Nov. 29 1920 - Jan. 02 2000





















AT THE AGE OF 44, Admiral Zumwalt was the US Navy’s youngest Rear Admiral; at 47, its youngest Vice Admiral; and at age 49 its youngest Admiral and Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).

During a 37-year career, in which he fought three wars, Admiral Zumwalt committed his life to achieving equality for all serving in his beloved Navy. While his life as a junior officer was spent practicing this belief on a local command level, it was not until he became CNO that he was able to implement such beliefs on a service-wide basis through a series of very creative leadership initiatives.

As reported in the December 21, 1970 issue of TIME Magazine featuring him on its cover, Admiral Zumwalt’s initiatives brought the US Navy, “kicking and screaming into the 20th Century.” The article went on to hail him as “the Navy’s most popular leader since World War II.”


“Admiral Zumwalt’s initiatives brought the US Navy ‘kicking and screaming into the 20th Century’’.”

While the beneficiaries of many of the changes Admiral Zumwalt implemented in the Navy were members of minority groups whose professional growth within the service had been stymied by overly restrictive regulations, he worked diligently to improve service life for all wearing the Navy uniform. What had prompted his selection by civilian superiors in 1970 over 33 more-senior admirals was his advocacy for rapid and drastic changes in the way the Navy treated its uniformed men and women.

And, once selected, he made such advocacy a reality, undertaking numerous initiatives that included improving living conditions in the Navy; promoting the first female and first Afro-American officers to flag rank; allowing females to become naval aviators; opening up ratings for Filipino sailors whose service had long been limited to a steward’s rating; eliminating demeaning and abrasive US Navy regulations that negatively impacted on a sailor’s attitude without providing a corresponding positive enhancement of professional performance; and many more.


The postive impacts of his
changes was tremendous,
as evidenced by the effect
on re-enlistment rates

The positive impact of his changes was tremendous, as evidenced by the effect on re-enlistment rates. These rates were at an all-time low when he took command of the Navy in 1970; when he retired four years later, re-enlistment rates had tripled. Admiral Zumwalt’s personal papers, on file at The Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University, include numerous letters from sailors written over the years expressing their personal gratitude for changes he made that impacted so positively on their decision to stay and make the Navy a career.

When Admiral Zumwalt retired from the Navy in 1974, it did not end his service to country. He continued in numerous capacities to fight for the oppressed. As Commander of US Naval Forces in Vietnam during the war, he was of the belief a commander’s responsibility to his men survived the battle field, prompting him to fight for US Government benefits for Vietnam veterans suffering from Agent Orange exposure.

Until Admiral Zumwalt led the charge for benefits for Vietnam veterans afflicted by Agent Orange exposure, not a single cancer had been recognized by the Veterans Administration for having a causal relationship. As a direct result of Admiral Zumwalt’s tireless efforts, Vietnam veterans are now receiving medical benefits.
Admiral Zumwalt’s sense of duty and responsibility to his fellow human beings spurred him on to other great achievements. He was founder of The Marrow Foundation, which raised funding to undertake the matching of bone marrow donors and recipients. He served briefly as a US ambassador to the American Red Cross in Geneva. In the years after the Vietnam War, he worked diligently to successfully win the early release of his good friend and South Vietnamese counterpart in Vietnam during the war, Commodore Tran van Chon, from a communist re-education camp.


When Admiral Zumwalt retired from
the Navy in 1974, it did not end his
service to his country.

During his lifetime, Admiral Zumwalt gave extensively of his own time and energy to pro bono efforts. These included serving on the Board of Directors of charitable organizations such as the Phelps-Stokes Fund, Presidential Classroom for Young Americans Organization, National Marrow Donor Program, and Vietnam Assistance to the Handicapped Foundation; serving as the Chairman of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the National Council of the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University, and the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation; serving as a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and the International Consortium for Research on the Health Effects of Radiation. One of Admiral Zumwalt’s last contributions Countermeasures to Biological and Chemical Threats at Texas Tech University, which later was named after him, recognized by two major events—one occurring during his lifetime and one following his death.


Tragically, years later, after having led this fight, Admiral Zumwalt would succumb to a service-related “environmental cancer” of another sort—asbestos—to which he had been exposed as a result of his naval service. In the early morning hours of the new millennium, at the age of 79, he passed away on January 2, 2000.

Among the numerous tributes made after the death of Admiral Zumwalt was one entered into the January 24, 2000 Congressional Record by Senator Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin who said: “Admiral Zumwalt crusaded for a fair and equal Navy. He fought to promote equality for minorities and women at a time of considerable racial strife in our country and at a time of deeply entrenched institutional racism and sexism in the Navy…Admiral Elmo Zumwalt was a great naval leader, a visionary and a courageous challenger of the conventional wisdom. We will not see the likes of him again. We mourn his passing and salute his accomplishments.”

Because of Admiral Zumwalt’s commitment in life to improving the lives of others, a number of awards bearing his name—recognizing his accomplishments as a humanitarian and a visionary—exist today, not only in the US Navy, but in the private sector as well. The positive impact Admiral Zumwalt had as one of this Nation’s great military leaders and humanitarians was recognized by two major events—one occurring during his lifetime and one following his death.

“Ours must be a navy family that recognizes no artificial barriers of race, color or religion. There is no black navy, no white navy - just one navy - the United States Navy”
December 17, 1970, Z-Gram 66 (Equal Opportunity)

“Women in the navy will have equal opportunity to contribute their talents and background to accomplishment of our missions…”
August 7, 1972, Z-Gram 116 (Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women)

Z-Grams were policy directives issues by CNO Admiral Zumwalt

Photos: Courtesy of U.S. Naval Institute