William D. Leahy
|Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief|
July 20, 1942 – March 21, 1949
|President||Franklin D. Roosevelt|
Harry S. Truman
|Preceded by||Office established|
|Succeeded by||Omar Bradley as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff|
|United States Ambassador to France|
January 8, 1941 – May 1, 1942
|President||Franklin D. Roosevelt|
|Preceded by||William Christian Bullitt Jr.|
|Succeeded by||Jefferson Caffery|
|Governor of Puerto Rico|
September 11, 1939 – November 28, 1940
|President||Franklin D. Roosevelt|
|Preceded by||José E. Colom (acting)|
|Succeeded by||José Miguel Gallardo (acting)|
|Chief of Naval Operations|
January 2, 1937 – August 1, 1939
|President||Franklin D. Roosevelt|
|Preceded by||William Harrison Standley|
|Succeeded by||Harold Rainsford Stark|
William Daniel Leahy
May 6, 1875
Hampton, Iowa, US
|Died||July 20, 1959 (aged 84)|
Bethesda, Maryland, US
|Branch/service||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1893-1959|
|Commands||Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief|
Chief of Naval Operations
Battleships Battle Force
USS New Mexico
USS St. Louis
USS Princess Matoika
Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3)
William Daniel Leahy (May 6, 1875 – July 20, 1959) was an American naval officer who served as the senior-most United States military officer on active duty during World War II. He held multiple titles and was at the center of all major military decisions the United States made in World War II.
As Chief of Naval Operations from 1937 to 1939, he was the senior officer in the United States Navy, overseeing the preparations for war. After retiring from the Navy, he was appointed in 1939 by his close friend President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the governor of Puerto Rico. In his most controversial role, he served as the United States Ambassador to France from 1940 to 1942, but had limited success in keeping the Vichy government free of German control.
Leahy was recalled to active duty as the personal Chief of Staff to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 and served in that position throughout World War II. He chaired the Chiefs of Staff and was a major decision-maker during the war. He continued under President Harry S. Truman until finally retiring in 1949. From 1942 until his retirement in 1949, he was the highest-ranking active duty member of the U.S. military, reporting only to the President. He was the United States' first de facto Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (not his official title) and he also presided over the American delegation to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, when the American and British staffs worked together.
As fleet admiral, Leahy was the first U.S. naval officer ever to hold a five-star rank in the U.S. Armed Forces. USS Leahy (DLG-16) was named in his honor, as is Leahy Hall, the U.S. Naval Academy admissions office.
From an Irish-American family, Leahy was born in Hampton, Iowa, and moved with his parents to Ashland, Wisconsin, as a child. His father Michael Arthur Leahy (1838–1921) was a successful lawyer and Civil War veteran, and William had wanted to attend West Point and follow in his father's footsteps. However, after graduating high school in 1893 he attended the United States Naval Academy, graduating 15th in his class of 47 in 1897.
From September 1939 to November 1940, Leahy served as Governor of Puerto Rico after Roosevelt removed Blanton Winship over his role in the Ponce massacre. Leahy oversaw the development of military bases and stations across the island while serving as governor. He took an open stance of not intervening directly in local politics, attempted to understand and respect local customs, and initiated various major public works projects in the island.
While given the unflattering sobriquet Almirante Lija ("Admiral Sandpaper") by locals, based on his family name, he was regarded as one of the most lenient American governors of the several who served Puerto Rico in the first half of the 20th century.
Leahy was appointed Ambassador to France (later referred to as Vichy France for the city in which the capital was located) in 1941 following that country's capitulation to Nazi Germany. Leahy relates in his memoir I Was There that (his) "major task was to keep the French on our side in so far as possible". He was recalled in May 1942.
The United States supplied food and medical aid to the Vichy regime and to French North Africa, hoping in return to moderate Vichy collaboration with Germany and to avoid an open Vichy–German alliance in the Mediterranean. American aid proved too little to buy French support over North Africa.
After the United States entered World War II, President Roosevelt decided he needed a senior military officer as personal adviser and point of contact with his three service chiefs, Admiral Ernest King of the Navy, General George Marshall of the Army and General Henry Arnold of the Army Air Forces. The service chiefs resisted this move until Marshall suggested that only Leahy would be accepted in this post. On July 6, 1942, Leahy was appointed Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Army and Navy, the President of the United States. Leahy was also appointed to be the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which would serve as the governing body of the U.S. Armed Forces, with the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, the Chief of Naval Operations of the U.S. Navy, which also had jurisdiction over the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Forces also serving as members during World War II.
Leahy spent D-Day, June 6, 1944, in his home town of Hampton, Iowa. This well-publicized "sentimental journey" was part of the deception efforts surrounding the Allied invasion of Europe. The idea was to lull any German agents in Washington, D.C., or elsewhere in the United States into believing that the operation would not take place while such an important officer was out of the capital.
In July 1944, Leahy accompanied President Roosevelt to the Pacific Strategy Conference in Hawaii at which Roosevelt met Admiral Chester Nimitz (commander of the Pacific Ocean Areas) and General Douglas MacArthur (commander of the Southwest Pacific Area) to decide the course of the war in the Pacific theater.
Leahy was promoted to the rank of Fleet Admiral on December 15, 1944, the most senior of the seven men who received five-star rank in 1944.
Leahy accompanied President Roosevelt as his personal aide to the Yalta Conference in February 1945. At Yalta, Roosevelt met the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to decide how Europe was to be reorganized after the impending surrender of Germany. Five months later, he went with President Truman to the Potsdam Conference where Truman met with Stalin and the new British Prime Minister Clement Attlee to make decisions about the governance of occupied Germany. Leahy was disappointed in the outcome of these conferences because he recognized they would leave the Soviet Union as a dominant superpower in Continental Europe.
According to Truman's Memoirs: Year of Decisions, Leahy was present in 1945 when President Truman was given questionable advice by Vannevar Bush about the likely success of the atom bomb project:
The next day Jimmy Byrnes, who until shortly before had been Director of War Mobilization for President Roosevelt, came to see me, and even he told me few details though with great solemnity he said that we were perfecting an explosive great enough to destroy the whole world. It was later, when Vannevar Bush, head of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, came to the White House, that I was given a scientist's version of the atomic bomb. "That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done," he observed in his sturdy, salty manner. "The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives." Admiral Leahy was with me when Dr. Bush told me this astonishing fact.
Once the bomb was tested, Leahy became strongly opposed to its use in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In his own memoirs, Leahy wrote:
Once it had been tested, President Truman faced the decision as to whether to use it. He did not like the idea, but he was persuaded that it would shorten the war against Japan and save American lives. It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons ... My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make wars in that fashion, and that wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.
After mediating between the United States Navy and the Puerto Rican government over the involuntary transfer of part of the islands of Vieques and Culebra to naval authorities, Leahy again retired from the Navy in March 1949, though as an officer with five-star rank, he technically remained on active service. The following year, he published his war memoirs, I Was There.
There is a bilingual book called Las memorias de Leahy: los relatos del almirante William D. Leahy sobre su gobernación de Puerto Rico (1939–1940) that lists his diary entries from Puerto Rico in both Spanish and English, which was published by the Luis Muñoz Marín Foundation in 2001.
While serving on the USS Pensacola, which was based in San Francisco, Leahy met Louise Tennent Harrington, whom he married on 3 February 1904. During Leahy's tenure as Ambassador to France, his wife underwent a hysterectomy, which could not be delayed until their pending return to the United States. While recovering from the operation, Louise Leahy suffered an embolism and died with Leahy at her side on 21 April 1942. After a service at the St Thomas Episcopal Church, she was buried on 3 June 1942 in Arlington National Cemetery.
William and Louise had children, including a son, William Harrington Leahy, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1927. He engaged in pre-World War II naval intelligence. William H. Leahy retired from the U.S. Navy as a 2-star rear admiral in 1961.
Leahy died at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, July 20, 1959, at the age of eighty-four. At the time of his death, he was the oldest officer on active duty in the history of the U.S. Navy. He was given an Armed Forces military funeral on July 23, 1959. His body was viewed at the Bethlehem Chapel at the Washington National Cathedral from July 22 noon until noon the following day. The funeral service was held in the cathedral at 1400 on July 23 and the burial was in Arlington National Cemetery.
Honorary pallbearers were Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Admiral Thomas C. Hart, Admiral Charles P. Snyder, Admiral Louis E. Denfeld, Admiral Arthur W. Radford, Vice Admiral Edward L. Cochrane, and Rear Admiral Henry Williams, all retired from service. Active military servicemen who were honorary pallbearers were Admiral Jerauld Wright, Admiral Robert L. Dennison, Rear Admiral Joseph H. Wellings, and close friend, William D. Hassett.
|Ensign||Lieutenant Junior Grade||Lieutenant||Lieutenant Commander||Commander||Captain|
|July 1, 1899||July 1, 1902||December 31, 1903||September 15, 1909||August 29, 1916||July 1, 1918|
|Commodore||Rear Admiral||Vice Admiral||Admiral||Fleet Admiral|
|Not Held||October 14, 1927||July 13, 1935||January 2, 1937||December 15, 1944|
Admiral Leahy served on active duty for 63 years (1893–1939, 1942–1959) and had one of the longest careers in the history of the U.S. Navy.
|Navy Distinguished Service Medal
with two gold stars
|Sampson Medal||Spanish Campaign Medal|
|Philippine Campaign Medal||Nicaraguan Campaign Medal
|Mexican Service Medal|
|Dominican Campaign Medal||World War I Victory Medal
with "TRANSPORT" clasp
|American Campaign Medal|
|Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal||European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal||World War II Victory Medal|
|Navy Occupation Medal||National Defense Service Medal||Order of Aviz, Officer|
|Order of Abdon Calderón, 1st class||Order of the Bath, GCB (Military Division)||Navy Rifle Marksmanship Ribbon|
Note: Leahy was ineligible for the American Defense Service Medal, as he retired from the Navy in August 1939 and was recalled to active duty in May 1942. The medal was for active service from 8 September 1939 to 7 December 1941.