Farewell to a True American Hero: Admiral Thomas Moorer (1913-2004)
by James C. Roberts
With the recent death of Admiral Thomas Moorer at 91, America has lost a military leader, strategist and hero-the likes of which we shall not soon see again.
His military career was one of the most remarkable and distinguished of our time. His meteoric rise though the ranks was presaged by his being named valedictorian of his high school class in Mount Willing, Alabama at age 15. At 17 he received an appointment to the Naval Academy from which he was graduated in 1933, a star academically and on the football field.
A highly decorated pilot in World War II Admiral Moorer was rapidly promoted, serving as assistant chief of naval operations to the legendary Admiral Arleigh Burke in the 1950s. In 1958, he was promoted to Rear Admiral at age 45, then the youngest man selected for that rank.
Admiral Moorer later served as commander of both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets (the only officer to do so), and was named Chief of Naval Operations in 1967 and was appointed by President Nixon to the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1970.
Despite the prestige and responsibility attached to the CNO and Chairmenâ€™s positions, Admiral Moorer found these jobs frustrating in many respects.
As Chief of Naval Operations and later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Johnson and Nixon administrations, Moorer pressed hard to modernize the U.S. Navy which was then composed mainly of aging, World War II â€“ era ships.
His entreaties went largely unheeded by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and his whiz kids, however.
The same was true of his advocacy of massive and decisive application of force in the Vietnam War â€“ a tactic he felt certain would win the war. When this approach was finally implemented by President Nixon in 1972 â€“ including the mining of Haiphong Harbor which Admiral Moorer had long pressed for â€“ it decimated the North Vietnamese forces and brought Hanoi to the bargaining table.
As Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Nixon administration Admiral Moorer also clashed repeatedly with Henry Kissinger over his policy of dÃ©tente with the Soviet Union, especially the Secretery of Stateâ€™s advocacy of the ill-advised Strategic Arms Limitation talks. Instead, he advocated a muscular policy of economic pressure and military superiority as the only way to check Soviet expansion and ultimately reverse it. This strategy was vindicated 20 years later in the policies of the Reagan administration which brought about the collapse of the Soviet empire.
Admiral Moorer retired from the military in 1974 but the next 30 years were hardly inactive. Instead he maintained an active interest and involvement in policy issues and politics, opposed the ratification of the Panama Canal treaty, campaigned for causes such as military preparedness and the development of a missile defense system, and campaigned for candidates that he supported such as Ronald Reagan. Military, conservative, patriotic and civic organizations found in him a selfless and tireless friend and champion.
As President of Radio America and the World War II Veterans Committee, I got to know him well over the past 10 years and came to esteem his many admirable qualities.