Friday, February 6, 2004

Adm. Thomas Hinman Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a 41-year U.S. Navy veteran, died Thursday of an undisclosed illness. He was 91.

A stalwart believer in traditional Navy codes and devotion to duty and country, Adm. Moorer remained true to his values during a sterling career punctuated by civil and cultural upheaval here and abroad.

The soft-spoken Alabama native was a strategic thinker with sound judgment who steadfastly called for the modernization of naval forces to counter a growing Soviet threat and the challenges of the Vietnam era. But Adm. Moorer never forgot the true strength of the American military.

“No matter how complex and how awesome you build the weapons of war, man is still the vital element of our defense. Men make decisions, men fight battles and men win wars,” he said.

“Admiral Thomas Moorer served with honor, courage and commitment,” said Secretary of the Navy Gordon England, who credited the admiral with guiding the armed forces through turbulent times.

Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace praised his “legacy” while chief of Naval Operations. Adm. Vern Clark recalled his “extraordinary courage” both in combat and “in instituting positive change” in the military.

Over his career, Adm. Moorer kept his Navy up to speed and up to modern standards. But he had an old-fashioned calling to military service, applying to the Naval Academy as an eager 15-year-old. He was admitted two years later and graduated in 1933.

Six feet tall, substantially built but not lacking in small-town charm, the newly commissioned ensign completed flight training and served on five cruisers and carriers throughout the 1930s, only to be transferred to Pearl Harbor in time for momentous history. He was one of the first pilots in the air after the surprise Japanese attack in 1941.

The following year, then-Lt. Moorer again proved his combat mettle: His twin-engine PBY was shot out of the sky off Australia by nine Japanese fighters, leaving the injured pilot to paddle his crew to safety in life rafts. They were rescued by a Philippine ship, only to be attacked again and sunk.

Again, Lt. Moorer got his crew lifeboats and navigated the tiny convoy to an uninhabited island. They were rescued after Australian pilots spotted the mammoth “SOS” the young officer had fashioned on the beach from debris. He received the Purple Heart, Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions.

Promoted to rear admiral in 1962, Adm. Moorer became commander of the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets within three years and chief of naval operations by 1967. Three years later, President Nixon made him chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He retired in 1974, leaving a formidable legacy.

Adm. Moore lent his wisdom on the challenges of a changing U.S. military for two decades as an op-ed writer and broadcast commentator, championing issues with “old guard” perspective. He was also a member of The Washington Times editorial advisory board, dating from the paper’s founding in 1982.

Adm. Moorer is survived by Carrie Ellen Foy, his wife of 69 years, and their four children.

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