Military Wiki
Elmo Zumwalt
Elmo R. Zumwalt
Birth name Elmo Russell Zumwalt, Jr.
Born (1920-11-29)November 29, 1920
Died January 2, 2000(2000-01-02) (aged 79)
Place of birth San Francisco, California, U.S.
Place of death Durham, North Carolina, U.S.
Buried at U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1942–1974
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg Admiral
Commands held Chief of Naval Operations
Spouse(s) Mouza Coutelais-du-Roche (4 children)

Elmo Russell "Bud" Zumwalt, Jr. (November 29, 1920 – January 2, 2000) was an American naval officer and the youngest man to serve as Chief of Naval Operations. As an admiral and later the 19th Chief of Naval Operations, Zumwalt played a major role in U.S. military history, especially during the Vietnam War. A decorated war veteran, Zumwalt reformed U.S. Navy personnel policies in an effort to improve enlisted life and ease racial tensions. After he retired from a 32-year Navy career, he launched an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Early life and education

Zumwalt was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Elmo Russell Zumwalt, M.D., and his wife, Frances (Frank) Zumwalt, M.D.,[1] both country doctors. Frances was the daughter of Julius and Sarah Frank of Burlington, Vermont. Her family moved to Los Angeles, California, where she grew up. By marrying Elmo Zumwalt, she became estranged from her parents due to their extremely conservative Jewish views, and throughout the rest of her life she claimed she was adopted (Elmo Russell Zumwalt, M.D., was from a Christian background).[2]

Zumwalt, an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America, attended Tulare Union High School in Tulare, California, where he became the valedictorian, and Rutherford Preparatory School in Long Beach, California.

Entrance into the US Navy

He had planned to become a doctor like his parents, but in 1939, Zumwalt was accepted to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. As a midshipman at the USNA, he was president of the Trident Society, vice president of the Quarterdeck Society and the two-time winner of the June Week Public Speaking Contest (1940–41). Zumwalt also participated in intercollegiate debating and was a Company Commander (1941) and Regimental Three Striper (1942). He graduated with distinction and was commissioned as an ensign on June 19, 1942. He also received an honorary degree from Texas Tech University.

World War II

Zumwalt was assigned to USS Phelps (DD-360), a destroyer. In August 1943, Phelps was detached for instruction in the Operational Training Command-Pacific in San Francisco. In January 1944, Zumwalt reported for duty onboard USS Robinson. On this ship, he was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor device for "heroic service as Evaluator in the Combat Information Center " action against enemy Japanese battleships during the Battle for Leyte Gulf, October 25, 1944."

After the end of World War II in August 1945, Zumwalt continued to serve until December 8, 1945, as the prize crew officer of HIMJS Ataka, a 1,200-ton Japanese river gunboat with a crew of 200. In this capacity, he took the first American-controlled ship since the outbreak of World War II up the Huangpu River to Shanghai, China. There, they helped to restore order and assisted in disarming the Japanese.


While there, Zumwalt met and married Mouza Coutelais-du-Roche, whose French-Russian family was living in Shanghai. She returned with him to the United States.

Command assignments

Zumwalt next served as executive officer of the destroyer USS Saufley, and in March 1946, was transferred to the destroyer USS Zellars, as Executive Officer and Navigator. In January 1948, he was assigned to the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps Unit of the University of North Carolina, where he remained until June 1950. That same month, he assumed command of USS Tills, a destroyer escort that was commissioned in a reserve status. The Tillis was placed in full active commission at Charleston Naval Shipyard on November 21, 1950, and he continued to command her until March 1951, when he joined the battleship USS Wisconsin as Navigator and served with the ship in operations in Korea.

Detached from USS Wisconsin in June 1952, he attended the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, and in June 1953, he reported as Head of the Shore and Overseas Bases Section, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Navy Department, Washington, D.C. He also served as Officer and Enlisted Requirements Officer, and as Action Officer on Medicare Legislation. Completing that tour of duty in July 1955, he assumed command of the destroyer USS Arnold J. Isbell, participating in two deployments with the U.S. Seventh Fleet. In this assignment, he was commended by the Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, for winning the Battle Efficiency Competition for his ship and for winning Excellence Awards in Engineering, Gunnery, Anti-Submarine Warfare, and Operations. In July 1957, he returned to the Bureau of Naval Personnel for further duty. In December 1957, he was transferred to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Personnel and Reserve Forces), and served as Special Assistant for Naval Personnel until November 1958, then as Special Assistant and Naval Aide until August 1959.

Ordered to the first ship built from the keel up as a guided missile frigate, USS Dewey (DLG-14), built at the Bath (Maine) Iron Works, he assumed command of that frigate at her commissioning in December 1959 and commanded her until June 1961. During this period of his command, Dewey earned the Excellence Award in Engineering, Supply, Weapons, and was runner-up in the Battle Efficiency Competition. He was a student at the National War College, Washington, D. C., during the 1961-1962 class year. In June 1962, he was assigned to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs), Washington, D.C., where he served first as Desk Officer for France, Spain and Portugal, then as Director of Arms Control and Contingency Planning for Cuba. From December 1963 until June 21, 1965, he served as Executive Assistant and Senior Aide to the Honorable Paul H. Nitze, Secretary of the Navy. For duty in his tour in the offices of the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Navy, he was awarded the Legion of Merit.

Flag assignments


After his selection for the rank of Rear Admiral, Zumwalt assumed command in July 1965 of Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla Seven. In September 1968, he became Commander Naval Forces, Vietnam, and Chief of the Naval Advisory Group, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, and was promoted to Vice Admiral in October 1968. Vice Admiral Zumwalt was the Navy adviser to General Creighton Abrams, the commander of all US Forces. Zumwalt always spoke very highly of Abrams, and said that Abrams was the most caring officer he had ever known.

Zumwalt's command was not a blue-water unit, like the Seventh Fleet; it was a brown-water unit: he commanded the flotilla of Swift Boats that patrolled the coasts, harbors, and rivers of Vietnam. Among the swift-boat commanders were his son, Elmo Russell Zumwalt III, and later future Senator and US Secretary of State John Kerry. During this time, the elder Zumwalt had an opportunity to safeguard the men who served under his command from the Viet Cong who hid in the jungle and ambushed American and ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) patrols at will.

Zumwalt's son, Elmo Zumwalt III, died in 1988, aged 42; Zumwalt's grandson (born 1977) suffers from a congenital dysfunction that confuses his physical senses. Zumwalt's son said in 1986 that "'I am a lawyer and I don't think I could prove in court, by the weight of the existing scientific evidence, that Agent Orange is the cause of all the medical problems - nervous disorders, cancer and skin problems - reported by Vietnam veterans, or of their children's severe birth defects. But I am convinced that it is."[3]

Chief of Naval Operations

President Richard M. Nixon nominated Zumwalt to be Chief of Naval Operations in April 1970. Upon being relieved as Commander Naval Forces, Vietnam, on May 15, 1970, he was awarded a second Navy Distinguished Service Medal for exceptionally meritorious service.

He assumed duties as Chief of Naval Operations and was promoted to full Admiral on July 1, 1970, and quickly began a series of moves intended to reduce racism and sexism in the Navy. These were disseminated in Navy-wide communications known as "Z-grams". These included orders authorizing beards (sideburns, mustaches, and longer groomed hair were also acceptable) and introducing beer-dispensing machines to barracks. Not all of these changes were well received by senior naval personnel.[citation needed] The measures to reduce discrimination against women and racial minorities were adamantly opposed by some.

Zumwalt instituted the 'Mod Squad' - Destroyer Squadron 26 and later 31 - to give promising young officers early command experience. Billets were a rank lower than normal.

Zumwalt reshaped the Navy's effort to replace large numbers of aging World War II-era vessels, a plan called "High-Low." Instituted over the resistance of Admiral Hyman Rickover and others, High-Low sought to balance the purchase of high-end, nuclear-powered vessels with low-end, cheaper ones —- such as the Sea Control Ship—that could be bought in greater numbers. Rickover, the Father of the Nuclear Navy, preferred buying a few major ships to buying many ordinary ones. Zumwalt proposed four kinds of warships to fit the plan; in the end, only the Pegasus class of missile patrol boats and the Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG 7) class of guided missile frigates became reality, and only six out of the planned 100+ Pegasus class hydrofoils were built. But the Perrys stood as the most populous class of U.S. warships since World War II until the advent of the Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) destroyers. He was the last Chief of Naval Operations to live in Number One Observatory Circle before it became the official residence to the vice president. For Zumwalt, not pleased with the choice, this was reason enough to challenge Virginia Senator Harry Byrd in the 1976 Senate election in Virginia.[4]

Elmo Zumwalt Jr. retired from the Navy on July 1, 1974, aged 53.

Later years

In 1976, he unsuccessfully ran as a Democratic candidate for the United States Senate from Virginia, being defeated by incumbent senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr.. Later, he held the presidency of the American Medical Building Corporation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Family and home life

In his later years, Elmo Zumwalt, Jr. resided in Arlington County, Virginia. He and his wife, the former Mouza Coutelais-du-Roche of Harbin, Manchuria, China, had four children: Elmo R. Zumwalt III (died of cancer in 1988, possibly due to Agent Orange exposure), James Gregory Zumwalt; Ann F. Zumwalt Coppola and Mouzetta C. Zumwalt-Weathers.

During his son's illness in the early 1980s, Admiral Zumwalt was very active in lobbying Congress to establish a national registry of bone marrow donors. Such donors serve patients who do not have suitably matched bone marrow donors in their families. This was ultimately a disinterested act, since his son was able to receive a transplant from his own sister, but many patients don't have close relatives who are able and willing to help in this heroic way. His efforts were a major factor in the founding of the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) in July 1986. Admiral Zumwalt was the first chairman of the NMDP's board of directors.

Admiral Zumwalt said he felt his son's cancer was most definitely due to Agent Orange. He also mentioned that his grandson Russell suffered from very severe learning disabilities that could possibly be traced to it as well.[citation needed] Admiral Zumwalt, along with his son and writer John Pekkanen, authored a book called My Father, My Son, published by MacMillan in September 1986, where they discussed the family tragedy of his son's battle with cancer. Although at the time of writing My Father, My Son, the results of the treatment were promising, he died in 1988 at age 42. My Father, My Son was adapted for a TV movie in the same name, starring Karl Malden as the elder Zumwalt and Keith Carradine as his son.


After he retired, Admiral Zumwalt wrote On Watch: a Memoir, published by Quadrangle Books in 1976. It reviews his Navy career and includes reprints of all the Z-Grams he issued as CNO.


Zumwalt's casket being carried by pallbearers at his funeral in January 2000.

Zumwalt died on January 2, 2000, aged 79, at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, from a rare form of lung cancer called pleural mesothelioma. Most likely, at some time in his naval career, Zumwalt was exposed to asbestos, which was widely used on naval vessels until its hazards became known. In recent decades, it has largely gone out of use.


The United States Navy's DD(X) guided missile destroyer program has been named the Zumwalt class in his honor, and its lead ship will bear his name USS Zumwalt by Navy tradition.

Dates of rank

Navyacademylogo.jpg United States Naval Academy Midshipman – Class of 1942
Ensign Lieutenant, Junior Grade Lieutenant Lieutenant Commander Commander Captain
O-1 O-2 O-3 O-4 O-5 O-6
US Navy O1 insignia.svg US Navy O2 insignia.svg US Navy O3 insignia.svg U.S. Navy O-4 insignia.svg US Navy O5 insignia.svg US Navy O6 insignia.svg
June 19, 1942 May 1, 1943 July 1, 1944 April 1, 1950 February 1, 1955 July 1, 1961
Rear Admiral (lower half) Rear Admiral (upper half) Vice Admiral Admiral
O-7 O-8 O-9 O-10
US Navy O7 insignia.svg US Navy O8 insignia.svg US Navy O9 insignia.svg US Navy O10 insignia.svg
Never Held July 1, 1965 October 1, 1968 July 1, 1970

Awards and decorations

U.S. military awards and decorations

Gold star
Gold star
Navy Distinguished Service Medal with two gold award stars
Gold star
Legion of Merit with gold award star
Bronze Star with Valor device
Navy Commendation Medal with Valor device
Navy Unit Commendation
China Service Medal
American Defense Service Medal with bronze "A" Device
American Campaign Medal
Silver star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one silver and two bronze campaign stars
World War II Victory Medal
Navy Occupation Service Medal
Bronze star
National Defense Service Medal with one bronze service star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Korean Service Medal with two bronze service stars
Silver star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Vietnam Service Medal with one silver and two bronze service stars

U.S. civilian awards

Presidential Medal of Freedom

Foreign awards

United Nations Service Medal
The Order of May for Naval Merit, Grand Master (Argentina)
Order of Léopold, Commander (Belgium)
Order of Naval Merit, Grade of High Officer (Bolivia)
Order of Naval Merit, Medal of Grand Officer (Brazil)
National Order of the Southern Cross, Degree of Grand Cross (Brazil)
Great Star of Military Merit (Chile)
Almirante Padilla Naval Merit Order, Great Official (Colombia)[5]
Order of Merit of Duarte, Sanchez and Mella, Grand Cross with Silver Breast Star (Dominican Republic)
Légion d'honneur in the Rank of Commander (France)
Grand Cross, Second Class of the Order of Merit (Germany)
Order of George I, Grand Cross (Greece)
Bintang Jalasena Utama, First Class (Indonesia)
Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, Grand Cross (Italy)[6]
Order of the Rising Sun, 1st Class, Grand Cordon (Japan)
Order of Military Merit, Third Class (Republic of Korea)
Order of National Security Merit, Tong-Il Medal (Republic of Korea)
Order of Orange-Nassau (with Swords), Grand Officer (Netherlands)
Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav, Grand Cross (Norway)
Bronze star
Bronze star
Philippine Liberation Medal with two service stars (Philippines)
Royal Order of the Sword, Commander Grand Cross (Sweden)
Order of Naval Merit, First Class (Venezuela)
National Order of Vietnam, Third Class (Republic of Vietnam)
Republic of Vietnam Navy Distinguished Service Order, First Class (Republic of Vietnam)
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm (Republic of Vietnam)
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal (Republic of Vietnam)

Foreign unit awards

Korean Presidential Unit Citation (Republic of Korea)
Philippine Presidential Unit Citation (Philippines)
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm (Republic of Vietnam)
Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation, First Class (Republic of Vietnam)

Boy Scouts of America awards

Distinguished Eagle Scout Award


  • Zumwalt's picture hangs in the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, near pictures of John Kerry, Robert McNamara, Warren Christopher, and other American dignitaries, in commemoration of a visit he made after normalization of relations between Vietnam and the United States.[7]
  • In his first book, On Watch, Zumwalt quoted at length an interview with Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, regarded as the Father of the Nuclear Navy and who interviewed all officers with responsibilities involving nuclear propulsion. Rickover and Zumwalt had a combative conversation, with Zumwalt referring to it as a humbling experience.
  • Zumwalt was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. He was initiated in 1980.
  • In 1994 the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation awarded Zumwalt its Lone Sailor Award for his distinguished naval career.


Further reading

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Thomas H. Moorer
United States Chief of Naval Operations
Succeeded by
James L. Holloway III

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