- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Caspar Weinberger, the stalwart defense secretary under President Reagan whose canny doctrine helped rebuild the nation’s military, died of pneumonia yesterday in Bangor, Maine, with his family by his side. He was 88.

President Bush called Mr. Weinberger “an American statesman and a dedicated public servant.”

“He wore the uniform in World War II, held elected office and served in the Cabinets of three presidents. As secretary of defense for President Reagan, he worked to strengthen our military and win the Cold War. In all his years, this good man made many contributions to our nation. America is grateful for Caspar Weinberger’s lifetime of service,” the president said.

Of his predecessor, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said: “His support for the men and women in uniform and his central role in helping to win the Cold War leave a lasting legacy. He left the United States armed forces stronger, our country safer and the world more free.”

Former first lady Nancy Reagan recalled her husband presenting Mr. Weinberger with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1987. “Ronnie said, ‘His legacy is a strong and free America — and for this, and for a lifetime of selfless service, a grateful nation thanks him.’ I cannot think of any higher praise.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recalled Mr. Weinberger’s counsel during her earliest days in Washington and called him “a wise man.”

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, observed, “Caspar Weinberger applied his considerable intellect to many of the nation’s most critical problems. America has lost a true patriot.”

A diligent Republican and conservative, Mr. Weinberger held a law degree from Harvard University but nevertheless joined the U.S. Army as a private in 1941. He was promoted to captain by the end of World War II while serving as an intelligence officer for Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The young officer never forgot the value of the experience.

“I think it gave me a whole different approach and understanding of the separate community that is the military,” Mr. Weinberger once said.

He was quick to return to his hometown of San Francisco. He won a seat in the California Assembly in 1952 and the chairmanship of the California Republican Party 10 years later. Mr. Reagan, who was governor at the time, appointed Mr. Weinberger state director of finance in 1968.

Within two years, the deft administrator had arrived in Washington to serve in a series of high-powered positions in the Nixon and Ford administrations, including as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, director of the Office of Management and Budget and secretary of health, education and welfare. He earned the moniker “Cap the Knife” for his finesse in keeping financial matters in check. In 1975, Mr. Weinberger became vice president and general counsel of the Bechtel Corp.

But public service still called. Mr. Weinberger joined the Reagan team as defense secretary in 1981, setting forth a vigorous state of military readiness that countered the Soviet threat through the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Air Force B-1B bomber and a 600-ship Navy. He resigned from the position seven years later. Mr. Weinberger was indicted later by an independent counsel along with five others on charges related to the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages investigation, but was pardoned by President George Bush in 1992.

After leaving the Pentagon, Mr. Weinberger became the chairman of Forbes Inc. and remained a thoughtful writer and analyst at Forbes magazine and other publications, including The Washington Times.

“I’m an optimist. I think we will stay the course in Iraq,” he wrote in a January Op-Ed column in Forbes. “We’ll be strong enough, we’ll have patience enough and we’ll have sense enough not to listen to those whose only advice is to pull out, give up and not even try.”

Mr. Weinberger is survived by his wife of 63 years, Jane; his son, Caspar Jr.; his daughter, Arlin; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending at Arlington National Cemetery.

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