Adm. Elmo Zumwalt laid to rest

`Profoundly changed' character of Navy, one speaker says

Academy is site of burial

January 11, 2000|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

As a damp and rainy day turned sunny, Adm. Elmo R. "Bud" Zumwalt was buried at the Naval Academy cemetery overlooking the Severn River, after a memorial service at which President Clinton and others praised him as the conscience of the modern Navy.

Beneath the cavernous dome of the academy chapel, President Clinton extolled the man who took charge of a demoralized Navy in 1970 and, by putting humanitarian instinct ahead of military instinct, made it a more hospitable and inclusive place to work, especially for minorities and women.

"Beyond his physical courage, Bud Zumwalt stood out for his moral courage," said President Clinton, who gave Admiral Zumwalt the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, two years ago. "Today, we say goodbye to a sailor who never stopped serving his country."

It was the second time in his seven years in office that Clinton has come to the academy to say goodbye to a naval hero. In 1996, he spoke at the funeral of Adm. Arleigh M. Burke, called the father of the modern Navy, who -- like Zumwalt -- had served as chief of naval operations.

Yesterday, President Clinton said that if Admiral Burke was the "spirit" of the Navy, "Bud Zumwalt was its conscience." Other speakers recalled Admiral Zumwalt's enthusiasm, his bushy sideburns, and his desire to mix and talk with low-ranking sailors.

In four years at the helm, Admiral Zumwalt brought vast change to a tradition-bound Navy that had become outdated. Through directives called "Z-grams" he eased restrictions on hairstyles and use of civilian clothes, gave sailors more free time on weekends and eliminated time-consuming traditions such as repainting ships before a VIP visit.

Those and other changes, such as marketing campaigns portraying the Navy as hip, improved dwindling recruitment and re-enlistment numbers. But mostly, Admiral Zumwalt is credited with eliminating prejudicial policies and attracting more minorities and women into the Navy, which was seen as a racist and sexist organization when he took over in 1970.

"You could always count on Bud Zumwalt to do the right thing," President Clinton said. "And he made the Navy fun again."

But doing the right thing had its price, Admiral Zumwalt found.

Though much loved by the younger generation of sailors, many old-timers despised Admiral Zumwalt's efforts to loosen Navy rules. Admiral Zumwalt saw those moves as necessary at a time when the Navy had to rely on volunteers.

That didn't stop some of the Navy's top officials, past and present, from filling the academy chapel yesterday. President Clinton arrived through a side door, and escorted Zumwalt's wife, Mouza, up the aisle. Hillary Rodham Clinton walked behind Zumwalt family members and sat beside her husband. Then, as Admiral Zumwalt had requested, a chorus of academy vocalists sang "The Impossible Dream."

After Bible readings by Admiral Zumwalt's children and grandchildren, Adm. Jay Johnson, chief of naval operations, thanked Admiral Zumwalt "on behalf of the nearly half-million people who wear a uniform like this one."

"He profoundly changed and enhanced both the character and the culture of our Navy," Admiral Johnson said.

Personal sacrifices

Those changes required sacrifice. Admiral Zumwalt's later years were haunted by a decision made in 1968 -- a decision that, he believed, cost him his son's life.

During the Vietnam War, as commander of naval forces in Vietnam, Admiral Zumwalt ordered the use of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, to remove the riverside brush that sheltered enemy snipers. His son Elmo III commanded one of the patrol boats.

The two wrote a book, "My Father, My Son," about the younger Zumwalt's battle with cancer, which they attributed to the dioxin that was an Agent Orange byproduct. Zumwalt's son died of cancer in 1988.

Inspired by stories

Admiral Zumwalt died Jan. 2 from complications during surgery to remove a cancerous chest tumor. He was 79 and had been living in McLean, Va.

Born in Tulare, Calif., Admiral Zumwalt planned to attend West Point. But after his father's friend, an Irish whaler, told him sea adventures, he attended the Naval Academy. He received numerous decorations for his attacks against Japanese boats in World War II.

After sailing up the Yangtze River into Shanghai in 1945, he met Mouza Coutelais-du-Roche, whose family had escaped Russia during the revolution. They met Oct 1, he proposed Oct. 7, and they married two weeks later.


In 1965, Zumwalt was promoted to rear admiral, the youngest officer to reach that rank. In 1970, President Richard M. Nixon chose him to serve as chief of naval operations, a post for which he was also the youngest.

After Admiral Zumwalt retired from the Navy in 1974, he ran unsuccessfully in 1976 for the U. S. Senate representing Virginia. From 1979 to 1985, he was governor of the American Stock Exchange. He founded the Marrow Foundation, headed the National Marrow Donor Program and worked with other groups that studied the effects of Agent Orange.

In addition to his wife, Admiral Zumwalt is survived by three children, a brother, a sister and six grandchildren.

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