Capt. Joseph Taussig Jr., 79, awarded the Navy Cross

December 18, 1999|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Retired Capt. Joseph Taussig Jr., a Navy hero who lost a leg at Pearl Harbor and later became a top Pentagon official, died of an embolism Tuesday at Anne Arundel Medical Center. He was 79.

An Annapolis resident and third-generation Naval Academy graduate, Captain Taussig helped developed the Navy helicopter unit's emergency air supply system in 1987. Called an "emergency egress device," Navy officials credit it with saving 140 pilots.

He was born in Newport, R.I., in 1920 and graduated from Western High School in Washington in 1937. His father was a Navy admiral.

"When I was 8 years old I could blaspheme 20 syllables without taking a breath. By the time I was 11 I was throwing dice. By 13, I was playing cards, learning how to tie knots," Captain Taussig said in a Sun interview last year. "But it was awful because back home, I had to have my admiral son manners on."

When Captain Taussig was arrested as a teen for putting clothes on a nude statue outside silent-film comedian Fatty Arbuckle's estate in Long Beach, Calif., a judge gave him a choice: go to reform school or follow his father's footsteps into the Naval Academy.

While at the Naval Academy, he met his wife, the former Betty Carney, whose father was the former Chief of Naval Operations. Captain Taussig entered the accelerated officers' program and was assigned to the USS Nevada after graduating in 1941. On the then 25-year-old battleship, he served as an aide to the executive officer, earning the nickname "Sonny."

On Dec. 7, 1941, the USS Nevada was docked at Pearl Harbor, and Captain Taussig, then 21 and the senior officer in charge of the anti-aircraft batteries, awoke to the traditional Sunday morning playing of "The Star Spangled Banner."

Waves of fighters, bombers and torpedo planes fired at the ship. A piece of metal or a bullet, hit Captain Taussig's thigh.

He was awarded the Navy Cross for refusing to leave his battle station during the Japanese attack. Captain Taussig was hospitalized until his leg was amputated April 1946. Three days later, he returned to duty.

After World War II, he attended law school at George Washington University, graduating in 1949. He returned to Pearl Harbor as an administrative officer during the Korean War.

In the early 1950s, he taught military law and administration at the Naval Academy. He retired from the Navy in 1954.

"He couldn't go on because of his leg," his wife said yesterday. "There was other things out to be done, and he would find something useful to do for his country and the Navy."

Captain Taussig ran for Congress as a Republican from Maryland's 5th congressional district in 1956 but lost in the GOP primary. He spent the next 25 years working as a government relations officer for various public and private corporations.

President Ronald Reagan appointed Captain Taussig the Navy's deputy assistant secretary for civilian personnel and equal opportunity in 1981. He later became assistant undersecretary for safety and survivability for the Navy during the rapid military buildup of the mid-1980s.

"He was thrilled, it gave him the opportunity to serve his country," his wife said. "He tried to make a difference by building a strong Navy."

Devoted to military safety, Captain Taussig once ordered emergency equipment without a congressional appropriation, his wife said.

"He knew they would save lives so he went ahead and ordered them anyway," she said. "He was fearless, he did not have to worry about an election or his career."

Captain Taussig left the Pentagon in 1993.

A former president of the International Association for Pollution Control and the Maryland Society of Crippled Children and Adults, he wrote "Military Law for Junior Officers." He was also on the board of the Naval Academy Alumni Association.

In addition to his wife, whom he married Dec 2, 1943, Captain Taussig is survived by his son Joseph K. Taussig III of Bermuda; a sister, Emily Taussig Sherman of Newport, R.I; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Funeral services were held yesterday at the Naval Academy Chapel.

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