James Forrestal

James Forrestal

Infobox US Cabinet official
name=James Vincent Forrestal

title=United States Secretary of the Navy
term_start=May 19, 1944
term_end=September 17, 1947
predecessor=Frank Knox
successor=John L. Sullivan
title2=United States Secretary of Defense
term_start2=September 17, 1947
term_end2=March 28, 1949
successor2=Louis A. Johnson
birth_date=birth date|1892|2|15|mf=y
birth_place=Matteawan, New York, U.S.
death_date=death date and age|1949|5|22|1892|2|15
death_place=Montgomery County, Maryland, U.S.
spouse=Josephine Ogden Forrestal

James Vincent Forrestal (February 15, 1892 – May 22, 1949) was a United States Secretary of the Navy and the first United States Secretary of Defense.

Forrestal was a supporter of naval battle groups centered on aircraft carriers. In 1954, the Navy's first supercarrier was named the USS "Forrestal" in his honor, as is the headquarters of the United States Department of Energy. He is also the namesake of the Forrestal Lecture Series at the United States Naval Academy, which brings prominent military and civilian leaders to speak to the Brigade of Midshipmen, and of the James Forrestal Campus of Princeton University, in Plainsboro Township, New Jersey.

Forrestal's death resulted from a fall out of a Bethesda Naval Hospital window, and later led to speculation and much controversy. Years later, Forrestal was alleged to have been a member of a super-secret 'UFO' group called Majestic-12, supposedly created by Executive Order on September 24, 1947, by President Harry Truman. Fact|date=October 2008

Early life and private employment

Forrestal was born in Matteawan, now Beacon, New York, the son of an Irish immigrant who dabbled in politics. After graduating from high school at the age of 16 in 1908, he spent the next three years working for a trio of newspapers: the "Matteawan Evening Journal", the "Mount Vernon Argus" and the "Poughkeepsie News Press".

Forrestal entered Dartmouth College in 1911, but transferred to Princeton University the following year. At the latter school, he served as an editor for "The Daily Princetonian" and was voted by the senior class as "Most Likely to Succeed", but left just prior to completing work on a degree.

After college, Forrestal went to work as a bond salesman for William A. Read and Company (also known as Dillon, Read & Co.). When World War I broke out, he enlisted in the Navy and ultimately became a Naval Aviator, training with the Royal Flying Corps in Canada. During the final year of the war, Forrestal spent much of his time in Washington, D.C., at the office of Naval Operations, while completing his flight training. He eventually reached the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade.

Following the war, Forrestal served as a publicist for the Democratic Party committee in Dutchess County, New York helping politicians from the area win elections at both the state and national level. One of those individuals aided by his work was a neighbor, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Forrestal then returned to William A. Read and Company, earning a partnership, in 1923, before eventually becoming president of the company in 1937.

By most accounts, Forrestal was a compulsive workaholic who was very cold and neglectful towards his family. One instance of this trait came when Forrestal, while working in England, received a phone call from his two sons, ages eight and six. The two had missed their plane in Paris, but Forrestal simply told the boys to work out the problem themselves and meet him in London. His wife, the former Josephine Ogden, a Vogue writer whom he married in 1926, eventually developed alcohol and mental problems inherited from her mother Fact|date=March 2008.

Political career

President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Forrestal as an administrative assistant on June 22, 1940, then nominated him as Under Secretary of the Navy six weeks later. As Under-Secretary, Forrestal proved highly effective at mobilizing domestic industrial production for the war effort.

He became Secretary of the Navy on May 19, 1944, following the death of his immediate supervisor Frank Knox from a heart attack. Forrestal then led the Navy through the closing year of the war and the painful early years of demobilization that followed.

At the close of World War II, millions of dollars of serviceable equipment had been scrapped or abandoned rather than appropirate funds for storage costs. New military equipment en route to operations in the Pacific theater was scrapped or simply tossed overboard. Facing the wholesale demobilization of most of the US defense force structure, Forrestal resisted President Truman's efforts to substantially reduce defense appropriations [Hess, Jerry N., Felix E. Larkin Oral History Interview", Truman Library, September 18, 1972 and October 23, 1972 http://www.trumanlibrary.org/oralhist/larkin.htm] , but was unable to prevent a steady reduction in defense spending, resulting in major cuts not only in defense equipment stockpiles, but also in military readiness. By 1948, President Harry Truman had approved military budgets billions of dollars below what the services were requesting, putting Forrestal in the middle of the tug-of-war. Forrestal was also becoming increasingly worried about the Soviet threat.See Whittaker Chambers to confirm that his concerns on the domestic front were quite legitimate] His 18 months at Defense came at an exceptionally difficult time for the U.S. military establishment: Communist governments came to power in Czechoslovakia and China; West Berlin was blockaded, necessitating the Berlin Airlift to keep it going; the war between the Arab states and Israel after the establishment of Israel in Palestine; and negotiations were going on for the formation of NATO. His reign was also hampered by intense interservice rivalries.

Soviet-inspired Communist takeovers of much of Eastern Europe, threats to the governments of Greece, Italy, and France, the impending Communist victory in China, and the invasion of South Korea by North Korea would eventually demonstrate the legitimacy of his concerns. Dwight D. Eisenhower recorded he was in agreement with Forrestal's theories on the dangers of Soviet and International communist expansion. Eisenhower recalled that Forrestal had been "the one man who, in the very midst of the war, always counseled caution and alertness in dealing with the Soviets." Eisenhower remembered on several occasions, while he was Supreme Allied Commander,he had been visited by Forrestal, who carefully explained his thesis that the Communists would never cease trying to destroy all representative government. Eisenhower commented in his personal diary on 11 June, 1949, "I never had cause to doubt the accuracy of his judgments on this point." [Immerman,James."The CIA in Guatemala." U.of Texas Press: 1982.]

Forrestal also opposed the unification of the military services proposed by the Truman officials. Even so, he helped develop the National Security Act of 1947 that created the National Military Establishment (the Department of Defense was not created as such until August 1949). With the former Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson retiring to private life, Forrestal was the next choice.

In 1949, frustrated over Forrestal's continued opposition to his defense economization policies, Truman asked Forrestal to resign [Hess, Jerry N., Felix E. Larkin Oral History Interview", Truman Library, September 18, 1972 and October 23, 1972 http://www.trumanlibrary.org/oralhist/larkin.htm] , and was replaced by Louis A. Johnson, an ardent supporter of Truman's defense retrenchment policy.

Forrestal's greatest legacy may have been an unrealized one. Forrestal, along with Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Under Secretary of State Joseph Grew, in the early months of 1945, strongly advocated a softer policy toward Japan that would permit a negotiated armistice, a 'face-saving' surrender. Forrestal's primary concern was not the resurgence of a militarized Japan, but rather "the menace of Russian Communism and its attraction for decimated, destabilized societies in Europe and Asia," and, therefore, keeping the Soviet Union out of the war with Japan. Had his advice been followed, Japan might well have surrendered before August 1945, precluding the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.Hoopes and Brinkley, pp. 205-214. The quoted line is from p. 208] So strongly did he feel about this matter that he cultivated negotiation efforts that some regarded as approaching insubordination. [http://ussslcca25.com/zach12.htm]

Psychiatric treatment

In 1949, exhausted from overwork, Forrestal entered psychiatric treatment. The attending psychiatrist Dr. George N. Raines, a Navy Captain handpicked by the Surgeon General.

First week: narcosis with sodium amytalSecond week and for a period of four weeks: a regime of insulin sub-shock combined with psycho-therapeutic interviews. According to Dr. Raines, the patient over reacted to the insulin much as he had the amytal and this would occasionally throw him into a confused state with a great deal of agitation and confusion.Fourth week: insulin administered only in stimulating doses; 10 units of insulin four times a day, morning, noon, afternoon and evening.

According to Dr. Raines, "We considered electro-shock but thought it better to postpone it for another ninety days. In reactive depression if electro-shock is used early and the patient is returned to the same situation from which he came there is grave danger of suicide in the immediate period after they return... so strangely enough we left out electro-shock to avoid what actually happened anyhow". [Admiral M.D. Willcutts Report, p. 34, 41, 1949, released to the public 2004]


Although Forrestal had told associates he had decided to resign, he was shattered when Truman abruptly asked for his resignation. His letter of resignation was tendered after Truman's dismissal on March 28, 1949. On the day of his removal from office, he was reported to have gone into a strange daze and was flown on a U.S. Navy airplane to the estate of Under Secretary of State Robert A. Lovett in Hobe Sound, Florida, where Forrestal's wife, Josephine, was vacationing. He was checked into the Bethesda Naval Hospital five days later. The condition was officially announced as "nervous and physical exhaustion"; his lead doctor, Captain George Raines, diagnosing his condition as "depression" or "reactive depression."

A chief reason for Forrestal's fragile mental state was that his high-profile position was in sharp contrast to his personality. [Sigmund Freud, "The Psychopathology of Everyday Life", Digireads, 2005 ISBN-10: 1420924915] As a person who prized anonymity and once stated that his hobby was "obscurity", he and his policies had been the constant target of attacks from columnists, including Drew Pearson and Walter Winchell. Pearson's protege, Jack Anderson, later asserted that Pearson "hectored Forrestal with innuendos and false accusations."cite journal
last = Akashah
first = Mary
authorlink =
coauthors = Donald Tennant
date =
year = 1980
month =
title = Madness and Politics: The Case of James Forrestal
journal = Proceeding of the Oklahoma Academy of Science
volume = 60
issue =
pages = 89–92
url = http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v60/p89_92.pdf
format = PDF
accessdate = 2007-09-09

Forrestal seemed to be on the road to recovery, having regained 12 pounds since his entry into the hospital. However, in the early morning hours of May 22, his body with a bathrobe sash that was tied around his neck was found on a third-floor roof below the 16th-floor kitchen across the hall from his room. The Montgomery County, Maryland, county coroner called it a suicide within hours of the death, critics believe without a proper investigation.

The official Navy review board, which completed hearings on May 31, waited until October 11, 1949, to release only a brief summary of its findings. The announcement, as reported on page 15 of the October 12 New York Times, stated only that Forrestal had died from his fall from the window. It did not say what might have caused the fall, nor did it make any mention of the bathrobe sash that was tied around his neck. There were reports of paranoia and of involuntary commitment to the hospital, as well as suspicions about the detailed circumstances of his death, which have fed a variety of conspiracy theories, some of which are described below. One of Forrestal's statements described as "paranoid" was his prediction that the United States would soon be at war; a few months later the U.S. was indeed at war in Korea.

His alleged suicide note was part of a poem from Sophocles' tragedy "Ajax": :"Fair Salamis, the billows’ roar,":"Wander around thee yet,":"And sailors gaze upon thy shore" :"Firm in the Ocean set." :"Thy son is in a foreign clime" :"Where Ida feeds her countless flocks," :"Far from thy dear, remembered rocks," :"Worn by the waste of time– ":"Comfortless, nameless, hopeless save":"In the dark prospect of the yawning grave....":"Woe to the mother in her close of day,":"Woe to her desolate heart and temples gray,":"When she shall hear":"Her loved one’s story whispered in her ear!":"“Woe, woe!’ will be the cry–":"No quiet murmur like the tremulous wail":"Of the lone bird, the querulous nightingale–"

The actual note [http://www.dcdave.com/article4/041103.htm] was not released by the Department of the Navy until April 2004.

James Forrestal is buried in section 30 of Arlington National Cemetery.

Assassination Allegations

Doubts have existed from the beginning about Forrestal's alleged suicide. The early doubts are detailed in the book "The Death of James Forrestal" (1966) by Cornell Simpson, which received virtually no publicity. As Simpson notes (pp. 40-44), a major reason for doubt is the fact that the Navy kept the transcript of its official hearing secret. Additional doubt has been raised by the 2004 release of that transcript, informally referred to as the [http://www.princeton.edu/~mudd/finding_aids/willcutts/ Willcutts Report] , after Admiral Morton D. Willcutts, the head of the National Naval Medical Center, who convened the review board.

Among the discrepancies between the report and the accounts given in the principal Forrestal biographies are that the transcription of the poem by Sophocles appears to many to have been written in a hand other than Forrestal's, and there was broken glass found on Forrestal's bed, a fact that had not been previously reported. Theories as to who might have murdered Forrestal range from Soviet agents -- a view championed by Joseph McCarthy -- to U.S. government operatives sent to silence him for what he knew about UFOs. [C. G. Jung, "Flying Saucers; A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky", Princeton University Press, 1979 ISBN 10: 0691018227] [ [http://www.v-j-enterprises.com/forestal.html James Forrestal and the Roswell Incident] ]

Forrestal himself maintained that he was being tracked and bugged by Zionist operatives. As Forrestal biographer Arnold Rogow puts it: Quote|"...Forrestal, during his last months in office, harbored a conviction that he was under day-and-night surveillance by Zionist agents; and when he resigned as Secretary of Defense in March, 1949, he was convinced that his resignation was not unrelated to pressures brought to bear on the Administration by American Jewish organizations."|Arnold Rogow|James Forrestal, A Study of Personality, Politics, and Policy, p.181

Rogow footnotes this passage, noting:

New light was shed on Forrestal's concerns in March 2006 when "The Times" of London, referencing newly declassified documents, revealed that a serious attempt by Menachem Begin's Irgun Gang to [http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article12205.htm assassinate] Britain's anti-Zionist counterpart to Forrestal, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, had been thwarted by British intelligence in 1946. Forrestal had been the most conspicuous and forceful anti-Zionist in the Truman administration. [ [http://www.dcdave.com/article4/040927.html New Forrestal Document Exposes Cover-up] ]

There was also a press campaign against Forrestal, led by columnist Drew Pearson. The campaign tried to make it appear that he was paranoid. Paranoia, however, was never mentioned in the official evaluations of his psychiatric state. One of Pearson's most spectacular claims was that while Forrestal was at Hobe Sound, Florida, shortly before he was hospitalized, he was awakened by a siren in the middle of the night and ran out into the street exclaiming, "The Russians are attacking." This claim has not been confirmed by anyone who was there that night, and was described as a fabrication by Captain George Raines, the Navy doctor in charge of Forrestal's treatmentHopes and Brinkley, pp. 455-456]

Forrestal has also been alleged to be an original member of a UFO-related group formed in 1947 with the purported code name of Majestic 12.

ee also


Further reading

*Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley, "Driven Patriot, the Life and Times of James Forrestal" ISBN 0-7366-2520-8 (1992)
* Cornell Simpson "The Death of James Forrestal" (Western Islands Publishers, 1966)
*Arnold Rogow, "James Forrestal, A Study of Personality, Politics, and Policy" (MacMillan, 1963)
*Walter Millis ed., "The Forrestal Diaries" (New York: Viking, 1951)
* Jeffrey M. Dorwart, "Eberstadt and Forrestal, A National Security Partnership, 1909-1949" (College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press 1991)
* Mary Akashah and Donald Tennant (1980). " [http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v60/p89_92.pdf Madness and Politics: The Case of James Forrestal] " (PDF). "Proceeding of the Oklahoma Academy of Science" 60: 89-92. Retrieved on 2007-09-09. Refutes the idea that Forrestal's "policies and positions were somehow the products of a diseased mind."
* David Martin, [http://www.dcdave.com/article4/021110.html "Who Killed James Forrestal?"] Nov. 2002 - ongoing.
* Hugh Turley, "Handwriting Tells Dark Tale?", [http://cdn4.libsyn.com/csuspect/HLT1207.pdf Hyattsville Life & Times] , December 2007, page 3.
* The Forrestal Diaries edited by Walter Millis and E. S. Duffield, Kessinger Publishing, 2007 ISBN 10: 0548386072

External links

* [http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/secdef_histories/bios/forrestal.htm DoD biography] (includes more details of DoD formation process and budget negotiations)
* [http://alsos.wlu.edu/qsearch.aspx?browse=people/Forrestal,+James+V. Annotated bibliography for James Forrestal from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues]
*findagrave|356 Retrieved on 2008-02-10
* [http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/books/Last_Salute/Ch5.htm The Last Salute: Civil and Military Funeral, 1921-1969, CHAPTER V, Former Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal, Official Funeral, 22-25 May 1949] by B. C. Mossman and M. W. Stark
* [http://www.princeton.edu/~mudd/finding_aids/willcutts/ Admiral M.D. Willcutts Report, 1949]
* [http://www.adam-matthew-publications.co.uk/collections_az/DiariesJVForr/description.aspx Diaries of James V. Forrestal, 1944-1949]

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