Admiral Elmo Zumwalt would be 91 years old today, had he not passed away from exposure to asbestos aboard Navy ships. He died on 2 January 2000 at age 80 from mesothelioma.
At 49, he was the youngest man to serve as Chief of Naval Operations. As an Admiral and later the 19th Chief of Naval Operations, he played a major role in U.S. military history, especially during the Vietnam War. A highly-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 United States Senate.
His son James is a retired USMC Lt Colonel. His grandson is a Navy EOD.
The long post below is from his son James to the citizen's postal advisory committee. PLEASE join us in this effort to have a stamp issued in Admiral Zumwalt's honor. Please send a short note to the committee at the address listed and ask them for their support for this worthy endeavor.
June 17, 2009
Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
c/o Stamp Development
U.S. Postal Service
1735 North Lynn St., Suite 5013
Arlington, Virginia 22209-6432
Dear Committee Members:
The purpose of this letter is to request the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) consider the issuance of a postage stamp commemorating the life of Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. While I am Admiral Zumwalt's sole surviving son and, obviously, have a personal interest in seeing him so honored, I would respectfully submit that his lifetime achievements clearly justify such an honor, regardless of the fact this request emanates from a family member. Allow me to briefly share some of those achievements.
While US postage stamps have been issued over the years commemorating men and women achieving great accomplishments, few exist recognizing those who have dedicated so much of their lives to leveling life's playing field for others unable to do so for themselves. A military man by profession, Admiral Zumwalt would prove himself not only to be of such an ilk, but a tremendous innovator and great humanitarian as well.
Admiral Zumwalt enjoyed an immensely successful naval career which involved a meteoric rise to the US Navy's top position. At the age of 44, he was the US Navy's youngest Rear Admiral; at 47, its youngest Vice Admiral; and at age 49 its youngest Admiral and Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). During a 37-year career, during which he fought three wars, Admiral Zumwalt committed his life to achieving equality for all serving in his beloved Navy. While his life as a junior officer was spent practicing this belief on a local command level, it was not until he became CNO that he was able to implement such beliefs on a service-wide basis through a series of very creative leadership initiatives. As reported in the December 21, 1970 issue of TIME Magazine featuring him on its cover, Admiral Zumwalt's initiatives brought the US Navy, "kicking and screaming into the 20th Century." The article went on to hail him as "the Navy's most popular leader since World War II."
While the beneficiaries of many of the changes Admiral Zumwalt implemented in the Navy were members of minority groups whose professional growth within the service had been stymied by overly restrictive regulations, he worked diligently to improve service life for all wearing the Navy uniform. What had prompted his selection in 1970 by civilian superiors over 33 more senior admirals was his advocacy for rapid and drastic changes in the way the Navy treated its uniformed men and women. And, once selected, he made such advocacy a reality, undertaking numerous initiatives that included: improving living conditions in the Navy; promoting the first female and first Afro-American officers to flag rank; allowing females to become naval aviators; opening up ratings for Filipino sailors whose service had long been limited to a steward's rating; eliminating demeaning and abrasive US Navy regulations that negatively impacted on a sailor's attitude without providing a corresponding positive enhancement of professional performance; etc. The positive impact of his changes was tremendous, as evidenced by the effect on re-enlistment rates. These rates were at an all-time low when he took command of the Navy in 1970; when he retired four years later, re-enlistment rates had tripled. Admiral Zumwalt's personal papers, on file at The Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University, include numerous letters from sailors written over the years expressing their personal gratitude for changes he made that impacted so positively on their decision to stay and make the Navy a career.
When Admiral Zumwalt retired from the Navy in 1974, it did not end his service to country. He continued in numerous capacities to fight for the oppressed. As Commander of US Naval Forces in Vietnam during the war, he was of the belief a commander's responsibility to his men survived the battlefield, prompting him to fight for US Government benefits for Vietnam veterans suffering from Agent Orange exposure.
By way of background, Admiral Zumwalt had ordered the use of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange during the war to reduce the high casualty rate his sailors were suffering. Heavy jungle concealment provided the enemy with the element of surprise in ambushes against US Navy boats operating in Vietnam's narrow waterways. The sailors onboard these boats stood a 72% chance of being killed or wounded during a twelve month tour. The use of Agent Orange improved survivability, reducing the casualty rate twelve-fold--to 6%. It was not known at that time, however, what the long-term health impact of Agent Orange would be on those who were exposed. In a bitter irony of the Vietnam war, one of those so exposed, later succumbing to Agent Orange-related cancers, was Admiral Zumwalt's namesake and my older brother--Elmo R. Zumwalt III. A book, entitled "My Father, My Son," tells the story of the love and devotion existing between the two men as, together; they fought the unsuccessful battle for young Elmo's survival. In 1988, the book became the basis for a made-for-TV movie of the same title which, interestingly, starred a CSAC member in the role of my father--Mr. Karl Malden.
Until Admiral Zumwalt led the charge for benefits for Vietnam veterans afflicted by Agent Orange exposure, not a single cancer had been recognized by the Veterans Administration for having a causal relationship. Appointed by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to conduct a pro bono study on the linkage of Agent Orange to cancers, Admiral Zumwalt analyzed hundreds of medical studies--studies that had found no correlation--until he showed how such studies were flawed--a phenomenal undertaking for someone with no medical background. He also found the US Government's medical review board, responsible for determining if such correlations were supported by existing medical evidence, lacked credibility as its members included physicians with personal ties to the very chemical companies that had manufactured Agent Orange.
Today, medical evidence has established that more than a dozen cancers are linked to Agent Orange exposure. And, as a direct result of Admiral Zumwalt's tireless efforts, Vietnam veterans are now receiving medical benefits.
Admiral Zumwalt's sense of duty and responsibility to his fellow human beings spurned him on to other great achievements. He was founder of The Marrow Foundation, which raised funding to undertake the matching of bone marrow donors and recipients. He served briefly as a US ambassador to the American Red Cross in Geneva. In the years after the Vietnam war, he worked diligently to successfully win the early release of his good friend and South Vietnamese counterpart in Vietnam during the war, Commodore Tran van Chon, from a communist re-education camp.
During his lifetime, Admiral Zumwalt gave extensively of his own time and energy to pro bono efforts. These included serving on the Board of Directors of charitable organizations such as the Phelps-Stokes Fund, Presidential Classroom for Young Americans Organization, National Marrow Donor Program, and Vietnam Assistance to the Handicapped Foundation; serving as the Chairman of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the National Council of the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University, and the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation; serving as a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and the International Consortium for Research on the Health Effects of Radiation. One of Admiral Zumwalt's last contributions was to establish the National Program for Countermeasures to Biological and Chemical Threats at Texas Tech University, which later was named after him. This is a multidisciplinary academic research program that today conducts cutting-edge work to investigate and develop new strategies and technologies to protect military operating forces from such threats. Based on the terrorist threat facing 21st century America, his foresight in identifying such a threat and doing something about it was once again evidenced by his actions.
Tragically, years later, after having led this fight, Admiral Zumwalt would succumb to a service-related "environmental cancer" of another sort--asbestos--to which he had been exposed as a result of his naval service. In the early morning hours of the new millennium, at the age of 79, he passed away on January 2, 2000.
It was no wonder then, at his funeral on January 10, 2000, in addressing a standing room only Chapel service at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, President Bill Clinton described him as truly being a "Sailors' Admiral."
Among the numerous tributes made after the death of Admiral Zumwalt was one entered into the January 24, 2000 Congressional Record by Senator Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin who said: "Admiral Zumwalt crusaded for a fair and equal Navy. He fought to promote equality for minorities and women at a time of considerable racial strife in our country and at a time of deeply entrenched institutional racism and sexism in the Navy...Admiral Elmo Zumwalt was a great naval leader, a visionary and a courageous challenger of the conventional wisdom. We will not see the likes of him again. We mourn his passing and salute his accomplishments."
Because of Admiral Zumwalt's commitment in life to improving the lives of others, a number of awards bearing his name--recognizing his accomplishments as a humanitarian and a visionary--exist today, not only in the US Navy, but in the private sector as well. The positive impact Admiral Zumwalt had as one of this Nation's great military leaders and humanitarians was recognized by two major events--one occurring during his lifetime and one following his death.
In 1998, Admiral Zumwalt was presented the Nation's highest civilian award by President Clinton--the Presidential Medal of Freedom--for service both to his Navy and country. And, in July 2000, six months after his death, the Navy announced a new class of warship--a vessel unlike any other ever built which represents the greatest technological advancement in the history of ship-building--would be named after my father, with the first ship of the class to be named USS ZUMWALT. (An artist's rendition of this unique looking surface ship, which, due to its stealth technology looks more like a submarine, is enclosed herein.) Construction of that ship is now underway. While I believe honoring my father with a stamp is warranted on his own merits alone, I would submit the Committee may want to consider issuing a stamp commemorating both the man and the ship. For when USS ZUMWALT is christened in 2013, it will usher in a whole new era in US Navy history. Future ships of the 21st century will be capturing many of the design features and unique capabilities for which the USS ZUMWALT has broken new ground.
One of my father's favorite quotes was Edmond Burke's admonition, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." My father lived his life by this creed. Not a minute of it was wasted doing "nothing." His life was dedicated to helping his fellow man. In my request that consideration now be given to issuing a US postage stamp in his name, it is my humble opinion such a man who lived such a life should now have that life commemorated by such a great honor.
Very respectfully submitted,
James G. Zumwalt
LCOL, US Marine Corps Reserves (Retired)