from hearse to caisson at that point in the presence of a military escort standing in formation on the lawn nearby. The full procession was then to enter the cemetery and proceed to the gravesite for the burial service.
On 22 July the body of Admiral Leahy was placed in Bethlehem Chapel of Washington National Cathedral. A Navy ceremonial guard from the US Naval Air Station in Anacostia, D.C., formed the honor cordon and provided the personal flag bearer. The body bearers were a joint group of ten enlisted men, two each from the Military District of Washington, Headquarters Command of the Air Force at Bolling Air Force Base, Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, Marine Barracks in Washington, and the Naval Station. One of the two men from the Naval Station was the petty officer in charge of the group. Each of these agencies also provided one officer and nine men for the guard of honor to stand watch for the twenty-four hours that the body was to lie in Bethlehem Chapel.
Composing a special honor guard were General Lyman L. Lemnitzer, Army Chief of Staff; Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, Chief of Naval Operations; General Curtis E. LeMay, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, who represented the Chief of Staff; General Thomas D. White; General Randolph M. Pate, Commandant of the Marine Corps; Rear Adm. James A. Hirshfield, Assistant Commandant of the Coast Guard; and General Nathan F. Twining, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Eleven friends of Admiral Leahy, one of whom was an academy classmate, served as honorary pallbearers. Officer escorts for the honorary pallbearers were furnished by the Naval Intelligence School at the US Naval Air Station in Anacostia.
According to protocol, announcements of the funeral service for Admiral Leahy, which in effect were invitations to attend, were sent to all branches and principal agencies of the federal government and to the diplomatic corps. Invitations also were extended to all active and retired admirals of the Navy and Coast Guard, all active and retired generals of the Marine Corps, and all active generals of the Army and Air Force living in the Washington area. Among friends and associates of Admiral Leahy invited to attend, including those asked to serve as honorary pallbearers, those residing outside Washington received invitations by telegram. The honorary pallbearers were Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz; Admiral Thomas C. Hart (retired); Admiral Charles P. Snyder (retired); Admiral Louis E. Denfeld (retired); Admiral Arthur W. Radford (retired); Admiral Jerauld Wright; Admiral Robert L. Dennison; Vice Adm. Edward L. Cochrane (retired); Rear Adm. Henry Williams (retired); Rear Adm. Joseph H. Wellings; and William D. Hassett.
Two Navy agencies located in the Washington area, the Navy Communication Station and the Naval Security Station, furnished officers and men to usher guests to their seats for the funeral service. The service itself was conducted by a Navy chaplain, Capt. John B. Zimmerman.
Following the short service at 1400 on 23 July, a motorized cortege formed outside the cathedral to escort the body of Admiral Leahy to ANC. As the body bearers carried the casket out of the cathedral and through the Navy honor cordon to the hearse, the US Marine Band, in formation near the honor cordon, sounded ruffles and flourishes and played a hymn.
The cortege moved to the Memorial Gate of ANC by way of Woodley Road, 34th Street, Massachusetts Avenue, Rock Creek Parkway, Memorial Bridge, and Memorial Drive. The military escort of some 550 officers and men, commanded by Admiral Grantham, stood on line on the green at the gate, facing the cortege as the motor column approached on Memorial Drive. In addition to the commander and a staff of four, one field grade officer or the equivalent from the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard, the escort consisted of the US Navy Band and a company each from the Army (3d Infantry), Marine Corps (Marine Barracks), Navy (Navy Air Station), Air Force (Headquarters Command), and Coast Guard (Coast Guard headquarters). Each company had four officers and eighty-five men and was organized with a company commander, guidon bearer, and three platoons, each consisting of a platoon commander, right guide, and three nine-man squads. Also present at the gate were the national color detail of three men, an Army color bearer and one color guard each from the Marine Corps and Air Force, and a personal color bearer from the Navy.
On the street in front of the escort and facing south toward Roosevelt Drive in the cemetery were the caisson and caisson detail, furnished by the 3d Infantry, and the body bearers, who along with the color detail had come from the cathedral by a separate route in order to reach Memorial Gate ahead of the cortege.
When the motorcade reached the gate, the vehicles carrying the special honor guard and the clergy halted on the left side of the street. The others lined up on the right, with the family cars and those bearing the honorary pallbearers and dignitaries at the front. After the cortege was in place, the hearse was driven to a position at the left and slightly ahead of the caisson. As the Navy Band sounded ruffles and flourishes and played a hymn, the body bearers re-moved Admiral Leahy's casket from the hearse, which was then driven away, and placed it on the caisson. After this brief ceremony, the escort commander led the procession into the cemetery.
From a distant position in the cemetery, the saluting battery of the 3d Infantry fired a slow-paced 19-gun salute as the procession marched to the gravesite. The escort units moved via Roosevelt and Wilson Drives, then turned right and marched off the roadway across the grass to McClellan Drive. Moving on McClellan to a point almost due south of the gravesite, the escort units formed on line along the edge of the road facing north toward the grave. In front of them, on the grass between McClellan and Sheridan Drives, stood a squad ready to fire the traditional three volleys following the burial service.
The escort commander and the cortege continued on Wilson Drive, then turned right on Sheridan Drive, which passed immediately south of the gravesite. The clergy, caisson, and mourners halted on Sheridan, while the escort commander, special honor guard, and honorary pallbearers left their cars on a narrow unnamed roadway leading off Sheridan and passing north of the gravesite.
With the customary ceremony and honors, Admiral Leahy's casket was carried to the grave, where Chaplain Zimmerman read the burial service. A final cannon salute, the traditional three volleys, and the sounding of taps closed the final rites for the five-star admiral.
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