William D. Leahy

US Navy admiral, ambassador (1875–1959) / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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William Daniel Leahy (/ˈlhiˌ ˈl.i/) (May 6, 1875 – July 20, 1959) was an American naval officer. The most senior United States military officer on active duty during World War II, he held several titles and exercised considerable influence over foreign and military policy. As a fleet admiral, he was the first flag officer ever to hold a five-star rank in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Quick facts: Fleet AdmiralWilliam D. Leahy, Chief of Staff...
William D. Leahy
Portrait in uniform, with aiguillette indicating an aide to the President of the United States
Leahy c. 1945
Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief
In office
July 20, 1942  March 21, 1949
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byOmar Bradley (as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)
United States Ambassador to France
In office
January 8, 1941  May 1, 1942
PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byWilliam Christian Bullitt Jr.
Succeeded byJefferson Caffery
Governor of Puerto Rico
In office
September 11, 1939  November 28, 1940
PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byBlanton Winship
Succeeded byRexford Tugwell
Chief of Naval Operations
In office
January 2, 1937  August 1, 1939
PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byWilliam Harrison Standley
Succeeded byHarold Rainsford Stark
Personal details
William Daniel Leahy

(1875-05-06)May 6, 1875
Hampton, Iowa, U.S.
DiedJuly 20, 1959(1959-07-20) (aged 84)
Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.
Resting placeArlington National Cemetery
RelationsWilliam Harrington Leahy (son)
Military service
Branch/serviceUnited States Navy
Years of service1893–1959
RankUS-O11_insignia.svg Fleet Admiral

An 1897 graduate of Annapolis, Leahy saw active service in the Spanish–American War, the Philippine–American War, the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Banana Wars in Central America, and World War I. He was the first member of his cadet class to reach flag rank, as the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance from 1927 to 1931. He subsequently served as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation from 1933 to 1936, and commanded the Battle Fleet from 1936 to 1937. As Chief of Naval Operations from 1937 to 1939, he was the senior officer in the United States Navy, overseeing the expansion of the fleet and preparations for war.

After retiring from the Navy, Leahy was appointed the governor of Puerto Rico in 1939 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In his most controversial role, he served as the Ambassador to France from 1940 to 1942. American policy was aimed at keeping the government of Vichy France free of German control, but Leahy had limited success. He came to believe that the United States was backing the wrong side, and asked to be recalled after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war.

Leahy was recalled to active duty as the Chief of Staff to the President in 1942 and served in that position for the rest of the war. He was the highest-ranking active-duty member of the military. As the de facto first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he oversaw all of the American armed forces. He also presided over the American delegation to the Combined Chiefs of Staff. He was a major decision-maker during the war and was second only to the President in authority and influence. Leahy was promoted to five-star rank in December 1944. He served Roosevelt's successor Harry S. Truman, helping shape postwar foreign policy until he retired in 1949. Although he did not oppose the use of the nuclear weapons during the war, in the post-war period he rejected war plans that placed too much emphasis on the first use of nuclear weapons.