In the long and storied history of the United States Navy, there have been only four men who
attained to the five-star rank of Fleet Admiral. All were Naval Academy graduates from a time
when that was probably a requirement for attaining the rank of Admiral. What I have been
able to uncover from some modest research was that all four shared at least two important
qualities. They were all great leaders and all unafraid of taking on the enemies of our nation
regardless of military parity.
The biographies of Fleet Admirals William Leahy. Earnest King, Chester Nimitz and William
Halsey are all easily available. In fact, for those who are interested, there is book, The Admirals
: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King–the five-star admirals who won the war at sea, by Walter R.
Borneman. The intent of this paper is not to reiterate their life stories, but to review some of
what they said that might be appropriate to today’s issues.
To quote Tom Burbage from a previous editorial, “We are now facing a much more insidious,
hard to define, internal threat with the same potential outcome to destroy our freedoms and
way of life… The counterculture has made quiet inroads over our lifetime, expanding without
resistance through social media and liberal schooling.” What did Leahy, King, Nimitz, and
Halsey have to say that might assist us in this new war of words?
Admiral Leahy was the oldest and the first to graduate. He graduated in 1897, 35th in a class of
47, served two years at sea as required by law, and was commissioned an Ensign in 1899. He
was appointed Chief of Naval Operations in 1937, serving until he retired in August 1939. On
that occasion, President Roosevelt said “Bill, if we have a war, you’re going to be right back here
helping me run it.” In July of 1942, he was called back to active duty as Chief of Staff to the
Commander in Chief. He was the first, but untitled, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Admiral Leahy may have been something of a philosopher. On June 5th, 1944, at the
Commencement speech at Cornell College in Iowa he said, “Everybody may have peace if they
are willing to pay any price for it. Part of this any price is slavery, dishonor of your women,
destruction of your homes, denial of your God.” Are we willing to pay the price of wokeness? I
Fleet Admiral Earnest King graduated with distinction in the Class of 1901 served two years at
sea and was commissioned an Ensign in 1903. Having had sea duty in destroyers, submarines,
and battleships, he began his service in Naval Aviation. In January of 1927, he reported to the
Naval Air Station, Pensacola for flight training and was designated a Naval Aviator in May of
that year. He won his wings as a Captain, at the age of 49. Airplanes were simpler then, but for
the Naval Aviators among us, can any of us imagine doing that?
I’ve discovered two important quotes by Admiral King. He said, “The mark of a great
shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling.” Since we are now
Where are the Halseys of Yesteryear
in a war of words, our present-day shiphandling is figurative. However, it would seem we have
already reached a point in this war that will require great shiphandling. Are we up to the task?
He also said, “Nothing remains static in war or military weapons, and it is consequently often
dangerous to rely on courses suggested by apparent similarities in the past.” It would seem
that he is telling us that we must remain vigilant to these new threats and base our actions on
what we can do now to eliminate them.
Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz graduated from the Naval Academy in 1905 and was
commissioned an Ensign in 1907. The Naval Academy’s yearbook, “Lucky Bag”, described him
as a man “of cheerful yesterdays and confident tomorrows.” Shortly thereafter, he
commanded USS Decatur and was court-martialed for grounding her, an obstacle in his career
which he overcame, becoming the third five-star in December 1944. After World War II, he was
accorded a hero’s welcome at home, but the quiet, self-effacing officer described himself as merely “a
representative of the brave men who fought” under his command.
Admiral Nimitz’s two most applicable quotations to today’s war of words are, “God grant me
the courage not to give up what I think is right even though I think it is hopeless.” and, “If you’re
not making waves, you’re not under weigh.” Some might say that because of the Washington
power structure, the main-stream media and our “woke” education system, there is little
chance to effect meaningful change. I think Admiral Nimitz is telling us not to despair, that we
can make a difference, but we’d better be prepared to make some waves.
Fleet Admiral William “Bull” Halsey was undoubtedly the most colorful of the four Fleet
Admirals, right down to his nickname. History records that the nickname came, not from his
aggressive style, but as the result of a newspaper reporter’s typo. It stuck. He attended the
Naval Academy Prep School prior to coming to Annapolis, graduated in 1904 and after his
obligatory two years at sea, was commissioned an Ensign in 1906. Prior to taking command of
USS Saratoga in 1934, he reported to Naval Air Station, Pensacola, for flight training, and was
designated a Naval Aviator in 1935, at the age of 52. Perhaps Halsey’s most memorable
characteristic was his forcefulness in engaging the enemy and his willingness to take risks to win
battles. In December of 1944, that aggressive style led him to sail 170 ships of the 3rd fleet into
a typhoon, resulting in the loss of 3 ships and 790 lives, but still went on to earn his fifth star the
Admiral Halsey is unique among the four Fleet Admirals in that he is the only one included in
our 1965 version of Reef Points, where he is quoted, “Hit hard, hit fast, hit often.” Are those
words appropriate for our war on wokeness? He also said, “There are no great men, just great
circumstances, and how they handle those circumstances will determine the outcome of
history,” and “All problems become smaller if you don’t dodge them but confront them. Touch
a thistle timidly, and it pricks you; grasp it boldly, and its spines crumble.”
Where are the Halseys of Yesteryear
In our war of words, I think Admiral Halsey is still speaking to us directly and telling us that any
future “greatness” that may be ascribed to The Calvert Group and our class, will result from our
willingness to confront our present circumstances and this new insidious enemy. To quote
Abraham Lincoln, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any
nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” Who could have known? Like Admiral
Leahy, we are being called back to duty. Like Admiral King, we will be required to hone our
figurative shiphandling and like Admiral Nimitz, we must have the courage to never give up.
Perhaps most of all, like Admiral Halsey, we must act boldly, hit hard, hit fast, and hit often. We
are sworn to serve, but may continue to ask ourselves, where are the Halseys of yesteryear?
About the Author:
Capt. Jim Tulley is a Naval Academy graduate, former Navy pilot, Naval Engineer and Mayor. He is working with a group of concerned individuals to change the focus of our military and specifically our Service Academies.