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William Daniel Leahy
May 6, 1875(1875-05-06) – July 20, 1959 (aged 84)
William Leahy cropped.jpg
Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, circa 1945
Place of birth Hampton, Iowa
Place of death Bethesda, Maryland
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch Navy flag.gif United States Navy
Years of service 1897–1939, 1942–1949
Rank US-O11 insignia.svg Fleet Admiral
Commands held Chief of Staff to the CINC
Chief of Naval Operations
Battles/wars Spanish-American War
Boxer Rebellion
World War I
Greco-Turkish War
World War II
Awards Navy Cross
Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Sampson Medal

Fleet Admiral William Daniel Leahy (May 6, 1875 – July 20, 1959) was an American naval officer, Governor of Puerto Rico and Ambassador to France.

Leahy was appointed as Chief of Staff to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 and served in that position throughout World War II, and continued under President Harry S. Truman until finally retiring in 1949. Fleet Admiral Leahy was the first U.S. military officer ever to hold a five-star rank in the U.S. Armed Forces.


Early life

Leahy was born in Hampton, Iowa before moving to Ashland, Wisconsin. His education included the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, from which he graduated in 1897.

Naval service and retirement

Midshipman Leahy was assigned to Oregon, then in the Pacific. He was in that battleship when she made her famous dash around Cape Horn in the spring of 1898 to participate in the Battle of Santiago on July 3 during the Spanish-American War.

Having completed the two years of sea duty — then required by law — he was commissioned Ensign on July 1, 1899. At that time, he was on the Asiatic Station, where, during the Philippine-American War and the Boxer Rebellion in China, he served on Castine and Glacier and commanded the gunboat Mariveles. He returned to the United States in 1902, and for the next five years did duty onboard the Tacoma and Boston which were stationed in Panama during the early period of construction of the canal.

His first shore cruise was at the Naval Academy. Beginning in 1907, he served as instructor in the Department of Physics and Chemistry for two years. He went to sea in 1909 and served as navigator of the armored cruiser California in the Pacific Fleet. October 18, 1911, Lt. Cmdr. Leahy served as naval aide to President William Howard Taft, at the laying of the keel of USS Jupiter, at Mare Island. During the American Occupation of Nicaragua in 1912, he was Chief of Staff to the Commander Naval Forces there.

Late in 1912, he came ashore in Washington as Assistant Director of Gunnery Exercises and Engineering Competitions. In 1913, he was assigned to the Bureau of Navigation as a detail officer where he served until 1915. At that time, he took command of the dispatch gunboat Dolphin, and established a very close friendship with, the then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt who cruised with him on the ship. He was in that assignment in early 1917 in West Indian waters and had additional duty as Senior Aide on the Staff of Commander Squadron Three of the Patrol Force Atlantic Fleet.

He served for almost a year as the Executive Officer of Nevada and in April 1918 went to command Princess Matoika, formerly Princess Alice, transporting troops to France. It was during this tour that he was awarded the Navy Cross.

After a short cruise in that command, he came ashore in 1918 and served for three years as director of Gunnery Exercises and Engineering Competition in the Navy Department, and as senior member of the Fire Control Board.

In 1921, he went to sea in command of St. Louis, flagship of the Naval Detachment in Turkish waters during the war between Turkey and Greece. At the end of that war, he was given command of Mine Squadron One, and in 1922 further additional duty as commander, Control Force.

He returned to the U.S., and from 1923 to 1926, he served as Director of Officer Personnel in the Bureau of Navigation, and then had one year in command of the battleship New Mexico.

In 1927, he reached flag rank and became Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance. After almost four years, he went to sea in 1931 as Commander Destroyers Scouting Force.

His son, William H. Leahy, graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1927 and was engaged in pre-World War II naval intelligence operations.[1].

In 1933, he came ashore in Washington as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation for two years, when he went to sea as a vice admiral, and Commander Battleships Battle Force. In 1936, he hoisted his four-star flag in California and Commander in Chief Battle Force.

He was appointed Chief of Naval Operations, took the oath of office in January 1937 to serve until August 1939 when he was placed on the retired list. On that occasion, President Roosevelt said "Bill, if we have a war, you're going to be right back here helping me run it."

Before retiring as CNO, Leahy joined his wife Louise Harrington Leahy when she sponsored the Cimarron commissioning on March 20, 1939.

Government service and recall


Governor of Puerto Rico

Admiral Leahy confers with Puerto Rican Officials

From September 1939-November 1940, Leahy served as Governor of Puerto Rico. He 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[citation needed]. 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 that served Puerto Rico in the first half of the 20th century[citation needed].

Ambassador to France

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 surrender to 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".[2] He was recalled in May 1942.

President Roosevelt and Admiral Leahy meeting with King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, onboard the USS Quincy.

Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief

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.[citation needed] 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 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 US into believing that the operation would not take place while such an important officer was out of the capital.

Atomic bomb

Sitting (from left): Clement Attlee, Harry S. Truman, Joseph Stalin; behind: William Daniel Leahy, Ernest Bevin, James F. Byrnes and Vyacheslav Molotov.

Leahy was appointed the first US Fleet Admiral on December 15, 1944. After Vannevar Bush explained how the atomic bomb worked Leahy told president Harry S. Truman, "This is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives."[1] After the bomb was tested, Leahy was strongly opposed to its use in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In his memoir, he 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.[3]

After mediating between the United States Navy and the Government of Puerto Rico over the involuntary transfer of part of the islands of Vieques and Culebra to naval authorities, Leahy resigned in March 1949 and the following year published his war memoirs, I Was There. Fleet Admiral Leahy died at Bethesda Naval Hospital on July 20, 1959.

A bilingual book, "Las memorias de Leahy: los relatos del almirante William D. Leahy sobre su gobernación de Puerto Rico (1939-1940)" listing his diary entries from Puerto Rico in both Spanish and English, was published by the Luis Muñoz Marín Foundation in 2001.

Dates of rank

Ensign Lieutenant Junior Grade Lieutenant Lieutenant Commander Commander Captain
O-1 O-2 O-3 O-4 O-5 O-6
US Navy O1 insignia.svg US Navy O2 insignia.svg US Navy O3 insignia.svg US Navy O4 insignia.svg US Navy O5 insignia.svg US Navy O6 insignia.svg
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
O-7 O-8 O-9 O-10 O-11
US Navy O7 insignia.svg US Navy O8 insignia.svg US Navy O9 insignia.svg US Navy O10 insignia.svg US Navy O11 insignia.svg
Not Held October 14, 1927 July 13, 1935 January 2, 1937 December 15, 1944

Decorations and awards

Navy Cross ribbon.svg Navy Cross
Gold star
Gold star
Navy Distinguished Service Medal with two gold stars
Sampson Medal ribbon.JPG Sampson Medal
Spanish Campaign Medal ribbon.svg Spanish Campaign Medal
Philippine Campaign Medal ribbon.svg Philippine Campaign Medal
Nicaraguan Campaign ribbon 1912.svg Nicaraguan Campaign Medal (1912)
Mexican Service Medal ribbon.svg Mexican Service Medal
Dominican Campaign Medal ribbon.svg Dominican Campaign Medal
World War I Victory Medal ribbon.svg World War I Victory Medal with "Overseas" clasp
American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg American Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg World War II Victory Medal
National Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg National Defense Service Medal


  1. ^ Naval history section
  2. ^ Leahy, William I Was There Whittlesey House 1950 p. 8
  3. ^ Leahy, p. 441

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
William H. Standley
United States Chief of Naval Operations
Succeeded by
Harold R. Stark
Preceded by
Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief
Succeeded by
Omar Bradley
(Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)
Political offices
Preceded by
José E. Colón
Governor of Puerto Rico
Succeeded by
José Miguel Gallardo
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
William C. Bullitt
United States Ambassador to France
Succeeded by
Jefferson Caffery (in 1944)


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