Jul 1

19th Chief of Naval Operations: Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, USN

Friday, July 1, 2011 12:01 AM


When Elmo Zumwalt became Chief of Naval Operations 41 years ago today, the 49-year old admiral was the youngest man ever to hold the office. Deep selected over the heads of 33 more senior admirals, this young officer was an unlikely choice to lead the nation’s most traditional service, but a man the Navy sorely needed during the turbulent early 1970s. To President Richard Nixon, Admiral Zumwalt appeared to offer revolutionary solutions to seemingly intractable problems. These issues ranged from severe personnel problems to challenges involved in modernizing an aging fleet.

Zumwalt graduated from the Naval Academy in 1942 and then served in a series of destroyer assignments in World War II. During the Korean War, he again saw combat as a navigator on the battleship Wisconsin. A turning point in Zumwalt’s career came in June 1962, when he began working for Paul Nitze, a leading Cold War defense intellectual. In September 1968, Zumwalt became the commander of the Navy’s coastal and riverine forces in South Vietnam and lead these forces during several highly successful operations.

As CNO, Zumwalt is best remembered for improving the plight of black and female sailors through equal opportunity and affirmative action programs. He also relaxed regulations for the entire enlisted force that were out of sync with the cultural norms of American society. With the fleet, he retired many aging World War II era ships and pushed for a “high-low” mix of new warships. From his Vietnam experience, Zumwalt understood the utility of limited war forces while at the same time recognizing that the Soviet Navy could not be defeated without capital ships such as the nuclear carrier. While some of his concept ships never got developed, his ideas still resonate in the Global War on Terrorism. His belief that the sailor is the Navy’s biggest asset also continues to hold currency in the modern Navy.

  • Shaman

    Elmo Zumwalt did more damage to the Navy than any individual since Yamamoto.

  • Jim Valle

    What Admiral Zumwalt did was to recognize that in an America with a declining industrial base, massive loss of unionized jobs and the contraction of life-long careers and retirement benefits, the Navy, like all the other services, constituted an important and valuable source of employment for certain classes of young people. Consequently it could no longer continue to function as a closely held men’s club that excluded minorities and women. Certainly the Navy had to go through a stressful readjustment and let go of some raunchy male-bonding type traditions to get where it is today. Sombody had to be the point man and Zumwalt stepped up to the plate. Just because what he did caused discomfort in traditional circles doesn’t mean that it caused “damage” to the Navy.

  • Shaman

    Zumwalt rewarded mutineers on USS Constellation and started the loosening of discipline and standards, set up systems of preference for certain groups of people in which ethnicity and sex trumped ability, started the downward slide of the surface fleet which today has us putting all our eggs in the Little Crappy Ships basket. The Navy should not be the employer of last resort for those unqualified to hold civilian jobs and a platform for social experiments. Ask yourself, honestly, was the Navy more effective and combat ready after Zumwalt than before? Is the Navy wherein the sensitivities of women and minorities set the standards better than the one where “tradition” set the standards? Did we lose Chiefs’ initiations and Crossing the Line ceremonies because the Navy was more effective without them or was it because women didn’t like them?

  • NavyDavy

    Have you ever talked to a sailor that was in the Navy before Z-Grams? Someone that enlisted in the late 50s. The good old days. The days of dropping your liberty card off at the Leading Chief’s office prior to 0800 quarters and hoping that it was returned to you at the 1615 muster ( the Leading Chief secured at 1600 ) so that you could get out the gate and go on liberty. You didn’t have to worry about going home to the wife and family you couldn’t get married unless you were an E-5 and had the CO’s permission.
    How about locker clubs. Did you ever have to wear your uniform thru the gate/off the ship and change into civilian clothes at a locker club in town?
    Have you ever talked to a sailor that was on a River Boat in the Delta in the 60s/70s and had his as* saved by the Seawolves of HAL-3 or the Blackponies of VAL-4? Admiral Zumwalt (COMNAVFORV) was responsible for getting this light attack Naval Air stationed in the Delta. He was out on the river/canal/base talking to the sailors, getting them what they needed to get it done and he didn’t need a dozen Admirals to do it for him.
    Have you ever read the Z-Grams (Z-NAVOPS)? There were 121 of them issued between 1 Jul 70- 1 Jul 74. http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq93-2.htm I didn’t like the one relaxing regulations about haircuts/mastaches/sideburns but I got over it. Some of the better ones, Z-45 Assistance to POW/MIA families, Z-35 Installing beer machines in the Officer and Senior Enlisted quarters and my favorite Z-57 Eliminating Chicken Sh** Regulations. Check this one out if you want an idea of what the Navy was like BZ. Most of the people that were against Z-Grams were retired Admirals and Chiefs that were on the ROAD program.
    He was a leading advocate for cancer treatment for those exposed to Agent Orange.
    In regards to the Constallation in 1972. I don’t know. Lots of disagreement out there.
    In regards to losing Chief’s initiations, crossing the line ceremonies, preference to “certain” groups. That happened after my 29 Navy years. Sounds like it might have happened on your watch.
    Happy Fourth of July Shipmates.

  • Jim Valle

    Since the Zumwalt years there have been several successor CNO’s. Have any of them significantly rolled back the initiatives that Zumwalt started? What does that tell you. Like it or not, the United States is a democratic republic. The Navy is “owned” by the people. If the people’s representatives order it to undertake certain social experiments the Navy has no choice in the matter. And yes it is, along with the other armed services, a very important employer of persons displaced by a contracting industrial economy. As for the downward slide of the surface fleet, ships are expensive and the country can only afford so many. Twelve large deck carrier battlegroups is twelve more than anybody else has. Combat readiness is always an unknown factor until there is actual combat. Very few Navy personnel experience
    combat directly in this era in relationship to the total enlisted and commissioned. Think about this. The Navy of 1941 was very “traditional”. Ships were spit-and-polish. Commanding officers were gods. Almost every regular officer was an Annapolis man. Enlisted men were drilled to perfection and yet when the test came it took at least a year before it could reliably slug it out with Japanese cruisers and destroyers and sink German U-boats. One last question: Exactly which ships do you consider “Little and Crappy”?

  • Shaman

    Littoral Combat Ship…..Little Crappy Ships. And, BTW, next war, we surely won’t have a year to get ready and we are now a lot less combat ready than in 1941. This week’s Navy Times cover story is about 6 Sailors about to be canned because their CO, a woman, doesn’t like tacking on new crows. Yes, there’s now a reg forbidding that but discharge? Really?

  • Jim Valle

    Ah yes, the Littoral Combat Ship. A completely new and untried concept. Nobody really knows if they will live up to expectations or not. Consequently it’s easy to badmouth them. Perhaps the whole idea of littoral warfare by means of a purpose built support ship will never pan out. It’s just that the prospects of a traditional blue water challenger emerging to engage the Navy’s main battle force are pretty remote so something has to be done to prepare for a more likely type of warfare which might include everything from flushing out terrorist enclaves to raiding pirate bases. Do you have some constructive suggestions along these lines? As for the incident you cite from Navy Times, I find your synopsis lacks clarity. The female CO followed a new regulation that prevents her from fleeting six strikers up to Petty Officer status so now they have to leave the Navy? This shows what? That all female CO’s are somehow defficient? This kind of anecdotal cherry-picking evidence is great for stoking up someone’s temper, particularly for folks who enjoy a little bit of rage with their morning cuppa joe, but does it really get at the truth.

  • Shaman

    Big Navy is not waiting to see how the LCS pans out. It has ordered what? 55 of them? 65? No mission modules have ever been deployed and the testing people say it’s not survivable in combat. That’s leaving aside issues of manning, shipboard maintainance , and endurance. Heard of FFGs? The ones we are throwing away or practically giving in FMS have a lot of life in them. The female CO asked that her six terribly criminal sailors be discharged. That is NOT required by regs but is her choice. What that shows, as have incidents again and again, is that most female officers are females first and officers second. They did not want to be part of the Navy that is (was); they wanted to be part of the Navy the way they want it to be.

  • Jim Valle

    Well, Shaman, you’ve really thrown down the gauntlet! I might agree that ordering sixty LCS’s before doing sufficient testing and maneuvers with the prototype does sound a bit reckless. As for the Navy’s women, I’ll let some of them comment if they’re game. Women do tend to want to “modify” things once they come on board. It’s nothing new. During the Civil War military camps and hospitals were a disgrace. Women visiting the facilities were apalled at the filth and general disorganization. Out of this came the United States Sanitary Commission, a group of women who stormed into the hospitals demanding changes that seemed like a pain in the butt to the men but were only common sense to a woman.
    There was many an Army commandant who declared he’s rather face the Rebs than contend with the ladies of the Sanitary Commission! But, once they had done their work mortality went way down and the general level of competence and professionalism was much improved. Women see the World differently and sometimes it pays to listen to them.

  • Haole Jon

    FFGs are not superior to LCS. I’ve done two deployments on FFGs, spending most of my time “ball over ball”. I’ve deployed with LCS, and we outperformed every other ship. Not combat survivavable? Its not designed to be. Its a base platform. Littoral warfare. It meets the requirements that Congress asked for. The idea isn’t to survive a hit, its to not get hit at all. But that’s understandable, it’s new, not well understood. Just like when I was on a BMD DDG, and everyone complained about our limitations. That’s cool, the Navy isn’t a popularity contest.

  • Woody Sanford

    JimValle and NavyDavy,

    You have been quite unnecessarily kind to Shaman(is that not a term for a sorcerer or Witch Doctor.) His remarks are patently ridiculous, outrageous and offensive. I was on active duty in the Navy during Adm. Zumwalt’s time as CNO. As stated before, he changed things that were obvious to anybody with a brain. He INSPIRED us! A little facial hair did not hurt anybody. Women are in the Navy because they are smart, committed(not just to females,)and because we could not meet recruiting goals without them. If they are indeed not up to current standards, then thoroughly review their performance at Recruiting Commands, Boot Camps, shore and sea platforms. Only then, Mr. Shaman Sir, I suggest, would you be justified in making your biased, uninformed assessments.


  • DefendConstitution

    He was my commanding officer on the Cuban Missile Blockade. USS Dewey, DLG 14.