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Edward's Untimely Death Series: Entry #11

jvf.jpgOur nation's first secretary of defense, James V. Forrestal, took office on September 17, 1947, and was sworn into office by President Harry Truman as the Cold War was beginning.

Born February 15, 1892 in Matteawan (now Beacon), NY, Forrestal attended Dartmouth, and later Princeton, but left prior to completing his degree. He served as a naval flier during World War I. In 1916, Forrestal joined an investment banking house as a bond salesman, and over the next 24 years he rose in the company becoming a partner, vice president, and then president in 1937.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Forrestal (who, following World War I had worked as a publicist for Democratic candidates), a special administrative assistant in 1940, and six weeks later appointed him undersecretary of the navy, where he headed naval procurement and production. Forrestal became secretary of the navy, following the death of his boss Frank Knox in 1944, guiding the department in the last year of the war, and after the Japanese surrender. Although he fought the unification of the Army and Navy departments, he helped shape the National Security Act of 1947, an act that weakened what would later be the department of defense (August 1949), which ironically he became head of.

During his period as secretary of defense, the Soviet Union blocked access to West Berlin, necessitating the Berlin Airlift, Communist governments took over China and Czechoslovakia, and war broke out between Arab and Israeli armies following the proclamation of the Israeli state in 1948. Internally, there were many problems with President Truman, over budgets and power, and Truman forced Forrestal to resign on March 28, 1949. Suffering physical and mental exhaustion, he entered Bethesda Naval Hospital, and leapt to his death from a 16th-floor window on May 22. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with military honors.


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