Military Wiki
W. Graham Claytor, Jr.
United States Secretary of the Navy

In office
February 14, 1977 – August 24, 1979
Preceded by J. William Middendorf, II
Succeeded by Edward Hidalgo
Personal details
Born (1912-03-14)March 14, 1912
Roanoke, Virginia
Died May 14, 1994(1994-05-14) (aged 82)
Bradenton, Florida

William Graham Claytor, Jr. (March 14, 1912 – May 14, 1994) was an American lawyer, naval officer, and railroad, transportation and defense administrator for the United States government, working under the administrations of three US presidents.

He is remembered for his actions as the captain of the destroyer escort USS Doyle in World War II which helped to save 316 lives during the USS Indianapolis tragedy. Over 30 years later, Claytor's moderate actions on behalf of the rights of female and gay service personnel as Secretary of the Navy were considered progressive for the time. He is also credited with a distinguished transportation career, including ten years as president of the Southern Railway and 11 years as the head of Amtrak, guiding the passenger railroad through a particularly difficult period in its history.

Education and early career

W. Graham Claytor Jr. was born in Roanoke, Virginia, and grew up in both Virginia and Philadelphia. He was the son of Gertrude Harris Boatwright Claytor, a lyric poet, and W. Graham Claytor (1886–1971), who was vice-president of Appalachian Power.

Claytor graduated from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1933. He then graduated from Harvard Law School summa cum laude in 1936. He then clerked for Learned Hand, Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He then moved to Washington D.C. to become law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Louis Brandeis before joining the prestigious Washington law firm Covington and Burling.

World War II - USS Indianapolis tragedy

In 1940, soon after the start of World War II, 28 year old Claytor attempted to enlist, but was initially rejected by the United States Navy as being too old.[citation needed] He finally joined under a special provision, based upon his previous experience in sports boating. He was assigned to the Pacific Theater.

Late in the war, Claytor became commander of the destroyer escort USS Cecil J. Doyle on patrol in the Pacific Ocean.[1] In August 1945, Claytor sped without orders[citation needed] to investigate reports of men floating in the water. As the Doyle approached the area at night, Claytor turned the ship's searchlights on the water and straight up on low clouds, lighting up the night, despite the risk of exposing his ship to possible attack by Japanese submarines.[1] These actions facilitated the rescue of the survivors of the sunken cruiser USS Indianapolis.[1]

The Indianapolis had been on a secret mission, and due to a communications error, had not been reported as overdue (or missing). An estimated 900 men survived the sinking, but spent days floating in life jackets trying to fight off sharks. While only 316 were rescued out of a crew of 1199 who were aboard the Indianapolis, Claytor's actions were widely credited by survivors with preventing an even greater loss of life.[citation needed]

Legal practice and Southern Railway

After World War II, he resumed practice of law in Washington DC. He became an officer of the Southern Railway in 1963, serving as president from 1967-1977. Notwithstanding his legal background, Claytor was known as an "operations" man, often riding the company's trains, monitoring and questioning performance.[citation needed] In contrast to his predecessor, D. William Brosnan, Mr. Claytor was an "employee's President," often chatting with the crews of the trains on which he rode, actively soliciting their suggestions on how to make the railroad run better. He carried this attitude with him during his later service as the President of Amtrak.

U.S. Government service

Claytor served as the Secretary of the Navy under President Jimmy Carter from 1977[2] to 1979.[citation needed] He is credited with leading the United States Navy into its first recognition of women's right to serve on ships and of rights of gays to leave the service without criminal records.[citation needed] His positions were considered by activists to be progressive for the time, leading to further progress years later in these controversial issues.

In 1979, he was appointed to the position of Deputy Secretary of Defense.[citation needed] While serving as Deputy Defense Secretary, Claytor's military assistant was General Colin Powell.[citation needed]

In the summer of 1979, he took a brief leave from the Defense Department to serve as Acting Secretary of Transportation in Carter's Cabinet. His service at the Transportation Department bridged the tenures of Secretary Brock Adams and Secretary Neil Goldschmidt.


In 1982, Claytor came out of retirement to lead Amtrak. He was recruited and strongly supported by John H. Riley, an attorney who was also the head of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) under the Reagan Administration from 1983 to 1989.

Claytor maintained a good relationship with the U.S. Congress during his 11 years in the position. Within 7 years of being under Claytor's leadership, Amtrak was generating enough money to cover 72 percent of its $1.7 billion operating budget by 1989, up from 48 percent in 1981.[3] This was achieved mainly through vigorous cost cutting and aggressive marketing. He is credited with bringing political and operational stability to the nation's passenger train network, keeping the railroad functioning properly despite repeated attempts by the administrations of Reagan and his successor George H.W. Bush to eliminate its funding.

Claytor retired from Amtrak in 1993.

Legacy and heritage

W. Graham Claytor Jr. was named the Virginian of the Year in 1977.[4] In 1989, he was named Railroader of the Year by Railway Age magazine.[5]

He was the brother of Robert B. Claytor, who became president of Norfolk and Western Railway in 1981 and was the first chairman and CEO of Norfolk Southern after it was formed by merger with the Southern Railway System in 1982.[citation needed] Robert B. Claytor is best remembered by many railfans for reactivating Norfolk and Western Railway's steam program, which rebuilt steam locomotives J-611 and A-1218 at the Roanoke Shops at Roanoke, Virginia, and operated excursion trips. W. Graham Claytor Jr. would occasionally take the throttle as engineer with his brother on the steam excursions.[citation needed]

W. Graham Claytor Jr. died on May 14, 1994.[6]

At Amtrak's Washington, DC Union Station a passenger concourse was renamed "Claytor Concourse" in his honor.[citation needed]

"The Claytor Brothers: Virginians Building America's Railroad" is a semi-permanent exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia.[citation needed]


Business positions
Preceded by
D. William Brosnan
President of Southern Railway
1967 – 1977
Succeeded by
L. Stanley Crane
Preceded by
Alan Stephenson Boyd
President of Amtrak
1982 – 1993
Succeeded by
Thomas Downs
Government offices
Preceded by
J. William Middendorf, II
United States Secretary of the Navy
February 14, 1977 – August 24, 1979
Succeeded by
Edward Hidalgo
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Duncan, Jr.
United States Deputy Secretary of Defense
1979 – 1981
Succeeded by
Frank Carlucci
Preceded by
Darius W. Gaskins, Jr. (BN)
Modern Railways magazine's
Man of the Year

Succeeded by
Arnold B. McKinnon (NS)

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