Zumwalt, Elmo R., Jr.

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Zumwalt, Elmo R., Jr. (1920–), U.S. Navy admiral and chief of naval operations, 1970–74.Born in San Francisco, Zumwalt was valedictorian of his high school class and graduated with distinction from the U.S. Naval Academy (1942). He attended the Naval War College in 1952–53 and the National War College in 1961–62.

During World War II, he served in the Pacific on destroyers and fought in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. His subsequent service at sea included commands of USS Tills, USS Isbell, and USS Dewey. Zumwalt served tours, as a captain, in the Department of Defense (International Security Affairs), and as executive assistant and senior aide to the secretary of the navy (Paul Nitze). Selected for rear admiral in 1964, he was ordered to command of Cruiser‐Destroyer Flotilla Seven. In 1966, he returned to Washington to become director of the chief of naval operations Systems Analysis Group.

In 1968, Vice Adm. Zumwalt reported for duty in the Vietnam War as commander, Naval Forces, Vietnam. Promoted to three‐star rank, at age forty‐seven he was the navy's youngest vice admiral. His employment of the “Brown‐Water Navy” in the rivers and canals of South Vietnam was imaginative and daring. Under President Richard M. Nixon's program of “Vietnamization,” Zumwalt's accelerated transfer of U.S. Navy ships, craft, bases, and operational responsibilities to the Vietnamese Navy only increased his standing. In 1970, leapfrogging many more senior officers, he was promoted to four‐star rank and named chief of naval operations (CNO).

Admiral Zumwalt's tour as CNO was marred by serious disciplinary problems and related racial disturbances in the navy. He issued a series of “Z‐Grams” to the fleet, dealing with personnel matters (haircuts, liberty, uniforms, etc.) traditionally the province of local commands. His popularity with the junior enlisted community soared, but the “mod navy” he ushered in did not meet with general approval in the officer corps or with many conservatives in Congress.

After retirement, Zumwalt published two books: On Watch (1976) and My Father, My Son (1986).

Admiral Zumwalt's son, LTJG Elmo R. Zumwalt III, served as officer in charge of a swift boat in the Vietnam War. He later contracted and perished from cancer, which he and his father believed was caused by exposure to chemical defoliants used extensively in the war.
[See also Navy, U.S.: Since 1946; Pacification; Vietnam War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]


Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. , On Watch, 1976.
Thomas J. Cutler , Brown Water, Black Berets, 1980.
Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. , My Father, My Son, 1986.
R. L. Schreadley , From the Rivers to the Sea, 1992.

R. L. Schreadley