“To senior officers, Zumwalt is a traitor to his class."
Admiral Zumwalt is retiring from the Navy on June 28th and leaving, let's say, churning waters behind him. As Zumwalt completes his four-year tour as Chief of Naval Operations, the question is of course, to turn the recent NBC Special's title around, “Did this man really change the Navy?" Did he put enough of his people in the key positions in the Navy's high command so that the effects of his administration last beyond 1974?
"The people of his he did give power to are definitely in the minority," says a pro-Zumwalt Navy captain whose manner is sometimes passionate, sometimes jocular. He talks as he prunes yellow roses in his sunny Chula Vista garden. “Most senior people in theNavy — Chiefs, Commanders and above, and L.D.O.’s (limited duty officers—those who worked their way from enlisted ranks) loathe Zumwalt. To senior officers, he's a traitor to his class. He represents all that is bad to these people."
It is only in the Navy that a controversy as deep as this could appear so quiet on the surface. It's the kind of thing that rarely rises out of the depths of the officers' clubs or beyond the confines of backyards in Chula Vista. (When I was a navyman, for example, I never heard my commanding officer say an unkind word about Admiral Zumwalt. Finally, after one and a half years, the day I got out of the Navy, over a couple of farewell scotch and waters, he explained in the plainest of language why some of Zumwalt’s plans were worthless.)
One place that the controversy does surface is in the pages of this month's Saturday Evening Post. Hanson Baldwin, a respected writer in military affairs, dives into “The Troubled Waters of the Navy," armed with the 2500-page Hicks report, the report of the congressional subcommittee which investigated the Kitty Hawk and Constellation racial incidents of two years ago.
Mr. Baldwin quotes extensively from the Hicks Report which blames the trouble of the two aircraft carriers on “an environment of leniency, appeasement, and permissiveness” in the Navy. Getting closer to his target. Baldwin first attacks Zumwalt's "haircut regulation." claiming that it produced “the widest variety of hairstyles in the Navy's history" and that even the later explanatory Z-grams about haircuts did not help. “Pandora's Box had already been opened." And then Baldwin hits the ombudsman concept —drug exemption officers, minority affairs officers, hot lines, gripe sessions—as bypassing the chain of command.
But according to the captain in Chula Vista, “What Zumwalt really did do was to break one of the most important rules in the Navy — that with age comes intelligence. Zumwalt applauding youth in the Navy is like saying democracy is wrong in America. Now the old adage about age and judgement may have been true in the sailing navy, where one needed to get seasoned, or salty, but now it's debatable."
One of the interesting things about this controversy is that the split among the officer corps is very clear cut. "As a rule," points out the captain, inspecting the rose leaves for aphids, “those officers Commander and above are anti-Zumwalt. those Lieutenant Commander and below (except for L.D.O.'s and Chiefs) are pro-Zumwalt. Aviators like Zumwalt because they're loose; submariners like him because they’re intelligent; blackshoe types (those who sail ships, especially destroyers) despise him because they've always been the most hard-nosed and least resistant to any change.”
Lieutenant junior grade Jay Blatchford spends most of his time dealing with the press on an official level from the Public Affairs Office of the Eleventh Naval District. But since he "fell so strongly about the Zumwalt thing." we met on a Saturday afternoon in a downtown office building that used to be a warehouse. Ltjg. Blatchford looked casual in his civvies, a work shirt and blue jeans. "I was an ROTC midshipman at the University of Colorado when Zumwalt became C.N.O. My ROTC commanding officer was in the same class with Zumwalt at the Naval Academy, but my C.O. was a captain — he had four stripes the same time Zumwalt got his four stars. So it wasn't so strange that he got out of the Navy and used Zumwalt as his excuse.‘I don't want to play this Navy's game," he commented. But many, many people are using Zumwalt as just an excuse to get out of the Navy." Blatchford’s chief petty officer is getting out because "it's not the same Navy anymore." Even Blatchford himself is getting out because of Zumwalt, but he's getting out largely because Zumwalt is getting out (“Zumwalt made the Navy bearable for me".)
In Ltjg. Blatchford’s mind, it is the junior admirals and senior "stripers" who caused many of the problems with Zumwalt’s Z-grams. "Most of the commanding officers I knew of shit-canned (threw away) a lot of the Z-grams. On my first ship in the Med (Mediterranean), for example, my best friend was Communications Officer. The commanding officer had a standing order to send all Z-grams that came over the wire directly to him. And a lot of them never got promulgated on our ship. Of course, you couldn't keep the Z-grams a secret. Everyone would get into port and talk to the guys on other ships.
"Zumwalt did do some retreating, especially after receiving congressional criticism. He was very sensitive to congressional and While House criticism. Admiral Thompson, Chief of Naval Information, got him to retrench on his image, for example." Anyone who has been watching Zumwalt’s own hair length saw a definite shortening a little over a year ago.
Almost everybody I talked to, including Jay Blatchford and the unnamed captain in Chula Vista, and Hanson Baldwin, agree that the Navy is changed. That’s not saying too much, though: it would be difficult for a new C.N.O. to require World War II haircuts now. And Zumwalt was smart enough to “take care of his own"
Admiral Holloway, the new Chief of Naval Operations as of June 28, for example, is not a Zumwalt creature, but he is a youngish aviator and does have Zumwalt's approval. Admiral Worth Bagley, the Vice-C.N.O.to-be, is definitely a Zumwalt man and is touted to be a likely candidate for C.N.O. four years from now. Admiral Tidd, director of Naval Training (an important position especially in a peace-time Navy) and Admiral Baldwin from North Island, all but officially the new Chief of Naval Materiel, are also Zumwalt proteges. (The present Chief of Naval Materiel, Admiral Isaac Kidd, the most vocal of all anti-Zumwalt admirals, supposedly is to be banished to command in Europe.) Admiral Rauch, the most hated of all the Zumwalt-ites (he was the one who got an angry letter from a Congressman for the magazine photo showing him dapping with a black seaman), is still in charge of "Pers P,“ the command responsible for many personnel problems (drugs, race, etc.) in the Navy.
So it looks like the key positions held by these supporters of Zumwalt point to more than just lip service to the legacy.