Remarks by Senator Russell D. Feingold (Wisconsin)

In Honor of Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr.

United States Senate
106th Congress, 2nd Section, Washington D.C.
Monday, January 24, 2000

Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, I rise today to honor a titan in our nation's naval history. Early this year, during our recess, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. passed away. Admiral Zumwalt led a disciplined, dedicated, and directed life and career as a leader and, sometimes, as an iconoclast.

Mr. President, Admiral Zumwalt's meteoric rise through the ranks began at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he graduated in just three years, yet ranked seventh in his class. Following his graduation from the academy, Zumwalt began a lengthy career on a number of surface warships.

Among those ships was the U.S.S. Wisconsin, one of four Iowa-class battleships, the largest battleships ever built by the Navy. The four vessels, the Wisconsin, the Iowa, the New Jersey and the Missouri, served gallantly in every significant United States conflict from World War II to the Persian Gulf War. Future Admiral Zumwalt, the Wisconsin's navigator when the Korean War broke out, extolled her `versatility, maneuverability, strength, and power.' Unbeknownst to him, this would not be the last time that he would leave his indelible mark on the great state of Wisconsin.

Following his service in the war, Zumwalt shuttled between the Pentagon and the sea. He excelled in both arenas, but in entirely different ways.

In 1970, President Nixon appointed Zumwalt the youngest Chief of Naval Operations in our history. As CNO, Admiral Zumwalt tackled some of the most divisive and challenging issues not just to hit the Navy, but society at large. And we're still trying to conquer some of them.

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. He pushed so hard against the establishment that he almost lost his job. But thanks to the support of some like-minded reformers, including our esteemed colleague, the late John Chafee, who was then the Secretary of the Navy, Zumwalt prevailed and instituted a host of personnel reforms.

Mr. President, Admiral Zumwalt's efforts to promote equality addressed, in part, an issue that we are tackling anew. Many in Congress and in the Defense Department seem to think that recruitment and retention can be improved simply by increasing pay and benefits. They could learn much from Admiral Zumwalt, who understood the importance not only of boosting pay, but also of changing the service to reflect the wants and needs of service members.

We should follow Admiral Zumwalt's example and take a broader view when we look to improve the lives of our military personnel.

Mr. President, in his later years, Admiral Zumwalt dedicated himself to assisting Vietnam War era veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange. He played an instrumental role in getting Agent Orange-exposed veterans with cancer a service-connected illness designation. I had the honor of meeting with him to discuss his efforts to increase research funding for Agent Orange related illnesses and to explore options for international cooperation in that research.

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.