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Elmo Russell Zumwalt, Jr. (November 29, 1920 – January 2, 2000) was an Americanmarker naval officer and the youngest man to serve as Chief of Naval Operations. As an admiral and later the 19th Chief of Naval Operations, Zumwalt played a major role in U.S. military history, especially during the Vietnam War. A highly-decorated war veteran, Zumwalt reformed U.S. Navy personnel policies in an effort to improve enlisted life and ease racial tensions. After he retired from a 32-year Navy career, he launched an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Early life and education

Zumwalt was born in San Francisco, Californiamarker, the son of Dr. Elmo Russell Zumwalt, M.D., and his wife, Frances Frank Zumwalt, M.D., both country doctors. Frances Frank Zumwalt was the daughter of two French-Canadian doctors in a small town in Vermont; her parents had both died in a smallpox epidemic when she was a baby. She was adopted by a family who moved to Los Angeles, where she grew up.

Zumwalt, an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America, attended Tulare Union High School in Tulare, Californiamarker, where he became the valedictorian, and Rutherford Preparatory School in Long Beach, Californiamarker.

Entrance into the US Navy

He had planned to become a doctor like his parents, but in 1939, Zumwalt was accepted to the United States Naval Academymarker at Annapolis, Marylandmarker. As a midshipman at the USNA, he was president of the Trident Society, vice president of the Quarterback Society and the two-time winner of the June Week Public Speaking Contest (1940-41). Zumwalt also participated in intercollegiate debating and was a Company Commander (1941) and Regimental Three Striper (1942). He graduated with distinction and was commissioned as an ensign on June 19, 1942. He also received an honorary degree from Texas Tech University.

World War II

Zumwalt was assigned to the the USS Phelps , a destroyer. In August 1943, Phelps was detached for instruction in the Operational Training Command-Pacific in San Franciscomarker. In January 1944, Zumwalt reported for duty onboard the USS Robinson. On this ship, he was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor device for "heroic service as Evaluator in the Combat Information Center " action against enemy Japanesemarker battleships during the Battle for Leyte Gulfmarker, October 25, 1944."

After the end of World War II in August 1945, Zumwalt continued to serve until December 8, 1945, as the prize crew officer of the HIMJS Ataka, a 1,200-ton Japanese river gunboat with a crew of 200. In this capacity, he took the first American-controlled ship since the outbreak of World War II up the Huangpu Rivermarker to Shanghai, China. There, they helped to restore order and assisted in disarming the Japanese.


While there, Zumwalt met and married Mouza Coutelais-du-Roche, whose French-Russian family was living in Shanghai. She returned with him to the United States.

Command assignments

Zumwalt next served as executive officer of the destroyer USS Saufley, and in March 1946, was transferred to the destroyer USS Zellars, as Executive Officer and Navigator.

In January 1948, he was assigned to the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps Unit of the University of North Carolinamarker, where he remained until June 1950. That same month, he assumed command of USS Tills, a destroyer escort that was commissioned in a reserve status. The Tillis was placed in full active commission at Charleston Naval Shipyardmarker on November 21, 1950, and he continued to command her until March 1951, when he joined the battleship USS Wisconsinmarker as Navigator.

Detached from USS Wisconsin in June 1952, he attended the Naval War Collegemarker, Newport, Rhode Islandmarker, and in June 1953, he reported as Head of the Shore and Overseas Bases Section, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Navy Department, Washington, D.C.marker He also served as Officer and Enlisted Requirements Officer, and as Action Officer on Medicare Legislation. Completing that tour of duty in July 1955, he assumed command of the destroyer USS Arnold J. Isbell, participating in two deployments with the U.S. Seventh Fleet. In this assignment, he was commended by the Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, for winning the Battle Efficiency Competition for his ship and for winning Excellence Awards in Engineering, Gunnery, Anti-Submarine Warfare, and Operations. In July 1957, he returned to the Bureau of Naval Personnel for further duty. In December 1957, he was transferred to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Personnel and Reserve Forces), and served as Special Assistant for Naval Personnel until November 1958, then as Special Assistant and Naval Aide until August 1959.

Ordered to the first ship built from the keel up as a guided missile frigate, USS Dewey , built at the Bath Iron Worksmarker, he assumed command of that frigate at her commissioning in December 1959 and commanded her until June 1961. During this period of his command, Dewey earned the Excellence Award in Engineering, Supply, Weapons, and was runner-up in the Battle Efficiency Competition. He was a student at the National War College, Washington, D. C., during the 1961-1962 class year. In June 1962, he was assigned to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs), Washington, D.C., where he served first as Desk Officer for Francemarker, Spainmarker and Portugalmarker, then as Director of Arms Control and Contingency Planning for Cubamarker. From December 1963 until June 21, 1965, he served as Executive Assistant and Senior Aide to the Honorable Paul H. Nitze, Secretary of the Navy. For duty in his tour in the offices of the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Navy, he was awarded the Legion of Merit.

Flag assignments


After his selection for the rank of Rear Admiral, Zumwalt assumed command in July 1965 of Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla Seven. In September 1968, he became Commander Naval Forces, Vietnammarker, and Chief of the Naval Advisory Group, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, and was promoted to Vice Admiral in October 1968. Vice Admiral Zumwalt was the Navy adviser to General Creighton Abrams, the commander of all US Forces. Zumwalt always spoke very highly of Abrams, and said that Abrams was the most caring officer he had ever known.

Zumwalt's command was not a blue-water unit, like the Seventh Fleet; it was a brown-water unit: he commanded the flotilla of Swift Boat that patrolled the coasts, harbors, and rivers of Vietnam. Among the swift-boat commanders were his son, Elmo Russell Zumwalt III, and later future Senator John Kerry. During this time, the elder Zumwalt had an opportunity to safeguard the men who served under his command from the Viet Cong who hid in the jungle and ambushed American and ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) patrols at will.

A new herbicide, Agent Orange, could be sprayed on the foliage to remove the cover that the Viet Cong used so effectively. The side effects on humans of long-term exposure to Agent Orange were not yet known, and the manufacturers, Dow and Monsanto, were eager to reassure potential users about its safety. Admiral Zumwalt acted to protect not only his own son, but also his many comrades from a "clear and present danger," but in so doing, he inadvertently exposed them to chemicals now known to cause cancer. As all commanders must do, Admiral Zumwalt acted quickly and decisively on the available information; in this case, he relied on sources that were biased and unreliable, as later developments made clear.

Zumwalt's son, Elmo Zumwalt III, died in 1988, aged 42; Zumwalt's grandson (born 1977) suffers from a congenital dysfunction that confuses his physical senses. Zumwalt's son said in 1986 that "'I am a lawyer and I don't think I could prove in court, by the weight of the existing scientific evidence, that Agent Orange is the cause of all the medical problems - nervous disorders, cancer and skin problems - reported by Vietnam veterans, or of their children's severe birth defects. But I am convinced that it is."

Chief of Naval Operations

President Richard M. Nixon nominated Zumwalt to be Chief of Naval Operations in April 1970. Upon being relieved as Commander Naval Forces, Vietnam, on May 15, 1970, he was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a second Navy Distinguished Service Medal for exceptionally meritorious service.

He assumed duties as Chief of Naval Operations and was promoted to full Admiral on July 1, 1970, and quickly began a series of moves intended to reduce racism and sexism in the Navy. These were disseminated in Navy-wide communications to the Navy known as "Z-grams". These included orders authorizing beards (sideburns, mustaches, and longer groomed hair were also acceptable) and introducing beer-dispensing machines to barracks. Not all of these changes were well-received by senior naval personnel. The measures to reduce discrimination against women and racial minorities were adamantly opposed by some.

Zumwalt reshaped the Navy's effort to replace large numbers of aging World War II-era vessels, a plan called "High-Low." Instituted over the resistance of Admiral Hyman Rickover and others, High-Low sought to balance the purchase of high-end, nuclear-powered vessels with low-end, cheaper ones—such as the Sea Control Ship -- that could be bought in greater numbers. Rickover, the Father of the Nuclear Navy, preferred buying a few major ships to buying many ordinary ones. Zumwalt proposed four kinds of warships to fit the plan; in the end, only the Pegasus class of missile patrol boats and the Oliver Hazard Perry class of guided missile frigates became reality, and only six out of the planned 100+ Pegasus class hydrofoils were built. But the Perrys stood as the most populous class of U.S. warships since World War II until the advent of the Arleigh Burke destroyers.


Elmo Zumwalt II retired from the Navy on July 1, 1974, aged 53.

Later years

In 1976, he unsuccessfully ran as a Democratic candidate for the United States Senate from Virginiamarker. Later, he held the presidency of the American Medical Building Corporation in Milwaukee, Wisconsinmarker.

In 1996, Admiral Jeremy Boorda, Chief of Naval Operations, and a close subordinate of Zumwalt's in Vietnam, committed suicide while on active duty, allegedly because of an article by retired U.S. Army Colonel David Hackworth in Newsweek magazine. Hackworth questioned Boorda's wearing a "V" (for valor) pin on his Navy Achievement and Commendation Medals (which were earned for service in Vietnam).

Zumwalt publicly stated that Boorda had indeed earned them and was authorized to wear them, but it proved too late for Jeremy Boorda.

The Board for Correction of Naval Records, the ultimate arbiter of whether Boorda was entitled to wear the Combat V on both Medals, determined that he was not.

Family and home life

In his later years, Elmo Zumwalt, Jr. resided in Arlington County, Virginiamarker. He and his wife, the former Mouza Coutelais-du-Roche of Harbinmarker, Manchuria, China, had four children: Elmo R. Zumwalt III (died of cancer in 1988, possibly due to Agent Orange exposure), James Gregory Zumwalt; Ann F. Zumwalt Coppola and Mouzetta C. Zumwalt-Weathers.

During his son's illness in the early 1980s, Admiral Zumwalt was very active in lobbying Congress to establish a national registry of bone marrow donors. Such donors serve patients who do not have suitably matched bone marrow donors in their families. This was ultimately a disinterested act, since his son was able to receive a transplant from his own sister, but many patients don't have close relatives who are able and willing to help in this heroic way. His efforts were a major factor in the founding of the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) in July 1986. Admiral Zumwalt was the first chairman of the NMDP's Board of Directors.

Admiral Zumwalt said he felt his son's cancer was most definitely due to Agent Orange. He also mentioned that his grandson Russell suffered from very severe learning disabilities that could possibly be traced to it as well. However, Zumwalt said he did not regret ordering the use of Agent Orange, because it reduced casualties by making it difficult for the enemy to hide and find food.


After he retired, Admiral Zumwalt wrote On Watch: a Memoir, published by Quadrangle Books in 1976, It reviews his Navy career and includes reprints of all the Z-Grams he issued as CNO.

Admiral Zumwalt, along with his son and writer John Pekkanen, authored a book called My Father, My Son, published by MacMillan in September 1986, where they discussed the family tragedy of his son's battle with cancer. The book contains chapters narrated by Admiral Zumwalt, Lieutenant Zumwalt, and other family members.

Elmo Zumwalt III's death

After treatment in a number of hospitals, Elmo III went to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattlemarker, where he received a bone marrow transplant from his sister Mouzetta, whose tissues fortunately matched his well enough for this treatment to be feasible. Results were promising at the end of My Father, My Son, but he died in 1988.

That same year, 1988, My Father, My Son was adapted for a TV movie of the same name, starring Karl Malden as the elder Zumwalt and Keith Carradine as his son.

Elmo Zumwalt II's Death

Admiral Zumwalt died on January 2, 2000, aged 79, at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolinamarker from mesothelioma.


The lead ship of the United States Navy's DD guided missile destroyer program is named the USS Zumwalt; by Navy tradition, the ship and its sisters will be called the Zumwalt class.

Medals and decorations

United States

US Military medals and decorations

US Civilian medals and decorations

Foreign medals and decorations


  • Zumwalt's picture hangs in the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, near pictures of John Kerry, Robert McNamara, Warren Christopher, and other American dignitaries, in commemoration of a visit he made after normalization of relations between Vietnam and the United States. [12730]
  • In his first book, On Watch, Zumwalt quoted at length an interview with Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, regarded as the Father of the Nuclear Navy and who interviewed all officers with responsibilities involving nuclear propulsion. Rickover and Zumwalt had a combative conversation, with Zumwalt referring to it as a humbling experience.

  • Zumwalt was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity. He was initiated in 1980.

See also


  1. Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale, 2009.
  3. Presidency of the Italian Republic: Order

Further reading

  • My Father, My Son by Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. and Elmo R. Zumwalt III, with John Pekkanen. (Dell Publishing Company, ISBN 0-440-15973-3)
  • On Watch: a memoir by Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. (The New York Times Book Co., ISBN 0-8129-0520-2)
  • Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., Texas Tech University Series Texas Tech University's Virtual Vietnam archive

External links

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