Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Jr. (1921-2000) Admiral
Elmo Zumwalt Jr. fought in World War II
, the Korean War
, and the Vietnam War
. Disgusted the U.S. Navy
's systemic racism
in the 1950's, he became the Chief of Naval Operations
in 1970 and worked tirelessly to eliminate it:
There is no black Navy, no white Navy--just one Navy--the United States Navy.
As the Navy's top officer from 1970 to 1974, he sent 121 Z-grams, action messages from him directly to the entire Navy. He tried to eliminate "Mickey Mouse" regulations, things that don't add anything to the fleets' combat readiness and instead subtract immensely from sailors' morale. He brought back sideburns and beards.
Admiral Zumwalt addressed inequality wherever he saw it. He opened up the ranks for women to serve as equals in the face of direct opposition from the Navy's top officers. He remains a controversial figure for the traditionalists, but most contend that he saved the Navy in a time of crisis. He successfully defused the first race-riots in the Navy's history, and even managed to decrease the then rampant drug abuse.
Today he is a hero to naval officers and enlisted alike, but he remains ultimately a tragic figure. As the head of the brown water navy in Vietnam, the river boat patrol force made famous in Apocalypse Now, he ordered the use of Agent Orange to defoliate the Mekong River banks and delta area. His son, then Lieutenant Elmo Zumwalt III, served under his father. He died of cancer in 1988, cancer suspected to have been caused by his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
Admiral Zumwalt believed that Agent Orange killed his son, but he swore that he would have given the order to use it over again. He felt he had to use the substance to save sailors' lives in the violent, bloody conflicts along the Mekong. Speaking about his role in his son's death, he says:
It is the first thing I think of when I awake in the morning and the last thing I remember when I go to sleep at night.
This act of sacrifice epitomizes his view on leadership--he always put his sailors first.