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Home Town Matteawan, now part of Beacon
Last Address Arlington National Cemetery
Date of Passing May 22, 1949
Location of Interment Not Specified
Wall/Plot Coordinates Not Specified
Military Service Number Not Specified
Last Known Activity
James Vincent Forrestal
Lieutenant, USNRF/NRFC, WWI
Secretary of the Navy - Secretary of Defense awarded the
Distinguished Service Medal of the United States
by President Trumen, March 1949
James Forrestal (February 15, 1892 – May 22, 1949) was the last Cabinet-level United States Secretary of the Navy and the first United States Secretary of Defense.
When World War I broke out, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a seaman second class, United States Naval Reserve Force (USNRF) on 2 June 1917. The young sailor became enthused by naval aviation and he took flight training with British instructors from the Royal Flying Corps at Camp Borden–considered to be the birthplace of the Royal Canadian Air Force–and at Deseronto, both in Ontario, Canada. He was commissioned as an ensign, Naval Reserve Flying Corps (NRFC) at Boston, Massachusetts, on 17 November of that year, and he gained his wings of gold as Naval Aviator No. 154 [HTA–heavier-than-air] on 6 December 1917. Soon thereafter, Forrestal served in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C. Following the Armistice, Forrestal was discharged from the Navy with the rank of lieutenant, NRFC, on 30 December 1919.
Forrestal was a supporter of naval battle groups centered on aircraft carriers. In 1954, the Navy's first supercarrier was named the USS Forrestal in his honor, as is the headquarters of the United States Department of Energy. He is also the namesake of the Forrestal Lecture Series at the United States Naval Academy, which brings prominent military and civilian leaders to speak to the Brigade of Midshipmen, and of the James Forrestal Campus of Princeton University, in Plainsboro, New Jersey.
Forrestal observed a famously punishing work schedule in the last years of his life, and rumors had circulated in the press as to his health. President Truman's unexpected decision to dismiss him as Defense Secretary on March 31, 1949 is said to have strained him to the breaking point, causing him to suffer a nervous breakdown. He was hospitalized on April 2, 1949. On May 22, 1949 he was found dead on the roof of a covered walkway below the window of a kitchen across the hall from his 16th floor room at Bethesda Naval Hospital, a bathrobe sash knotted tightly around his neck. The press reported that he had committed suicide and the local coroner and Navy officials agreed. The circumstances of the death were reviewed, however, by a committee convened by Rear Admiral Morton D. Willcutts, the head of the National Naval Medical Center. The committee released only a brief list of conclusions several months after it had completed its work. The conclusions noted only that Forrestal "died following a fall" and that the fall caused his death. The board did not speculate as to what might have caused the fall.
The committee's full report was not released until 2004. In a review of the board's evidence and findings—solicited by the Navy and kept secret with the report until 2004—Chairman of the American Psychiatric Association Dr. Winfred Overholser concluded that Forrestal "came to his death by suicide while in a state of mental depression," but the report's own conclusions were seen to have been accurately reported 55 years earlier, that is simply that Forrestal died from the fall. Debate over the exact circumstances of Forrestal's unusual death continues today, with some critics citing the U.S. government's withholding of the official report and autopsy results as well as possible signs of struggle in evidence photos as indicating foul play.
On March 28 1949 President Harry S. Truman presented the Distinguished Service Medal of the United States to James V. Forrestal at the White House. He died to months later.
47th United States Secretary of the Navy
May 19, 1944 – September 17, 1947
President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Forrestal a special administrative assistant on June 22, 1940. Six weeks later, he nominated him for the newly established position, Undersecretary of the Navy. In his nearly four years as undersecretary, Forrestal proved highly effective at mobilizing domestic industrial production for the war effort. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Ernest J. King, wanted to control logistics and procurement, but Forrestal prevailed.
In September 1942, to get a grasp on the reports for material his office was receiving, he made a tour of naval operations in the Southwest Pacific and a stop a Pearl Harbor. Returning to Washington, D.C., he made his report to President Roosevelt, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and the cabinet. In response to Forrestal's elevated request that material be sent immediately to the Southwest Pacific area, Stimson (who was more concerned with supplying Operation Torch in North Africa), told Forrestal, "Jim, you're got a bad case of localitis." Forrestal shot back in a heated manner, "Mr. Secretary, if the marines on Guadalcanal were wiped out, the reaction of the country will give you a bad case of localitis in the seat of your pants".
He became Secretary of the Navy on May 19, 1944, after his immediate superior Secretary Frank Knox died from a heart attack. Forrestal led the Navy through the closing year of the war and the painful early years of demobilization that followed. As Secretary, Forrestal introduced a policy of racial integration in the Navy.
Forrestal traveled to combat zones to see naval forces in action as the Under Secretary of the Navy and as the Secretary of the Navy. He was in the South Pacific in 1942, present at the Battle of Kwajalein in 1944, and (as Secretary) witnessed the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.
1st United States Secretary of Defense
September 17, 1947 – March 28, 1949
In 1947, President Harry S. Truman appointed him the first United States Secretary of Defense. Forrestal continued to advocate for complete racial integration of the services, a policy eventually implemented in 1949.
Former Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal, Official Funeral
May 22, 1949
Last Updated: Aug 18, 2010
Former Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal Official Funeral 22-25 May 1949
On 22 May 1949 former Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal, the first man to hold that cabinet post, took his own life while undergoing psychiatric treatment at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. He was fifty-seven years old.
At the time of his death, Mrs. Forrestal and one of her two sons were in France to find a place where the former Secretary could recuperate from the depression that had overtaken him. Secretary of State Dean Acheson was also in France, having flown to Paris in President Truman's plane, the Independence, for a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers. The President's plane was put at the disposal of Mrs. Forrestal who, with her son, flew back to the United States, arriving at National Airport in Washington, D.C., early on 23 May. She was accompanied on the plane by Brigadier General Robert B. Landry, Air Force Aide to the President, and Colonel Louis Renfrow, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense. Among those on hand to meet her were the incumbent Secretary of Defense, Louis Johnson, Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan, former Secretary of the Army and Mrs. Kenneth C. Royall, former Under Secretary of the Army William R. Draper, her other son, and several personal friends.
Mr. Forrestal was to be given an Official Funeral, although the term was not formally used until later in 1949. Secretary of Defense Johnson designated Major General Hobart R. Gay, commander of the Military District of Washington, as his representative, responsible for planning the funeral ceremonies. This planning, accomplished on 23 and 24 May, was as simple as possible, in keeping with the wishes of the Forrestal family and those of Mr. Forrestal.
Services and burial were to take place in Arlington National Cemetery; Mr. Forrestal had served in the Navy during World War I and as Secretary of the Navy from March 1944 until he became Secretary of Defense in September 1947. The gravesite selected was in Section 30, not far from the grave of William Howard Taft.
Originally, only a simple graveside service was planned, but it quickly became apparent that even though attendance was to be limited to relatives, personal friends, and the official government family, the number of persons expected could not be accommodated at the gravesite. The final plan, therefore, called for a modest funeral service in the Memorial Amphitheater and a private burial service. The Right Reverend Wallace R. Conkling, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago and an intimate friend of the Forrestal family, was to officiate both in the amphitheater and at the grave.
In accordance with Mrs. Forrestal's wishes, there was to be no procession through the streets of Washington, only a cortege from the Memorial Gate of the cemetery to the amphitheater. Mr. Forrestal's body was to be borne by hearse from the hospital in Bethesda to the gate, where the casket was to be transferred to a caisson, and accompanied to the amphitheater by a military escort.
The US Navy Band, a battalion of midshipmen from the US Naval Academy, and a composite battalion made up of a company each from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force were to constitute the escort. Because of Mr. Forrestal's service and close association with the Navy, a naval escort commander, Rear Admiral John W. Roper of the Naval Bureau of Personnel, was appointed. Body bearers, who were to flank the caisson as the procession moved from Memorial Gate to the amphitheater, included two men each from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force.
Other military formations scheduled to participate in the ceremonies included the 3d Infantry battery, which was to fire a 19-gun salute during the procession through the cemetery and a second nineteen guns during the graveside service. The US Army Band was to play during the funeral service in the amphitheater, and the US Marine Band, at the request of the Forrestal family, was to play during the graveside service and to furnish two buglers.
Twenty-two men, all friends of Mr. Forrestal, were invited to serve as honorary pallbearers; they were not scheduled to march in the procession or to participate in the graveside service, but they were to be present at the service in the amphitheater:
Herbert C. Hoover, former President of the United States Artemus L. Gates, former Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air Fred M. Vinson, Chief Justice of the United States Cornelius V. Whitney, Under Secretary of Commerce and former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force General of the Army George C. Marshall former Secretary of State and former Chief of Staff, US Army General James A. Farley, former Postmaster General James F. Byrnes, former Secretary of State General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower John J. McCloy, former Assistant Secretary of War Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, former Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief Kenneth C. Royall, former Secretary of the Army Bernard M. Baruch Robert P. Patterson, former Secretary of War Clarence Dillon John L. Sullivan, Secretary of the Navy Nicholas S. Ludington Robert A. Lovett, former Under Secretary of State and former Assistant Secretary of War Thomas G. Corcoran Edward L. Shea Ferdinand Eberstadt Dean Mathey Paul V. Shields
At midmorning on 25 May, Rear Admiral John E. Gingrich, a long-time friend and aide to Mr. Forrestal, accompanied the former Secretary's casket in the hearse from the Naval Hospital to the Memorial Gate of the cemetery. The military escort already was in position at the gate when the hearse arrived about 1050. In one change of plans, made when it was discovered that the US Navy Band was on tour, the US Naval Academy Band was substituted to lead the procession. After the body bearers transferred the casket to the caisson, the procession moved into the cemetery in the following order of march: US Naval Academy Band; two companies of midshipmen; national and US Naval Academy colors; two companies of midshipmen; US Army company; US Marine Corps company; service colors; US Navy company; US Air Force company; caisson and body bearers. The Forrestal family, clergy, and honorary pallbearers did not accompany the cortege, but awaited the procession at the amphitheater. As the column proceeded at the slow cadence of funeral marches played by the band, the 3d Infantry saluting battery fired nineteen guns, spacing the rounds so that the last one was fired as the caisson reached the west entrance of the amphitheater at 1115.
All persons attending the service in the amphitheater had been seated before the procession arrived. The 2,500 guests, among whom were President and Mrs. Harry S. Truman and their daughter, Margaret, Vice President Alben W. Barkley, members of the cabinet, Congress, and Supreme Court, the highest military officials of all the armed forces, and representatives of the diplomatic corps, were seated by 1100. At that time members of the public were permitted to fill unoccupied seats. Outside the amphitheater some 4,000 additional onlookers stood behind ropes to watch the arrival of the procession.
After the body bearers lifted Mr. Forrestal's casket from the caisson, Bishop Conkling and Rear Admiral William N. Thomas, the Navy Chief of Chaplains, led the way into the amphitheater. As the Army Band played the hymn "Lead Kindly Light," the clergy and body bearers escorted Mr. Forrestal's casket around the colonnade to the apse. In the apse, which was shielded from the sun by a green canopy, waited the Forrestal family, President Truman, Vice President Barkley, and the honorary pallbearers.
Bishop Conkling conducted a twenty-minute service, reading from two psalms, the New Testament, and the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. After the benediction the Army Band played a hymn, "God of Our Fathers," while the body bearers took the casket out the west entrance and secured it to the caisson. As the procession formed and moved toward the gravesite for the private service, the Army Band played "Onward Christian Soldiers." The amphitheater audience remained inside until the cortege had departed and President Truman had left.
Besides the Forrestal family at the graveside were the former Secretary's aide, Admiral Gingrich, and Capt. George N. Raines, the naval hospital physician who had attended Mr. Forrestal. At the request of the family, the Marine Band played two of Mr. Forrestal's favorite selections during the rites: Handel's "Largo" and Rimsky-Korsakoff's "Hymn to the Sun." Bishop Conkling then read the Episcopal service, the 3d Infantry battery fired a 19-gun salute, and the Marine firing squad delivered three volleys. The ceremony was concluded by having one bugler blow taps and a second bugler sound the notes as an echo.