- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2000

As a naval aviation officer candidate going through training in July 1970, it was my responsibility to learn and recite upon demand the military chain of command from my class officer all the way up to the president of the United States. Naming the class officer was easy because that Navy lieutenant (who now shall remain nameless) was the source of much of my pain and suffering during training, and therefore, he was not easily forgotten. However, somewhere between my class officer and the president of the United States, it was easy to forget the name of some far-away admiral in Washington, even one with the name of Elmo Zumwalt Jr., the newly installed chief of naval operations (CNO).

Six years later as a young Senate staffer, I had an easier time remembering the name Elmo Zumwalt because he was running against my boss in the 1976 election for the U.S Senate. If Elmo Zumwalt had won the election, I would have been out of a job.

In those brief years between 1970 and 1976, Adm. Zumwalt made his mark and served the U.S. Navy, and our nation, well as CNO. It is easy to forget just how troubled were the years of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering because it was in those very troubled times that Adm. Zumwalt assumed command of the U.S. Navy. He served at a time of extraordinary tension and trouble in our nation, and the U.S. Navy was not exempt from those troubles. Shrinking budgets, an aging fleet, a lingering but still bloody war in Vietnam were just some of the problems faced by "Bud" Zumwalt. Sweeping social changes were taking place as well. The role of women was changing, and racial tensions were at an all-time high. The sexual revolution was in full swing, and drug use was rampant, even on Navy ships at sea.

The U.S. Navy was in trouble, and it was only through the strong and courageous leadership of Adm. Zumwalt that the Navy came through those troubled times. He addressed head-on the problems of institutional racism and sexism in the Navy, and he transformed the attitudes and practices of the Navy. The first black admiral was selected while Adm. Zumwalt was CNO. He issued regulations to allow women to serve on ships, and the first female Naval aviator pinned on her wings in 1974 as a result of the admiral's equal-opportunity policies. On all these policy changes, he faced bitter opposition, even from among the most senior ranks of the Navy.

At the time Adm. Zumwalt became CNO, re-enlistments were plunging and morale was abysmal. He worked hard to improve the quality of life for sailors and succeeded in making naval service a respectable and appealing career for men and women.

Aside from personnel issues, Adm. Zumwalt also restored the Navy in terms of hardware and technology. He started a major shipbuilding program, including Trident nuclear submarines, a new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and a low-cost frigate program. He called attention to the rising threat from the Soviet navy and helped persuade the Congress to support a stronger U.S. counterpart.

Adm. Zumwalt served his country throughout his career. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1942 and served on destroyers in the Pacific in World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his bravery during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He served in combat again during the Korean War and also in Vietnam, where he commanded U.S. Naval forces, including more than 1,000 patrol boats that saw some of the most fierce combat of the war. In all of his Navy assignments the safety of his sailors was his first priority.

In 1974 Adm. Zumwalt retired from the Navy, but he never stopped serving his country. He cared about military veterans and worked tirelessly on their behalf. He cared not just about Americans. He helped handicapped children in Vietnam and victims of radiation in Russia. He was a family man, a father and a loving husband.

Throughout his career and throughout his life, Adm. Zumwalt stood up and was counted. He did not back down in the face of difficult challenges but rather faced them boldly and without fear of public criticism. It was through this bold leadership that Adm. Zumwalt made a name for himself and made a lasting difference in the U.S. Navy and in the lives of many thousands of Navy men and women.

As this great warrior passes on, he leaves behind a legacy and a lesson for the leaders of today and tomorrow: In order to make a difference for others and a lasting legacy for the future, tackle the difficult issues, question the status quo, and make changes that attack the very heart of the problem. Do this without fear of the criticism that will surely come. That is how great leaders make a name for themselves and that is how Adm. Elmo Zumwalt Jr. came to be counted among the very best of what Tom Brokaw called "The Greatest Generation."

Christopher M. Lehman served as a special assistant for national security affairs to President Reagan from 1983-1985.

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