William D. Leahy

Leahy headshot
Born in Hampton, Iowa, William Daniel Leahy (1875-1959) graduated from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland in 1897 and was a midshipman on the battleship Oregon which dashed from the Pacific coast around Cape Horn to join the US fleet off Cuba during the 1898 Spanish-American War. In 1899, Leahy was assigned as an ensign to the Asiatic Station, where he saw active service during the Philippine insurrection (1899-1901) and the Boxer Rebellion in China (1900). In World War I he commanded the navy transport Princess Matoika and formed a lasting friendship with assistant secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In 1921, Leahy commanded the cruiser
Chattanooga, then the cruiser St. Louis, flagship of the naval detachment in Turkish waters during the Greco-Turkish War, and the minelayer Shawmut while also commanding Mine Squadron One. Back in Washington, he headed Officer Personnel in the Bureau of Navigation (1923-1926) and then commanded the battleship New Mexico which won three biennial competitions in gunnery, engineering and battle efficiency in 1927-1928. Leahy’s ability brought steady advancement, to rear admiral (1930), vice admiral (1935) and admiral (1936). A talented organizer, he held three of the Navy’s highest administrative offices: Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance (1927-31), Chief of the Bureau of Navigation (1933-35), and Chief of Naval Operations (1937-39).

Leahy retired because of age in August 1939 but a few months later, President Roosevelt named him governor of Puerto Rico, a post he held until December 1940, when he was appointed ambassador to occupied France’s Vichy government. He was recalled in 1942 to fill the newly created position of Chief of Staff to President Roosevelt. As liaison between the president and the armed services, Leahy conferred with Roosevelt daily, presided over the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and participated in almost all major military and diplomatic decisions and Allied conferences during World War II. He was made Fleet Admiral in December 1944.

After Roosevelt’s death (April 1945), Leahy was asked by President Harry S. Truman to continue as his personal Chief of Staff. He retired from that position in 1949. The following year, he published his war memoirs,
I Was There.

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