This article appeared in the December 1996 issue of Washingtonian magazine, pages 93-121. Copyright by Nick Kotz, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and a former national correspondent for the Washington Post and the Des Moines Register. His article in the Washingtonian, "Where Have All the Warriors Gone?", won a National Magazine Award for Public Service.
MIKE BOORDA WAS AN UNTRADITIONAL NAVY CHIEF--UP
THROUGH THE RANKS, BELOVED BY SAILORS, AS
IN THE CORRIDORS OF POWER AS HE WAS AT SEA. BUT HIS
NAVY WAS UNDER EXTRAORDINARY
PRESSURES--AND SO WAS HE. HERE'S THE STORY OF HIS LIFE AND HIS LAST 23 DAYS.
"I gave it all I had," he said. "I'm out of breath." Resplendent in his
Navy blues, six rows of ribbons arrayed
across his chest, Boorda
was elated. He was just back from
delivered perhaps the most important speech of his two-year tenure as CNO.
Boorda's Navy was under attack, seemingly from all
sides--and so was its chief.
morning he had fired back. Discarding his prepared speech,
he took on the issues plaguing a Navy already stretched thin
by post-Cold War downsizing; crashing F-14 fighter planes,
continuing troubles from the 1991 Tailhook fiasco, scandals
resulted from placing women aboard combat ships and aircraft.
As its stop officer, Mike Boorda was eager not only to right any
wrongs but also to set the record straight about his Navy. He would do
whatever it took. He had fought his way to the top in the tradition-bound US Navy,
breaking precedent after precedent: the first non-Academy graduate to head the
service, the first former enlisted man, the first Jew.
To his admirers, Mike Boorda was the ideal Navy officer: skilled
operator at sea, masterful advocate in Washington, leader devoted to
his sailor's welfare. Critics thought him too political, an ambitious
officer willing to sacrifice Navy tradition and values to 1990s trends.
To observers, Boorda seemed confident, even cocky. But close friends and family knew he felt besieged. Whenever a plane went down, whenever a sailor got into trouble, Boorda identified personally--too personally, his friends said.
And however untraditional he might be, Mike Boorda loved the Navy. At the Academy that day, he had broadcast his pride in it. Whatever problems the service faced, Boorda wanted his sailors to know they made up "the best damn Navy in the world."
For anyone who doubted the Navy's combat
readiness, Boorda reminded his audience how swiftly
the Navy had deployed carrier battle groups to meet challenges from the Taiwan
Straits to the
For any who thought the
Expanding on a favorite theme during the question-and-answer
period, Boorda preached a form of personal mentoring he called "one-on-one leadership." With one-on-one leadership, Boorda believed that "deck-plate" leaders--the junior officers
and chief petty officers closest to the sailors--could resolve personal problems before they got out of hand. It would be impossible, for
example, for a sailor to commit suicide, he said, and "not have the leader know that he or she was in distress.
"if we can institute a no-nonsense, one-on-one leadership
approach to this business, we will solve the majority of our problems," he said. "And we are going to do that."
The audience of midshipmen and Navy leaders gave him a
EVENING, APRIL 25, TINGEY HOUSE, WASHINGTON - At the historic 1804 residence of
the Chief of Naval Operations at the Washington Naval Yard, Mike Boorda and his wife Bettie, said good-night to guests at a
small dinner party they had hosted. Afterward, Boorda strolled through the garden with his friend Norman
Sisisky, a Democratic congressman from
Boorda had forged ties with many members of Congress, but he and Sisisky were
especially close. The congressman liked the way Boorda "cared about people"--how the admiral would drop by his office at the end of the day and greet the secretaries by name. When
Sisisky was treated for cancer, Boorda had called and thanked the Navy doctor who treated him.
both men started out as enlisted sailors, both made their own way up in their careers,
and both were Jewish--though Boorda rarely mentioned his enlisted roots.
Tonight, Boorda talked about his father, Herman, a devout Jew who lived out his last years at a Navy retirement home and had died just six months earlier. For decades, father and son exchanged letters once a week. Mike Boorda took his father's death hard.
Boorda confided to Sisisky that his thrifty father had left him some money. In 40 years on a Navy salary, the Boordas had not saved much. Now, when he retired in two years, Boorda said he would "be able to do some things for my family"--a close-knit group of four children and 11 grandchildren on whom the admiral lavished his affection.
APRIL 26, , TINGEY HOUSE -
As Mike Boorda hurried through breakfast before
Under the subhead MIDS CHEER FORMER NAVY
SECRETARY, the story from the Washington Times began: "Former Navy
Secretary James Webb--
In his speech, Webb had declared, "Some (Navy leaders) are guilty of the ultimate disloyalty. To save or advance their careers, they abandoned the very ideals of their profession in order to curry favor with politicians."
Though Webb mentioned no names, it was clear to insiders who he meant. In Webb's indictment, the chief of naval operations had failed to defend officers unfairly damaged
by the Tailhook scandal or by what Webb saw as runaway political correctness in the Navy's dealing with women. Webb had written earlier that Boorda was a "political admiral" who
didn't support "competent warriors."
A 1968 Academy graduate, Webb was a highly
decorated Marine who had shielded his men in
The outspoken ex-Marine served as Secretary of the Navy
under President Regan for less than a year
before resigning over differences with the administration's defense policies. Still representing the old traditions--including opposition
to women at the
When Boorda put down the "Early Bird," he felt as though someone had kicked the wind out of him. It wasn't Webb's words that bothered Boorda--that was just "Webb being Webb," the CNO told aides. What hurt was the midshipmen--the future Navy leaders who had stood and cheered him on Wednesday--would stand and applaud an attack on him the next day.
Whether on a Navy base, ship, or airplane, Mike Boorda liked to drive. The admiral proclaimed himself "the best ship handler" in the Navy, a boast that he often proved by taking the helm of battleships, cruisers, and small boats in rough water. Although he didn't hold an aviation rating, he learned to fly helicopters and planes--demonstrating to the white-scarf aviator crowd that he was one sailor who knew something about everyone's job.
armed with a hand-held microphone, he spent an hour with 500 sailors gathered
outside a hangar by the
On the flight back to Washington, Boorda reminisced with Marine Lieutenant General James L.
Jones about their time together two years earlier, when Boorda
served both as commander of US naval forces in Europe and as NATO's commander
in chief for Allied Forces in Southern Europe. With
General Jones as his chief of staff, Boorda directed
the NATO and
In General Jones's view, Mike Boorda was the complete military leader. Combining a low-key, agreeable personality with a knack for diplomacy. Boorda had persuaded a contentious group of NATO, UN, and US commands to work together. Bosnian Serb military commanders learned that he was a "warrior" as well after Boorda ordered US fighter jets to shoot down four Bosnian Serb planes that breached a NATO-imposed "no-fly" zone.
was an intuitive leader," says Jones, who won Silver and Bronze Star
SUNDAY, APRIL 28,
Carey had been dismissed in December 1995 as captain of the Curtis Wilbur after an investigative report accused him of physically and verbally abusing his crew. In one incident, Carey allegedly shoved the ship's helmsman into the helm as he dismissed him for not following orders. The report said Carey told a communications officer that he would "kill her" if she didn't get the message traffic correct. Junior officers responded that they were afraid to stand duty as officer of the deck on Carey's ship.
Carey believed he was yet another victim of the political correctness that had infected the Navy since women started being assigned to combat ships. His crew of 330 had included 20 women.
"I was sent to a tough assignment as a war fighter," he now says. "I didn't think the ship measured up." He says that the ship's radar and radio did not work, that the weapons officer lacked experience, and that sexual misconduct was rampant.
"I didn't sign up to go to sea with women," he says. Early in his command, he says, he saw two female sailors kissing. When he complained to his master chief petty officer, the chief had replied, "Captain, there is fucking going on this ship 24 hours a day, and there is nothing you can do about it."
Carey believed Admiral Boorda was part of the Navy's problem. The chief of naval operations had declared that two controversial policies were "going to work": the military's "don't ask, don't tell'' policy on homosexuals, and the introduction of women to combat ships. Like Webb, Carey thought the Navy's leaders should resist policies born of political correctness.
the Wilbur, Carey had built a distinguished career, serving as executive
officer of an Aegis cruiser that fired Tomahawk missiles into
Now Carey was drafting a letter echoing Webb's sentiments and calling for Boorda's resignation.
MONDAY APRIL 29, , PENTAGON - At his regular morning
conference, Boorda's staff briefed him on upcoming
events, including a sensitive meeting with
The toughest problem Boorda faced as CNO was preparing the Navy to meet an expanded mission with reduced numbers of ships. planes, and sailors. The Navy had shrunk from 592 ships and 590,000 people in the late 1980s to 359 ships and 412,000 people in 1996.
the Navy itself, Boorda refereed an intramural
struggle in which air, submarine, surface, and Marine units fought for larger
shares of the budget. As a surface-ship officer, Boorda felt added pressure. Traditionally,
aviators and submariners--and
"Mike tried to make sure that the carrier-air people respected him as an equal," says retired Vice Admiral Michael Kalleres, also a surface-ship officer. "We both learned to fly anything that had a back seat in it. As CNO,. he busted his butt to keep up the spirit of the aviators. And then the surface guys would complain, 'Why are you knowtowing to the aviators?'" Another dilemma was how to both meet the Navy's need for weapons today and develop new ones for the future. There wasn't enough money to do both.
This often pitted Boorda against Admiral William Owens, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Owens favored cost-saving "joint development," such as building a fighter plane that could serve the Navy, Marines, and Air Force. But Boorda wanted an improved Navy F-18, which he could get sooner and with less uncertainty. In another clash, Boorda had defeated Owens's effort to retire 18 Navy frigates.
Their disagreements never diminished their mutual respect. When both rose to key jobs as executive assistants to top admirals (Boorda served CNO James Watkins in the mid-1980s), they jokingly competed to become the "World's Best Executive Assistant." When Owens won his first star, a beaming Boorda appeared at the swearing-in ceremony with a cake inscribed WBEA.
meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they were an impressive
As the Monday operations meeting ended, Boorda expressed concern about several ships in the eastern
10 AM - His morning briefings over, Admiral Boorda boarded a helicopter on the Pentagon landing pad for a quick 100-mile flight to the Army War College at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to speak to the graduating class of majors and colonels.
The speech was a breeze for the CNO, but the questions unsettled him, he later told aides. Word of Webb's attack on the Navy's leaders had spread to this prestigious institution. The Army officers wanted to hear Boorda reply to Webb's charges about the failures of Navy leadership.
criticism of Boorda had begun after Tailhook, the infamous 1991 convention of naval aviators in
Snyder's defenders, including Webb, said Snyder had taken appropriate action when he learned of Coughlin's complaint. As Webb described the situation--in speeches, articles, and interviews--Boorda had dismissed Snyder solely on the basis of a letter written by Coughlin without giving Snyder a chance to explain his position.
Senior Navy officials--including then CNO Frank Kelso--say Webb had his facts wrong. "I made the judgment that I didn't want Jack Snyder in that job," says Kelso, "and he had a hearing with me personally." Then-Navy secretary Lawrence Garrett says he concurred in the decision. Even Snyder now retired, agrees that Boorda simply carried out orders.
Boorda thought it unseemly, and futile, to rehash Tailhook with officers at the
The Senate Armed Services Committee continued to block promotions of deserving naval aviators who had been at the event. And Tailhook was tied in with a bigger challenge--implementing the law requiring that all combat jobs be opened to women aboard ships and as fighter pilots. As this cultural shift took place, Navy women complained of discrimination and sexual harassment. Navy men contended that political correctness had created a dual system in which women were judged by less demanding standards. Mike Boorda was caught in the middle.
For three weeks, Charles, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, had been investigating whether Boorda was entitled to wear the Vs, known formally as Combat Distinguishing Devices. In the Navy and Marine Corps, the V device can be authorized as an addition to certain medals to signify participation in combat operations.
Charles was sharing the information he turned up with David Hackworth, a colorful, retired Army colonel who also had become a journalist and now lived in Whitefish, Montana. Both men believed that part of their role as journalists was to expose wrongdoing by generals and admirals, many of whom they held in low regard.
graduation from the
National Security News Service was one of a new breed of organizations in
had zeroed in on two medals Boorda received during
the Vietnam War: a Navy Achievement Medal he won as gunnery officer aboard the
destroyer USS John R. Craig in 1965 and a Navy Commendation Medal awarded six
years later, in 1971 when Boorda returned to
Charles--himself the recipient of the Navy
Commendation Medal with a combat V--had spent several days poring over the
ships' records at the
TUESDAY, APRIL 30, LATE MORNING, SAN DIEGO - Navy Commander John Carey phoned the Navy Times in Springfield, Virginia, and asked for Tobias Naegele, editor of the weekly newspaper read by naval officers and sailors around the world.
"Do you know who I am?" Carey asked the editor.
Naegele replied that he did. The previous day, his newspaper had published a story about the Navy's final action on Carey's removal as captain of the guided-missile destroyer Curtis Wilbur
"That's the second time you've run a story about me without you guys talking to me," protested Carey. "That's not fair."
paper had first reported in December 1995 that Carey was removed from command
after six weeks because of "oppressive and inappropriate behavior"
toward his crew. Carey now was serving out his Navy
complaining about his treatment by both the newspaper and the Navy, Carey
changed the subject. He told Naegele
that a lot of Navy people agreed with Jim Webb's
Naegele replied that the Navy Times planned to run a big story on the Webb speech and would consider printing Carey's letter.
had been alerted in advance to Webb's speech by Robert Caldwell, a
Before deciding whether to send the letter to the Navy Times, Carey says, he told Naegele he wanted "to sleep on it."
WEDNESDAY, MAY 1, , THE PENTAGON - At a private luncheon in his
office, Boorda told Admiral Charles Larson,
superintendent of the
But Boorda did not like what had been going on at the Academy. A month earlier, the Washington Post had published an article by James F. Barry, an assistant professor at the Academy, accusing its leaders of failing to instill appropriate values in the midshipmen and calling for an independent panel to examine the situation. Viewing the article as a personal attack, Larson removed Barry from his classroom. In the days that followed, a string of criminal incidents occurred involving midshipmen--a car-theft ring, sexual molestation of a child. sexual assault, burglary. Boorda believed that an outside review was warranted. And he still was fuming about the spectacle six days earlier-midshipmen cheering former Navy secretary Webb as he excoriated Boorda's leadership and praised Larson's.
Underlying Boorda's and Larson's disagreement was both
personal rivalry and a clash of Navy culture. Boorda was non-Academy, a "mustang:" a "tin-can" surface sailor. Larson, a tall, handsome exemplar of naval tradition, had been brigade commander
in the Academy's class of 1958, a White House Fellow, a
submariner, and an aviator. What the men had in common were extraordinary careers as naval officers.
In the spring of 1994, the competition for the job of CNO had come down to Boorda and Larson, who was then US commander in chief in the Pacific (CINCPAC).
Navy secretary John Dalton had favored his
fellow Academy alumnus Larson. Dalton's advisers
warned him that Boorda--with his many congressional
friends--would outstrip him in Washington influence. But
on the recommendations of Defense secretary William Perry and Joint Chiefs
chairman John Shalikashvili, President Clinton picked
Boorda. During Shalikashvili's tenure as supreme allied commander for
NATO, he relied on Boorda's military and political
judgments about how to deal with
After Boorda was
named CNO, Larson agreed to take on the challenge of running the
As their luncheon ended, the two admirals agreed that they would discuss the issue with Secretary Dalton the next day.
2:30 PM, THE PENTAGON - Admiral Boorda met with retired Admiral Jerome L. Johnson to discuss a new program dear to both men. After retiring as vice chief of naval operations, Johnson had become president of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, where he discovered that many young sailors had trouble managing their personal finances. Together, Johnson and Boorda had initiated a program to have financial specialists help sailors. The plan fit right in with Boorda's "one-on-one" leadership approach. Many commands, however, had failed to follow through, Johnson now told Boorda.
Give me some input," replied Boorda, "and I'll put it in my Flag Newsletter." This weekly letter, typed by Boorda
himself, was his informal way of communicating with the Navy's 220 admirals: he
had composed the previous week's letter in the middle of the night as he flew
But it was to his sailors that Boorda was most devoted. As chief of Navy personnel from 1988 to 1991, he was legendary for his willingness--some thought eagerness--to ignore regulations that he felt unfairly penalized a sailor in need of help.
The "Boorda rules" for addressing personnel issues, says retired Rear Admiral Frank Gallo, Boorda's deputy at the personnel bureau, were: "'Is it good for the sailor? Would we be breaking the law? Is it good for the Navy? Is it good for the fellow's shipmates?'" If you could answer those four questions the right way, you should do it."
"There are thousands of people trying to take things away from people," Boorda told Duane Bushey, then master chief petty officer of the Navy, "Our job is to give things to them."
When Boorda toured the fleet--making on-the-spot policy decisions and decreeing instant solutions for sailors' problems, a follow-up detail worked to fit the Boorda solution into the Navy's rigid structure.
"When Mike said he was going out to the fleet," recalls Admiral Stan Arthur, "the joke was, 'Don't let this guy go on another trip until we can get the actions taken care of from his last one.'"
Boorda was confident that he could fix any problem. When a drunken chief petty officer sexually assaulted a Navy enlisted woman on an airline flight in 1995, Boorda was appalled: Why hadn't others stopped the petty officer's drinking or rescued the woman'? He ordered a one-day "stand down" during which Navy units worldwide discussed leadership and proper behavior. Characteristically, Boorda got personally involved, pushing for quick prosecution of the petty officer and seeing that the woman received satisfactory duty.
Many traditionalists resented Boorda's impromptu handling of personnel matters, feeling that it undermined the chain of command and undercut the authority of ship captains and base commanders. Similarly, some thought Boorda's driving his own car eroded the prestige of admirals.
As their meeting wound down, Admirals Johnson and Boorda said they looked forward to seeing one another the following week at a meeting of the Association of Naval Aviation in Pensacola. Florida.
Boorda congratulated Johnson on his election to the Texas A&M Hall of Fame. Both men had come a long way from their roots.
Jeremy Michael Boorda was born November 26, 1939, in South Bend, Indiana, the second of Herman and Genrude Frank Boorda's three children. Sybil was four years older, Tim six years younger. Boorda's parents had met in a Jewish theatrical group's performance of Awake and Sing.
The Franks and the Boordas, immigrants from the Ukraine, were grocers and merchants. After their marriage, Herman and Trudy Boorda went into the ladies' ready-to-wear business.
A brilliant reciter of the Talmud and Shakespeare, Herman was easygoing, quick to make friends, accomplished at chess, and an excellent pool player. But after making top grades as a freshman at Notre Dame, he dropped out of college, afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia. Whenever the illness struck, he would lose his job. The family moved often, living in a dozen different cities.
Herman served in the Navy as a storekeeper second class during World War II. Trudy remembers five-year-old "Mickey," as he was known, "saluting every sailor on the base."
"Mommy, I'm going to be a sailor," he would say.
In South Bend after the war, Mickey learned Hebrew easily for his bar mitzvah. But he was much more interested in baseball, which Grandmother Frank had taught him to play.
After another of Herman's bouts of mental illness, the family moved to nearby Momence, Illinois, where Herman and Trudy bought and operated the Style Shop. Trudy, styled and coiffed in the latest fashion, sold the clothes; Herman handled advertising and kept the books.
Making friends wasn't easy in a town with only two Jewish families. A boyhood friend recalls that Mike endured taunts of "Jew boy" from a few children. But he soon fell in with a group that drove around in an old car, went to the movies, drank sodas at Jensen's Drug Store, and fished and swam in the Kankakee River. There Mike manned the helm of his first boat, a homemade runabout he bought from a friend--and soon after rammed into a bridge. Despite his small size--five feet, four inches and 130 pounds--Mike gamely competed on the varsity football team.
Although his teachers thought him bright, Boorda was an indifferent student who repeated tenth grade. He was a loner, a bit of a rebel, Momence contemporaries recall--traits he would retain even as he became a Washington insider.
In later lore, encouraged by Boorda himself, he was a beer-drinking kid from a broken home who ran away to join the Navy. In fact, though his home life was turbulent at times, with his father's breakdowns and periodic marital strife, Herman and Trudy stayed together 30 years before getting a divorce.
A less dramatic account of his teenage rebellion, according to his mother and his sister, Sybil, goes something like this: Given a choice by his parents--go back to high school or join the Navy--he chose the Navy.
AFTERNOON, SAN DIEGO - Commander John Carey placed his second call to Navy Times editor Tobias Naegele. Carey had decided to submit his letter seconding Webb's speech and calling for Boorda's resignation. There was one condition, "I want to run it as an anonymous letter," Carey said, "We live in a politically correct world."
"Done," said Naegele.
"Then cut off the fax number at the top of the letter," Carey instructed, hoping to keep his identity from others at the paper.
Carey had first offered the letter to his friend Robert Caldwell at the Union-Tribune, but Caldwell told him the newspaper did not run anonymous letters. Caldwell also advised Carey not to send his letter to the Navy Times--it would be "like throwing a brick through the window," he said. But Carey was not dissuaded--which was in character: His captain in the Gulf War had called him "confrontational;" his wife jokingly called him "Patton."
5 PM, THE PENTAGON - Admirals Boorda and Larson continued their disagreement at a late-afternoon meeting, where Navy secretary Dalton, undersecretary Richard Danzig, and Marine Corps commandant Charles Krulak listened as Boorda explained how an outside commission of educators could offer fresh perspectives on solving Academy problems. Dalton, Danzig, and Krulak endorsed the proposal, but Larson still resisted. Appointing a committee now
would send the wrong signal, he argued.
Now Boorda backed off a bit. Former CNOs such as Admiral Thomas Moorer had been urging him to stand up for Larson and not let "outsiders" tamper with the Academy, the ultimate symbol of Navy tradition. Boorda did not want another fight with the retired admirals. But he felt that the Academy was his school, too, even if some admirals viewed him as an outsider. Boorda now told Larson that the timing for a commission was negotiable.
SATURDAY, MAY 4, AFTERNOON, SPERRYVILLE, VIRGINIA - Wearing jeans and a windbreaker, Mike Boorda shouted encouragement as six of his grandchildren herded calves down a long cattle chute toward a veterinarian who was vaccinating the animals. Boorda was doing what he most enjoyed--having fun with his family. The green hills of Gray Armistead's Piedmont farm were a favorite gathering place.
"He was very close to his grandchildren," says Armistead, a retired Navy captain and longtime friend. "When they came out here, they would go swimming, fish in a cold stream, pick apples and peaches. Everything they did, he did with them."
Boorda's idea of entertainment was to gather up Bettie and as many of their children and grandchildren as were available. At the Armisteads' that afternoon, Mike and Bettie were joined by son Ed and daughter-in-law Brenda, both Navy officers, their five towheaded boys, and one of daughter Anna Dowling's three children. Lieutenant Commander Robert Boorda, his wife, Dina, and their two children were in London, where Bob was a lawyer assigned to US Naval Headquarters.
Boorda was proud of his Navy progeny: his two Navy sons, his daughter-in-law Brenda--who had been a Navy candidate for the astronaut program--and Anna's husband, Bob Dowling, who works for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Boorda liked playing games--touch football, basketball, golf-with the kids. After losing a basketball shootout with a grandson, he joked: "Hey, we're not done--we've got to stay here till we get the right answer!" At Tingey House, Boorda engaged children and grandchildren in cribbage and computer football. At dinner, he would open the "bad pun contest" with such groaners as "This sure is a corny dinner."
"We always did things as a family," says his daughter, Anna. "And he was the kid."
Two weekends earlier, the Boordas had picnicked at Burke Lake Park in Fairfax County. As rain came down, the admiral stood cooking hamburgers, an umbrella held over his head.
"Dad, shouldn't we call it?" asked Ed.
"Oh. no!" replied Boorda. "The burgers are just getting done."
Boorda had returned two days earlier from a whirlwind tour of the Russian navy. Ed thought his father looked tired but was determined to entertain his grandchildren.
Although Boorda spent many evenings at official functions. Free time was focused on his family. Among some of the Naval Academy crowd and their wives, an attitude of superiority lingered--not entirely welcoming to "mustangs" like Boorda who had come up through the ranks. Bettie Boorda was not a "Washington wife" who took pleasure in socializing. Her life as a Navy spouse, caring for four children with a husband off at sea, had not been easy.
The Boordas had another reason to stay close to home. Their eldest son, David, was severely handicapped. Caring for David was a central mission in Mike Boorda's life.
Fresh out of boot camp in 1956, Mike Boorda was sent to a Navy base in Norman, Oklahoma, where he met Bettie Moran, a freshman at the University of Oklahoma. The 17-year-olds fell in love and married.
"Mom, the doctors say Bettie has given birth to a deformed baby," Trudy remembers her son saying over the phone in December 1957. Their newborn son, David, was diagnosed with Goltz syndrome, which entailed multiple internal and external impairments, including disfigurement and blindness. The doctors advised that the infant be placed in an institution.
Rejecting the doctors' judgment. Bettie and Mike Boorda
vowed to raise David at home. Over the next four years, the child underwent 17 operations. Meanwhile, Edward, Robert, and Anna were born in quick succession. In a way, David's medical needs and the growth of the Boorda family sealed Mike's decision to stay in the Navy. He would give his service for the care the Navy provided to his family.
"To understand Mike Boorda's core values--courage, commitment, and responsibility--you have to appreciate his dedication to David and to his family," says Bernard Rostker, an assistant secretary of the Navy and longtime Boorda friend.
With his father's constant encouragement and help, David
would overcome many obstacles in the years ahead--he would graduate from the Virginia School for the Deaf and for the Blind, attend Northern Virginia Community College, hold a job in a sound studio. When friends heard David's rich baritone voice and
discovered his intelligence, they were reminded of his father--just as Mike Boorda reminded old family friends of his father, Herman.
SUNDAY, MAY 5, SAN DIEGO - The Insight section of the
Union-Tribune featured a page-one excerpt from Jim Webb's Naval Academy speech titled "Missing Leaders." Illustrating the article was a large color portrait of a Navy admiral--bemedaled, in dress whites, headless, and sinking into the sea. The portrait was of Jeremy Michael Boorda.
"I figured it would sail right over most folks' heads, but the Navy folks would get it," says editor Bob Caldwell. "I never wanted to hurt Mike Boorda personally."
Caldwell, along with Webb and others, had sharply criticized Boorda in 1994 when the new CNO had withdrawn the nomination of Admiral Stanley Arthur to succeed Admiral Larson as commander in chief of US forces in the Pacific--the powerful CINCPAC job. Now Webb had raised the issue again. Boorda's handling of Arthur's nomination had become the test by which critics measured his leadership, judgment, and character.
Big, easygoing Stan Arthur was perhaps the best liked and
most admired officer in the Navy. He had won 11 Distinguished Flying Crosses while flying 513 combat missions in Vietnam. He had commanded US naval forces in the Persian Gulf War.
When Boorda became CNO in April 1994, Arthur already had been nominated for the CINCPAC job. Trouble for the nomination came from two sources--one highly publicized, the other behind the scenes.
Senator David Durenberger, Republican of Minnesota, had put a senatorial "hold" on the Arthur nomination to express his dissatisfaction with the Navy's handling of his inquiry concerning the dismissal from flight training of Navy Lieutenant Rebecca Hansen, a Minnesota constituent. Hansen charged that she was washed out of flight school in retaliation for her complaint about sexual harassment by one of her instructors. The Navy denied her charges, with the final review coming from Admiral Arthur, then vice chief of naval operations. Durenberger complained that the Navy didn't answer his questions--his staff had prepared hundreds.
Arthur believed his nomination also was being stymied by Arnold Punaro, then staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a brigadier general in the Marine Corps Reserves. Arthur says that when Boorda told him Punaro had said he had a weight problem, he became infuriated. Yes, he was heavy, but he had passed his physical, and at age 59 he wasn't being picked to lead a fighter squadron. Arthur thought his problems with Punaro
stemmed from a Marines-versus-Navy rivalry. At a military conference, Arthur says, he took strong exception to a Punaro claim that "the Navy had never done anything for the Marine Corps." Punaro denies ever having raised a question about Arthur's weight or having clashed with him about the Marine Corps.
Arthur told Boorda he would withdraw if Pentagon pressure to fill the job quickly became so great that the Navy stood to lose the CINCPAC job to the Air Force.
When Boorda finally told Arthur that Joint Chiefs chairman John Shalikashvili wanted the CINC job filled promptly--trouble was brewing with North Korea--Arthur agreed to step aside. Boorda told Arthur he had assurances the Navy would keep the job.
But there was a misunderstanding about whether Arthur would withdraw his own name. He wouldn't, so Boorda made the announcement--a step that technically only the President or Secretary of Defense has authority to take.
In Jim Webb's view, Boorda had shown disloyalty to a deserving subordinate, usurped authority, and demonstrated poor judgment by offering Lieutenant Rebecca Hansen a job after the Secretary of the Navy had signed her dismissal papers. Webb believed that Boorda was "politically expedient": Caldwell called him a"political chameleon." Had he been in Boorda's position, Webb suggested at Annapolis, he would have resigned rather than let Admiral Arthur down.
Arthur has a different view. "Mike and I never spent a bad day together," he says. And both Shalikashvili and Defense secretary William Perry confirm that it was their decision to get another candidate for CINCPAC who could be confirmed quickly.
In the end, Boorda deeply regretted not having fought harder for Stan Arthur. It was the biggest mistake of his career, Boorda told fellow admirals. The episode so haunted him that he carried in his briefcase the letter Arthur had written him saying how much he wanted the CINCPAC job but offering to withdraw if necessary.
Boorda's aides and admirers felt that he had done the right thing for the Navy: Having barely settled into his job as CNO, Boorda had responded to conflicting pressures as best he could and tried to move the Navy on to other issues.
Still, the Arthur nomination bothered Boorda. It wasn't just the criticism or assuaging Arthur's feelings--Arthur told him that it was okay: he should stop apologizing.
"It was his own concept of "one-on-one" leadership," says Ed Boorda. "He was Admiral Arthur's leader--and he had let him down."
Mike Boorda had found his "one-on-one" mentor in Chief Petty Officer George Everding, who spotted promise in the 20-year-old Personnel Man First Class when both served in San Diego in 1960 and '61. What caught Everding's attention was the way Boorda helped other sailors professionally and with their personal problems.
"Consistently display an aggressive and intelligent initiative," Everding wrote on Boorda's evaluation report in May 1961. "He has the tact, understanding, sound reasoning, and amiable disposition to make him a good shipmate, a promoter of good morals, and a leader of men."
Everding persuaded Boorda to apply for officer-candidate school. When his application was rejected, the Everdings and Bettie made him apply again. In 1962, high-school dropout Mike Boorda, at age 22, became an ensign in the Navy.
After his commissioning. Boorda rose steadily, alternating between sea duty and Washington, assuming ever-greater responsibility, making admiral in 25 years. "Quick learner," "great teacher," "innovative problem-solver," "perfectionist," "inspirational leader, cares for his officers and seamen"--his evaluations were filled with such phrases.
As a 25-year-old lieutenant, he served his first tour in Vietnam as weapons officer on the John R. Craig. His first ship command when he was 27, was the USS Parrot; it was judged the best minesweeper in its squadron.
Next he spent three years in Newport, Rhode Island, where he taught gunnery at the destroyer school, attended the Naval War College, took night classes to earn his college degree--at age 32--from the University of Rhode Island, and coached the Little League and Pop Warner teams on which sons Eddie and Bobby performed.
"He knew his stuff, was very animated, a role model," says retired Navy Captain Fred Moosally, who learned from Boorda the art of five-inch guns. "They probably brought him back to teach because he was so successful in Vietnam."
Boorda's credo at home was the same as in the Navy: Everyone was responsible for everyone else. "You kids will clean the house and you will figure out who will do what,'' he told his children. David was expected to help, and did.
He had a real strong belief in the shared effort of people," says Ed Boorda. "If you believed in people, you could accomplish anything as a group."
In Newport Mike Boorda formed a lifelong friendship with Michael Kalleres. They studied together in the Boorda basement, carpooled to work, competed with and helped each other,
"Mike was cocky, upbeat, kind of a wise guy," says Kalleres. who retired recently as a vice admiral. "But cocky in a nice kind of way. You can be proud of what you do when you do it well."
When Boorda commanded the destroyer Farragut and Kalleres the Dewey in the mid-1970s, they sharpened their crews' skills with hotshot competitions. They raced to see who could refuel faster at sea. They practiced resupplying by helicopter or highline with a dessert contest--seeing which ship could deliver the best ice-cream sundae to the other without spilling any.
A 1970s mishap on the Farragut
could have ended Commander Boorda's Navy career. With a German pilot at the helm in a river near the
"His report was absolutely straightforward," recalls Kidd. "There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it--no attempt to obfuscate and make a rosy picture. It was just what you hoped a person of unquestioned integrity would write."
Back home in Norfolk Boorda used the grounding as an object lesson for sons Eddie and Bobby. "His message was to take responsibility," says Ed. "Here it all is. Don't hide anything. It is the test of a person."
During his Washington tours, Boorda not only impressed his Navy bosses but also made friends in Congress and in administrations both Democratic and Republican. He honed his political skills as an advocate for the Navy.
Whether at sea or in
When Boorda served as acting assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower in early 1981, Navy secretary John Lehman offered to make him the Reagan administration's appointee to the job, but Boorda yearned to get back to sea.
He went to the
support to the US Marines on shore, conducted an operation evacuating
PLO combatants from
As the destroyers patrolled the Lebanese coast, Boorda was in top form-raising morale, sharpening skills, and showing off.
"Commodore coming aboard to taste the ice cream," Boorda announced one day just before he swung by highline from his command ship Thorn to the Jonas Ingram. After tasting the ice cream, he went forward to the fo'c's'le, put on a baseball glove, and played catch with an officer on the fo'c'stle of the Thorn. "We had to travel at exactly the same speed and close enough together so they could throw that softball back and forth," the navigator of the Ingram recalls of the impromptu training exercise.
TUESDAY, MAY 7, , THE PENTAGON - Captain John Carman, public-affairs officer in the CNO's office, took a telephone call from Tobias Naegele, editor of the Navy Times. The following Monday, Naegele said, the Navy Times planned to publish a letter to the editor highly critical of Admiral Boorda.
Naegele described the letter and read part of it to Carman. He said others in the Navy shared the letter writer's criticism of Boorda's leadership. Carman disagreed and urged Naegele not to run the letter.
"If you don't agree, you can respond to it," Naegele said. "I don't know why you called," said Carman. "You're going to run it anyway."
Naegele had made the call after the editor and several reporters had discussed how to handle the Carey letter. Ernest Blazar, who had written the second story about Carey's firing from the Curtis Wilbur, suggested that the letter be accompanied by an editor's note indicating that the anonymous writer had recently been disciplined or relieved of command.
Naegele rejected Blazar's suggestion but did follow one from reporter John Burlage, a retired Navy command master chief, who suggested that Naegele give Boorda's public-affairs officer a "heads up" that the attack was coming.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 8, NOON, CAPITOL HILL - After a morning spent scrutinizing the Navy's proposed five-year budget plan. Boorda spoke at a luncheon honoring Representative G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery. The Mississippi congressman, retiring after a 30-year career of championing the military, praised Boorda as "the most effective and popular" of the military officers who appeared before Congress.
Boorda had saved the Meridian Naval Air Station, which the Defense Department had slated for closing, in Montgomery's hometown. Testifying before the Base Closing Commission, Boorda said that in a wartime emergency Meridian would be needed to train carrier pilots. On Boorda's advice, the commission overruled his Pentagon bosses.
Navy secretary Dalton, who had testified that the base should be closed, was furious. He thought Boorda had gone out of his way to embarrass him and please Montgomery. To Dalton, this was Mike Boorda fulfilling his reputation for freelancing on Capitol Hill--strengthening his own alliances at the expense of his civilian superiors.
Joining Boorda at the luncheon was retired Navy Captain Michael Matton, vice president for legislative affairs at McDonnell Douglas. They had worked closely to win funding for the Navy's new F-18s, Boorda's top legislative priority.
Their friendship had begun a decade earlier during "Operation Goldenrod," a secret 1987 mission in which the FBI, the CIA, and the Navy collaborated to capture Fawaz Younis, a member of the Amal terrorist group who had taken part in the hijacking or bombing of three passenger planes. Lured out into the Mediterranean on a yacht, Younis was captured by FBI agents and taken to the aircraft carrier Saratoga, Boorda's flagship as commander of Cruiser Destroyer Group 8.
According to Boorda's plan, Younis was strapped on a stretcher and loaded into the fuselage of a twin-engine Lockheed Viking S-3, which flew him 4,000 miles nonstop to Andrews Air Force Base. The record-breaking flight involved reconfiguring the airplane, preparing the pilot to fly without a crew, aerial refueling, and a complex route to stay in international airspace.
"He lived and breathed that operation," recalls Matton, thenoperations officer for the Sixth Fleet. "Whenever Boorda got involved in an issue, he took ownership of it and guaranteed its success. He had tremendous confidence in his own operational skill."
As the luncheon ended, Boorda slapped Matton on the back and embraced him. "We're going to take care of those F-l8s for you," Boorda said.
WHITEFISH, MONTANA - David Hackworth, the retired Army-colonel-turned-journalist, telephoned Lieutenant Conrad Chun, a Navy public-affairs officer in Washington. In telephone calls and faxes to the Pentagon, Hackworth had requested information about Vice Admiral Donald Pilling, commander of the US Sixth Fleet. Hackworth had a tip that Pilling had spent government money lavishly in furnishing his official residence in Southern Italy.
Hackworth asked about "the villa overlooking the Bay of Naples." Chun was puzzled: Pilling's Villa Claudia in Gaeta had no view of the sea. It was Villa Nike, residence for the NATO southern commander, that overlooked the Bay of Naples. Chun passed word of Hackworth's query to Rear Admiral Kendell Pease, the chief of Navy information.
supplying information to reporters, Pease and his staff also tried to stay a
step ahead of them, operating their own intelligence network.
Warning signals had sounded a month earlier when Pease received a call
from Brigadier General Ronald Sconyers, chief of
public affairs for the Air Force. While visiting his
Pentagon office, Sconyers reponed,
Hackworth took great pride in saying that he was working on a story that would
bring a Navy admiral down, and the Navy to its
The Navy public-affairs network had concluded that Hackworth's target was Donald Pilling. Now Pease reponed to Admiral Boorda that Hackworth was asking about "the villa overlooking the Bay of Naples."
"Are they looking at me?" Boorda asked.
Boorda and his family had lived in Villa Nike from 1999 to 1994, two of the most satisfying years of his career. With Bettie and Mike were son David, daughter Anna--divorced at the time--and her daughter, Sara, then age 6.
Because of his physical disabilities,. David was the Boordas' legal dependent, and Anna had served as David's caretaker. Boorda wondered now whether Hackworth was questioning this arrangement or something else about their stay at Villa Nike.
In Italy Boorda had commanded the NATO and American forces that were trying to dampen the tinderbox in Bosnia. In the beautiful villa overlooking the Bay of Naples, the Boordas had lived amid continuous official entertaining but found time to do things together as well.
Boorda even played matchmaker, inviting Bob Dowling, the assistant special agent in charge of his Navy security detail, to serve as Anna's escort for a formal dinner at the villa. Boorda was fond of Dowling, the son of a heroic Army helicopter pilot killed in the Vietnam war. Romance followed, and in July 1993. the two were married at Villa Nike.
President Clinton called just before the wedding reception, authorizing Boorda to provide American fighter-aircraft support to threatened UN peacekeeping forces in Bosnia. The go-ahead to "teach the Serbs a lesson," Boorda told Anna, gave them yet another reason to celebrate. During the reception, Anna recalls, her father wrote down military plans on little yellow pads.
It also had been a special time for Mike Boorda and his son David. At night, they swam together in the villa pool. And David had a unique opportunity to help his father.
The United States and its NATO allies were dropping food packets to Bosnian Muslims in towns surrounded by Bosnian Serbs. It was a tricky operation, conducted at night over mountainous terrain with the constant threat that combatants might shoot down the NATO planes. Boorda checked on every detail. With a military radio installed in Villa Nike, Mike and David Boorda would stay up into the early morning hours monitoring the Allied aircraft until they were safely back over the Adriatic.
While Boorda tried to get a few hours sleep, David would monitor the radio and tell him when the Allied planes were out of harm's way. Boorda's call sign was "Sandman" and his NATO officers gave David the call sign "Radioman."
"I don't think I've ever seen Mike happier than when David was happy in Italy," says former CNO Frank Kelso. "What he was proud of more than anything else was that they could share this together."
The most important meeting of Boorda's career was with President Clinton in Brussels on January 8, 1994. The Bosnian crisis had reached a turning point, and Clinton gathered his military commanders in Europe to assess the situation.
Boorda laid out the options and action plans he recommended that NATO and the US follow. President Clinton listened carefully and nodded understanding and assent.
Within a month, Boorda had implemented two of the plans he had laid out for the President. He ordered US planes to shoot down four Bosnian Serb fighter planes that violated the NATO-imposed "no-fly" zone over Bosnia. Then, after a Bosnian Serb artillery shell killed dozens of civilians in a Sarajevo marketplace in February, he ordered the combatants to remove their heavy weapons from the area around Sarajevo. As the deadline drew near, Boorda climbed into the rear seat of an F-14 and swooped over Sarajevo to see for himself whether the Serbs were complying with his orders.
When Boorda saw Bosnian Muslims fleeing a village as Serb armored vehicles destroyed their homes, he ordered Commander John "Boomer" Stufflebeem to drop to 500 feet and crack the sound barrier over the nearby Bosnian Serb capital of Pale. "When we get home," he told Stufflebeem, "I want to call [Bosnian Serb leader] Radovan Karadzic and tell him that was me in that plane, and I had personally seen what he had done to the people in that village."
A week earlier he had flown into Sarajevo accompanied by his security chief, Al Chester, and a handful of Marines. To Chester's dismay, Boorda leaped onto the tarmac wearing a baseball hat and windbreaker rather than the hardhat and flak jacket Chester had given him. Before his official visit with UN officials ended, Boorda slipped away to talk to Muslim and Serb combatants, who warily eyed his arrival at their trenches and barricaded buildings. Explaining his presence to the surprised Bosnians, Boorda said, "It's the American way. We talk to each other."
Two months after their meeting in Brussels, President Clinton called Boorda in Naples and asked him to be chief of naval operations.
4:15 PM, THE PENTAGON - Boorda poured out his frustrations about Tailhook to retired Admiral Mike Kalleres, his old friend, who tried to serve as Boorda's sounding board on tough issues.
The Senate Armed Services Committee refused to let the 1991 Tailhook convention fade away, Boorda complained. For a second time, the committee had turned back the promotion of Commander Robert Stumpf, an outstanding aviator whose cause was being championed by the entire naval aviation community.
"You've got to remember, Mike--God never promised that nothing bad would ever happen in the world," said Kalleres.
Commander Stumpf's sins were flying to the Tailhook convention in an F-18 fighter plane and failing to stop a private party at which some of his men were watching a striptease. In his defense, Stumpf said he left the party before a lewd sex act was performed by an aviator and a stripper, and he flew the F-18 because Navy transport aviation could not guarantee that he would be back in Florida for an assignment the following Monday morning.
"I think we have to look at more than a few moments of a person's career," Boorda had told the Armed Services Committee. Stumpf's career included three Distinguished Flying Crosses for his 22 combat missions in the Persian Gulf War. He had gone to Tailhook on official Navy orders to accept the award for the best attack squadron in the Navy.
Boorda was in a bind. After the failure of the Arthur nomination, he had vowed to fight for every naval officer whose promotion was unfairly challenged. Admiral Moorer, a former CNO, says Boorda promised him and the other Old Bulls from the Association of Naval Aviation that he would "lay his admiral's stars on the table" to make Stumpf a captain.
Even so, a cultural chasm separated Boorda and the Old Bulls. Boorda had pledged to implement presidential and congressional mandates to integrate women into combat units, while the retired admirals shouted "never."
At Admiral Moorer's 80th birthday party at the Chevy Chase Club in 1992, after the first Tailhook aviators had fallen, the old admirals showed the flag.
"My next macho colt will be named Tailhook, and no one is going to cut his balls off," declared retired Rear Admiral Clarence A. (Mark) Hill, a racehorse owner who was a submariner and then an aviator from World War II to Vietnam. "Mike Boorda was a good PR man for the Navy," says Hill, "but he was no warrior."
Many of the old aviators did not know Boorda's record at sea or as CINCSOUTH for NATO. Neither did young aviators. "Mike, you've got to realize that the naval aviators in San Diego and Jacksonville talk about Washington doing this or that," Moorer told Boorda at one of their meetings to discuss Commander Stumpf's blocked promotion. "Whether you like it or not--whether you deserve it or not--they view you as part of Washington."
Boorda's allies felt that he never would win the support of Navy traditionalists. Their attitude, says Admiral Kalleres, was, "If you are on my side, you are a warrior. If you are against me, you're a bureaucratic weenie."
Says Admiral James Watkins, the CNO for whom Boorda served as executive assistant, "Naval aviators are unhappy with anyone who is not a naval aviator. I love the naval aviators, but you also got to watch 'em--they are a special culture, a special breed." Regarding Jim Webb's attack on Boorda. Watkins' opinion--shared by other senior retired officers--is scathing: "Why go to the seat of the Navy and belittle the person who runs the Navy? The midshipmen will always applaud someone who fights the
"Jim Webb's theory is, every time you don't get your way
resign. How effective was he as Secretary of the Navy? I've got a lot of respect for Webb for his Vietnam service, but the way to lead is to stay in there and fight."
The Stumpf fight had begun to look futile after Admiral Moorer told Boorda about his meeting with Republican Senator Dan
Coats, chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on personnel. After he had argued Stumpf's case Moorer says, "Coats got so mad that he started beating on the desk. He said 'This is not a military problem, it's a political problem.'" Two years earlier, the seven female senators had waged a bitter floor fight against allowing Navy chief Frank Kelso to retire at his full pension and fourstar rank because of his failure to prevent sexual assaults at the Tailhook convention, which he had attended. Many senators were afraid of the political fallout from another such battle.
Boorda also was increasingly at loggerheads with Navy
secretary Dalton. At a time when Boorda felt the need to fight for every Navy officer under fire, Dalton seemed reluctant to do so. Boorda and Arthur pushed Dalton to send Stumpf's name back to the Senate. When Dalton hesitated, Boorda bypassed him and sought support for Stumpf from Defense secretary Perry and JCS chairman Shalikashvili. Dalton was furious that Boorda had gone over his head. Boorda thought Dalton was indecisive and unwilling to back his CNO.
THURSDAY EVENING, MAY 9, AIRBORNE TO PENSACOLA - After a day visiting a training center in Illinois and commissioning new ensigns in Texas. Boorda headed for Florida to spend the night at Pensacola. Aboard his C-20 Gulfstream, he learned that Bettie Boorda had been badly frightened by an incident at Tingey House. A silent alarm had gone off, summoning firefighters. Finding the gate locked, one of the firemen scaled the fence and went to the front door. With no idea what was going on, and the family's boxer, Duke, barking loudly, Bettie Boorda thought a prowler was on the premises.
Both Admiral and Mrs. Boorda had expressed concerns about
crime in the Southeast DC area adjoining the Navy Yard. The demands on her husband and their life together were taking a toll on Bettie Boorda, too.
Boorda called his son-in-law, Bob Dowling from the plane. Dowling told him that Bettie was extremely upset. The admiral knew he faced another problem when he got home.
FRIDAY MAY 10, LATE MORNING, WHITEFISH MONTANA - "Hack. Here's the package," the fax message began.
"I've found nothing that would show there is an explanation for Boorda wearing the Vs." Roger Charles told David Hackworth in a follow-up telephone call.
Charles, the National Security News Service correspondent in Washington, had faxed Hackworth information both thought could be the basis of a big news story, including photographs showing Admiral Boorda wearing combat V devices on ribbons for the two medals he had been awarded during his tours of duty off the coast of Vietnam.
Hackworth, whose newspaper syndicate described him as "America's most decorated living veteran" ( 110 medals), had become a journalist after publication of About Face, his best-selling 1989 autobiography. Enlisting as a 15-year-old high-school dropout, Hackworth earned a battlefield commission in Korea and was wounded four times before he was 31. He rose to
colonel while fighting in wars from Korea through Vietnam.
But Hackworth's Army career had ended on a sour note. After speaking out against the way the Vietnam War was being conducted, he faced an Army investigation into charges that included running a brothel at his command, engaging in illegal currency transactions, and falsifying records to help subordinates win medals. None of the charges was proven: the investigation was dropped when Hackworth retired in 1971.
In his book, Hackworth described his unorthodox activities as morale-builders for his troops. He wrote about who one of his master sergeants had cut through red tape to get approval for awards, promotions, and orders for Hackworth's men: ". . . [T]he
best bribe these days was the Vietnamese jump badge, which had to be authorized by the Viets. Every glory-hungry desk jockey wanted to wear that one, and Frenchie had an inside line into getting them on short notice."
Former Colonels Hackworth and Charles had become friends after Charles wrote a favorable review of About Face. The book also introduced Hackworth to James Webb, who wrote an admiring cover story about him for Parade magazine. Webb and Charles had known each other since they were teenagers together at the Naval Academy. Now the three former military men had something else in common--their contempt for Mike Boorda, whom they regarded as a "political admiral" rather than a "warrior" like themselves.
Webb had raised questions about Navy admirals wearing
dubious medals eight years earlier, when he was Secretary of the Navy. Charles, who says he got his tip on Boorda's medals from a former 60 Minutes producer, had received the official records on them in July 1995 but had followed up only recently, when he saw a picture in a defense publication of Boorda wearing his ribbons. Charles and Hackworth didn't dispute the validity of
Boorda's medals, which were relatively minor ones. Far more prestigious combat medals--including Bronze and Silver stars--had been routinely awarded to higher-ranking officers who showed up in Vietnam to punch their career tickets. Hackworth had written about such "medals inflation" in About Face.
The officers-turned-journalists questioned instead whether Boorda was entitled to wear the V--which stands for valor--on his medals. Navy regulations and practice had changed frequently during the war. There was little consistency about when the combat V was supposed to be or actually was awarded.
Questions about Boorda's Vs did not strike all journalists as big news. Charles had offered the story in April to Art Pine, veteran defense reporter for the Los Angeles Times, but Pine felt he had more important stories to pursue.
David Hackworth thought the story could make the cover of Newsweek.
7 PM PENSACOLA FLORIDA - After another long day of visiting Navy facilities--today the Pensacola Naval Air Station--Mike Boorda waited to perform his final task: introducing former President George Bush as speaker at the annual meeting of the Association of Naval Aviation.
Before the main event, Boorda mingled at a small reception.
As it was ending, retired Admiral Bobby Ray Inman greeted Boorda. "It looks like you're working in a pretty tough environment," said Inman.
"Bobby, the smartest decision you ever made was not to come back to Washington," said Boorda, "I wanted to be CNO all my life, and I dread that I have two years to go."
Inman was startled by Boorda's remark. Boorda complained, "that he couldn't get any decisions made, or support for the Navy budget," Inman recalls.
Bob Dowling says his father-in-law personalized the Navy 's problems: "Every time a Navy plane crashed, every time a petty officer sexually assaulted a woman, it was his aviator, his petty officer, his Navy woman."
In a charmed Navy career, Mike Boorda never had failed at a task or suffered public criticism until he became CNO.
Captain Armistead tried to counsel his friend: "Do not get all wrapped up in all this stuff--the criticism, the demands being made on you." In Armistead's experience, all CNOs were "in some ways ill prepared for what they were going to get from the media and the Congress. It's not designed to do them in, but that's the way it is."
As Boorda looked for the airport late in the evening after Bush's speech, Johnson told his wife, "I can't believe he's getting on that plane and going home tonight."
11, TINGEY HOUSE - Having arrived back in
Boorda had talked about retirement before. But this time he was serious.
It was a decision Bettie Boorda had been urging as she watched her husband become increasingly exhausted from work and worry about the Navy's myriad problems. Boorda always had gotten by on a few hours of sleep supplemented by catnaps. Now he was sleeping even less.
Bettie didn't like the way he looked," says Boorda's mother. Trudy Wallace. "Bettie said to him, 'Let's leave Washington and retire--just say your wife can't handle it any more."
To earlier entreaties, Mrs. Wallace says, her son had
replied,"I have too much to finish, too many things at the Academy."
The retirement discussion went back at least to 1994, when Boorda was offered the CNO job. At the time, he also had been offered a lucrative job by a Greek shipowner he had befriended during his NATO tour of duty. Bettie had wanted him to take the job and enjoy a well-earned retirement. Mike Boorda considered the offer, but he had worked too hard, come too far, to turn down the top prize in the Navy.
Now Boorda's children sensed signs of change. After the alarm incident two nights earlier, Bob Dowling knew his father-in-law was worried about leaving Bettie and David alone at Tingey House. In a phone conversation Saturday, Dowling offered to stay at the house when Boorda traveled.
"Don't worry, Bob," Boorda replied, "I'm not going to travel anymore."
NOON, NEW YORK ClTY - Maynard Parker, editor of Newsweek, interrupted his final editing chores for Monday's edition to take a call from David Hackworth in Montana.
"This could be a real career-ender," Parker remembers Hackworth saying about the story he was pitching. "He said this was a story involving medals Admiral Boorda had allegedly worn but not actually earned."
Fine," replied Parker, who told Hackworth he would reserve space for the story. The conversation lasted less than a minute, says Parker. Parker then sent an e-mail message to his senior national news editor, Jon Meacham, and to Washington bureau chief Evan Thomas, telling them that "Hack had a story and would be in touch with them, and it was something we should look at."
Hackworth and Parker had met in Vietnam, where Parker was a Newsweek correspondent. Earlier Parker had served as an Army lieutenant in Thailand, working on the US bombing of Laos. He won the Army Commendation Medal, which he makes light of. "We never got shot at," he says.
At the onset of the Persian Gulf War, Hackworth sent Parker a copy of About Face. "I started reading the book and had the idea it would be interesting for Newsweek--if we became involved in a ground war--to sign up Hack and send him over there," says Parker. Thus began Hackworth's career as a "contributing editor" for Newsweek.
His hiring was part of a new trend at both Time and Newsweek. As they competed for readers in the late 1980s, summarizing the previous week's news no longer sufficed. Hiring well-known people as contributing editors was a relatively inexpensive way to add punch and glamour. Hackworth's journalistic experience was minimal, but he had established a name with his autobiography and shown that he could express strong opinions in lively prose.
SUNDAY, MAY 12, MID-AFTERNOON, TINGEY HOUSE - The Boorda family gathered for an impromptu Mother's Day celebration. "Dad called us on the spur of the moment and said to come over," recalls daughter Anna. "He helped the boys put up balloons to decorate the house, and then he played computer football with them. Mother was in the kitchen cooking. Dad loved her roast."
Gathered around the Boordas at the dinner table were son David, Bob and Anna Dowling and their three children, and Ed and Brenda Boorda and their five boys.
At dinner, Mike Boorda led the group through several rituals. "All right, boys," he said, "the last one to laugh is the winner." He turned to his eldest son: "David, make them laugh." David made a few funny faces and, as usual, his nephews burst into laughter. Then came a round of the bad-pun contest, which someone started with "I knew you were going to get roasted tonight."
After dinner the family watched Forrest Gump on video. Ed recalls that his father seemed tired and tense. He watched the movie while lying on the couch, something he seldom did.
Boorda placed a Mother's Day call to Trudy Wallace in
MONDAY, MAY 13, , THE PENTAGON - Shortly after Admiral Boorda arrived at work, his public-affairs officer, Commander John Carman, handed him a copy of the weekly Navy Times, just out that morning. On page 98, under the headline CNO SHOULD RESIGN, Boorda read:
Somehow, the United States Navy has gone aground. The ship of state hit a reef called Tailhook several years ago.
Incredibly, salvage vessels never arrived to claim the hull. Cover-up, deception, character assassination and a lack of integrity are rampant at senior levels....
There is only one way out of this predicament. The chief of naval operations needs to put his stars on the table and resign.
… Adm. Mike Boorda has not only lost the respect of his admirals… Now every officer from four star to the newest midshipman at the academy has no respect for the man at the top of their organization. As a result, good people are leaving the service in droves.
Behind his back, admirals often refer to the CNO as "Little Mikey Boorda." Do you think this is a respectful endearment...?
CNO: They are not behind you. You are not their leader. Go home immediately--for the sake of the Navy you love.
In place of Commander John Carey's signature were the words "Name Withheld."
, TINGEY HOUSE - Bettie Boorda called her son, Commander Ed Boorda, at work and urged him to go see his father at the Pentagon. When the admiral had left home that morning, she said, he'd been upset.
One worry, she said, concerned a special Naval Academy Board of Visitors meeting that day at which Boorda feared the idea of an outside commission would be killed.
Ed Boorda called his father's office but found out that he already had a luncheon engagement. He made an appointment to see
him at ten the next morning.
8:30 AM - Between the morning conference and the operations briefing, Boorda gathered around him Commander Carman, Admiral Pease, and Rear Admiral Robert Natter, his chief of legislative affairs. The Navy Times letter disturbed him. "Is this a single disgruntled person?" he asked. "Is it a larger group?"
"It sounds like one person--an officer," Carman replied. As they walked to the operations briefing, Boorda asked again, "Who do you think this is from?"
"It's just some jerk," an aide replied, "It's not
representative of the fleet."
"Do we need to do anything?" Boorda asked as they
"It sounds like one person." said Pease.
"Check it out," said Boorda as he entered the briefing.
NOON, THE PENTAGON - At lunch in his private dining room, Admiral Boorda put final touches on a new plan for an old Navy ritual: the initiation ceremonies by which the Navy's new chief petty officers are unofficially inducted into the exclusive club of top-ranked enlisted men and women. Boorda had considered banning the events, concerned that the often raucous, heavy-drinking affairs demeaned the promotion to chief--and that, like Tailhook, they could cast the Navy in an unflattering light. But he had been dissuaded by John Hagan, the master chief petty officer of the Navy. Together they revamped the ceremonies, adding naval history and heritage programs to go along with the traditional parties.
"Go with it," Boorda told Hagan at lunch. "By the time we retire, we'll have this program fixed."
Boorda and Hagan, the Navy's top enlisted man, had hit it off at their very first meeting in 1994, when Hagan had presented suggestions for improving sailors' performance and their quality of life. "I like you," Boorda had told him. "I trust you, and I'm going to give you authority." Hagan's reaction: "It gave me a shot of adrenaline like a turbocharger."
Traveling the globe with Boorda at a breakneck pace, visiting dozens of ships and naval stations, Hagan had been impressed by the CNO's energy and endurance. But he worried about him too.
"I tried to get him to exercise, to take time off," says Hagan, to which Boorda would reply. "The time to rest is when you retire."
On airplane rides between destinations, Boorda sometimes would call a halt to business, light his pipe, and daydream. When he retired, Boorda said, "I'd like to do something worthwhile, make some money, fly a plane, have a boat."
Even when Boorda was exhausted, Hagan was impressed at how he bounced back. "After a few hours' sleep, he would comb his hair back, showing not a wrinkle in his forehead, and look young and refreshed."
Today. Hagan felt
that the boss "looked fatigued, a little depressed."
Three days earlier, at a training conference at
Hagan had read the anonymous letter in the Navy Times before their lunch. "It enraged me," he says, "but I had business to discuss and thought that by Thursday or Friday I could be more articulate in discussing it with him."
AFTERNOON, THE PENTAGON - Why was David Hackworth interested in Mike Boorda? Navy public-affairs officers puzzled over that
question after an aide to Secretary of the Army Togo West called to offer a friendly "heads up": Hackworth had scheduled a five-minute telephone interview with West for the next day "to talk with him about Admiral Boorda."
Pease and his staff raised the prospect of going on the offensive with Hackworth. They had arranged two previous interviews for Hackworth and been pleased with the resulting stories.
"If Hack continues to pursue the question of 'who is Admiral Boorda?' let's preempt him." Pease told Boorda, "Let's bring him in."
"If that's what you want, no problem," the CNO replied.
At the end of
the day, Senator John McCain--an Academy graduate, Navy pilot, and prisoner of
TUESDAY, MAY 14, , THE PENTAGON - As father and son sat in wing chairs drinking coffee in the CNO's office, Commander Edward Boorda put the question: "From w hat I understand, you're really going to resign."
"Yes," replied Admiral Boorda, "effective in August, I'm going to tell
Secretary Dalton as soon as he gets back in town." The
Navy secretary was traveling in the
The CNO talked about the demands of the job, the strains on his family caused by the constant travel and entertaining, the tight five-year budget he had just finished working on, the alarm incident at Tingey House that had so upset Bettie the previous Thursday. His wife was having difficulty coping when he was away, he said. That meant he couldn't travel anymore.
Ed tried to dissuade his father. "You've done all these good things, and you only have
a couple of years to go," he said. "The
things about the
Admiral Boorda replied that he considered the Webb speech and the letter "garbage--there are too many good things going on to deal with that." But then he pointed to a telephone message. It was about the Navy Times letter calling for his resignation. "Why can't they just leave it alone?"
conversation, the father turned the subject to his son, asking about farmland
that Ed and Brenda Boorda had bought in
Ed reminisced about what he considered his father's greatest speech. Called "Proud to be a Sailor," the 1994 address to the Navy 's Surface Warfare Association was a lyrical recitation of all the feelings a sailor has about his ship, his shipmates, and his love of going to sea.
At home that night, Mike Boorda would tell his wife that he and Ed had just had the best conversation of their lives.
MORNING, WHITEFISH, NEW YORK, AND WASHINGTON - In a conference call, Hackworth explained the Boorda story to Newsweek senior editor Jon Meacham in New York and bureau chief Evan Thomas in Washington. "Wearing the Vs means you were facing fire." Hackworth told them. "If you were wearing them falsely, this could be a big deal within the military."
Based on that conversation, editor Maynard Parker scheduled the story for the next issue. It would run as a one-page story.
Meacham asked Evan Thomas to prepare to
interview Boorda about the medals. "Hack
is trying to get to
Hackworth started writing his story. He called a dozen former military) officers to ask their views on Boorda's combat V devices. Among them was Jim Webb.
"This could be a big deal," Webb says he told Hackworth,asking that his name not be used. "If you quote me on this, they'll say I'm behind it."
, WHITEFISH - In a fax message to Lieutenant
Conrad Chun in
11:15 AM, TINGEY HOUSE - Still concerned about the false alarm that had so disturbed his wife, Boorda made a quick trip home to check on improvements being made to the house's security system.
"If an intruder ever got into Tingey House," he joked with an aide, "Duke [his dog] would have to hold him while I went upstairs to get my pistol."
2:30 PM, THE PENTAGON - In the auditorium of the Navy Command Center, Boorda told a group of Indiana professional and business women how the Navy was opening up combat air and ship roles to women. "The Navy is committed to equal opportunity for women," he said, "but the process will take time to implement properly."
Boorda was joined by Carolyn Prevatte, a retired Navy captain who had worked for Boorda at the Bureau of Navy Personnel when they planned and implemented the first breakthroughs for women.
Prevatte says she had observed firsthand Boorda's commitment to helping women and minorities. She watched him review hundreds of files to make certain each person was being treated fairly. She felt Boorda had anticipated what the country and Congress would demand. "He knew it might happen, he saw it coming, and he had the Navy prepared," says Prevatte.
military men felt that Boorda's commitment to placing
women in combat roles was based on political rather than military concerns. Journalist David Evans, a retired Marine lieutenant
colonel, had spoken with Boorda at a 1990 hearing
after the admiral had testified that permitting women in combat units would
improve the Navy. Evans says that when he asked Boorda for his private view--officer to
officer--Boorda had replied: "Well, Dave,
if I were the CO of a ship about to go in harm's way, the last thing I would
need is another distraction."
Toward the end of his meeting with the
- The public-affairs office gave Admiral Boorda an update: Hackworth wasn't interested in Boorda's house in
Boorda got home, he told his family that Hackworth
was not looking into their house in
WEDNESDAY, MAY 15, , THE PENTAGON - Retired Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, who served as CNO during the Vietnam War, called Boorda to suggest an assignment for one Navy officer and a medal for another. Less than two hours later, a Boorda aide called Zumwalt back to say "the medal is done"--retired Admiral Paul Howell would receive the Distinguished Service Medal.
Top officers from the other services marveled at the influence wielded by the former chiefs of naval operations. For Boorda, the old admirals were a very mixed blessing. They often became one more contentious constituency to satisfy. But Bud Zumwalt was different.
People mentioned Boorda's and Zumwalt's names in the same breath. Twenty years apart, they had been the Navy's principal agents of change. Under Zumwalt, the Navy finally opened itself to opportunities for minorities: Boorda was playing the same role for women. Zumwalt had won Boorda's strong support for a national bone-marrow donor program. "Most CNOs wouldn't have given it two seconds," Zumwalt says.
- Admiral Pease called Hackworth in
"If you are doing a story on Admiral Boorda. why don't you come in and see him," said Pease. "I know they'll hit it off. They're both interested in people."
"When can you do it?" asked
"Tomorrow," said Pease.
"Can he bring Evan Thomas with him?"
"That's fine," said Pease.
Shortly thereafter, Lieutenant Chun in Pease's office spoke with Hackworth, then faxed him a confirming message: "David-1300  tomorrow with the CNO. I can meet you at any entrance."
Hackworth and Newsweek still were guarding the reason for their interest in Boorda. In fact Hackworth wasn't planning to be present when Newsweek confronted Boorda about the medals. Hackworth and Thomas thought Boorda should not have too much warning.
"Evan didn't want to walk into an ambush," says Hackworth. "He wanted all the ammo in place."
Says Thomas: "If you go in too soon, the Navy can counterattack, and the opposition gets the story. The idea is to maintain an exclusive, but to allow enough time to see if it was true. Forty-eight hours is enough."
- Admiral Boorda
called Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president of
"You've been reading about what's going on at the Academy," he said. "I'm a little worried about it. I'm thinking about putting a task force together to lend a hand." The Academy's board of visitors had rejected an advisory panel two days earlier, but Boorda and the Navy 's top civilian officials still were determined to have one.
Boorda asked Trachtenberg, already a member of Boorda's CNO Advisory Panel, if he would be willing to serve on an Academy task force. Trachtenberg said he would.
"Okay, we're set on that," said Boorda. "We'll check that off."
Boorda next asked Trachtenberg to find out the maximum amount of scholarship aid available for a girl who wanted to attend George Washington--the daughter of a congressman whose budget was stretched. The GW president said he would get back to Boorda with the information.
"I'm checking it off my list," Boorda said.
NEW YORK ClTY - In Newsweek's Manhattan offices for
the weekly story conference, Evan Thomas took a call from David Hackworth, who told
him that the interview with Boorda was set for 1 PM
the next day. Roger Charles, the National Security
News Service correspondent, would brief Thomas and accompany him to see Boorda. Thomas was uncomfortable
with the plan. In his view, "Charles was a smart
guy with a slight tendency toward conspiracy theories." He
also says he felt "wariness about Hack," who worked for Parker and
not out of the
Riding to the airport, Thomas called Meacham on his car phone: "There's something about this story that is too good to be true. Stories are never this neat."
Deciding that he "wanted to cover my own ass," Thomas called Greg Vistica, one of his national security reporters: "Hack says Boorda has worn medals he didn't deserve. Be in the office tomorrow at for a sanity check."
, THE PENTAGON - As he worked his way through the Navy's five-year budget plan, Boorda turned to Bernard Rostker, assistant secretary for manpower: "Bernie your quality-of-life master plan is now the Navy's quality-of-life plan. We have funded all your initiatives."
Boorda and Secretary Dalton had approved $600 million in programs over five years for childcare centers, recreation programs, family-service centers, and other benefits for sailors and their families.
It was a special moment for Rostker. He had pioneered many of these programs 20 years earlier, during the Carter administration, with Boorda as his executive assistant. Rostker recalled their first meeting--how Boorda, the mustang captain with barely a college degree, asked how he was supposed to assist a PhD from the Rand Corporation. When Rostker had left two years later, he had told Boorda, "Mike, you are the smartest person I have ever worked with."
The budget meeting ended at with a big high-five hand slap between Boorda and General Charles Krulak, commandant of the Marine Corps. The Navy and Marines had agreed amicably on the division of funds, a subject usually fraught with controversy and, on occasion, great bitterness.
So far as Bernie Rostker could tell, Mike Boorda was his usual energetic self--in fine fettle.
The last item on Boorda's Wednesday schedule was listed as: "One-on-one with SECNAV RE: USNA."
Boorda wanted to
engage once more the contentious issue of how to ensure progress at the
THURSDAY, MAY 16, , TINGEY HOUSE - Admiral Boorda called his office and informed Captain Timothy LaFleur, his executive assistant, that he would work at home and arrive late at the office. He asked LaFleur to move his meeting to . His Flag Officers Casualty Committee was to brief him on the death of a sailor.
Boorda had spent a restless night.
On Tuesday he had told his son Ed that he
would submit his resignation when
About , Mike and Bettie Boorda, wearing bathrobes, appeared in the kitchen, where the steward served them coffee. They carried their coffee to the second-floor study, where they talked for a while. The admiral signed some of the mail that he always carried home in two bulging briefcases.
A letter to the parents of a young sailor explained in detail why the Navy had discharged their son from the service. Boorda penned a long note at the bottom telling them that if the
young man really was ready to put his problems behind him, "I am willing to give him a second chance… Please call me if you want to pursue this. I'd like to try to help."
It was classic Boorda-trying to help an individual sailor, one-on-one, even one who had been drummed out of the Navy.
At , preparing to leave, Boorda
asked Bettie if she needed help carrying a sewing machine to her car. She was going to Anna's house to help with the babies and
sew a new dress for her granddaughter Sara. Boorda said he would be home about , after a late meeting of the Joint Chiefs of
"I love you," Boorda said to his wife as his Marine driver opened the door of the Lincoln Town Car.
, NATIONAL SECURITY NEWS SERVICE,
Charles said that the Navy Commendation for
Achievement award Boorda received in 1965 for his
Hackworth and Charles variously made two different arguments: The first was that Boorda's ships hadn't engaged in the kind of combat that warranted a combat V device. The second was that Navy regulations precluded Boorda from wearing the Vs even if he deserved them.
Charles contended that Boorda wasn't entitled to wear the V on his Navy Commendation Medal for service aboard the Brooke in 1971 because the ship had neither fired its guns nor received hostile fire. (Charles later would locate a 1969 regulation stating that the V could be worn if the medal citation specifically authorized it, which Boorda's did not.)
John Barry, Newsweek's senior defense correspondent, thought that the changing Navy regulations indicated the Navy's own confusion concerning the V device. Although Barry says he would not have initiated the story, he felt that Boorda's inconsistent practice in wearing the Vs posed a question that should be asked.
"What do you think is going to happen?" Thomas asked Barry. "I think that, in tactical terms, they'll punt," he replied.
"They'll say they need to get the personnel files. In the end, they will say it's incredibly ambiguous, and the story will dribble away."
"If there is a hairline crack [in the
regulations for awarding medals]," said Charles, "Kendell
Pease will turn it into the
Mike Boorda had won is Navy Achievement Medal "for meritorious service while serving as Weapons Officer on the destroyer USS John R. Craig while operating in combat missions supporting the Republic of Vietnam from April 10 to August 10, 1965," according to the official citation. Operating out of
Danang in support of US Marines and South
Vietnamese infantry, the Craig in one 20-day period had expended "3,305
rounds of 5-inch ammunition…on enemy targets," the Craig's captain wrote
in Boorda's fitness report. The
captain cited Boorda's innovative leadership in
developing the fire-support plan for the entire destroyer group. Luckily for its crew, the Craig finished its
Boorda won the
Navy Commendation Medal for "meritorious achievement . . . during combat
operations" for his 1971-73
In 1965, when Boorda won what became the Navy Achievement Medal, the award was only a ribbon, which did not qualify for the V device. But when his award was upgraded to a medal in 1967, it did become eligible for the V. Hackworth and Charles decided that Boorda didn't rate the V because the award citation did not specificality call for it, as was required by regulations that went into effect in 1969.
When Boorda won the Navy Commendation Medal for his 1971 service aboard the Brooke, regulations stated that the V device must be authorized on the award citation. Boorda's citation did not mention the V.
Furthermore, Hackworth told his editors--and later his readers--a person had to earn the V by being fired at in combat. But this argument, advanced with considerable passion by the infantry veteran with eight Purple Hearts, did not reflect the practice--and perhaps not even the regulations--followed in the surface Navy at that time.
Commander J.K. Jobe, Boorda's captain on the Craig, was specifically authorized to wear the combat V on the Navy Commendation Medal he was awarded in 1965 for the same operation for which Boorda was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal.
, THE PENTAGON - Lieutenant Conrad Chun received two telephone calls that sent him running for his bosses. The first was from John Barry at Newsweek who informed Chun that he would accompany Evan Thomas to the meeting with Boorda. The second was from Heidi Duncan, Hackworth's assistant.
"David won't be able to make it," Chun says she told him. "He's stuck in an airport in Salt Lake City."
Chun reported the developments to Pease, who called Thomas at Newsweek.
"Hey, I thought this was a Hackworth get-to-know-Boorda meeting," said Pease. "You and Barry both know him."
"This is very serious," replied Thomas, describing Charles's information and the photographs of Boorda wearing and then not wearing the Vs on his ribbons.
"Okay!, fine, no sweat,” Pease said, according to Evans, "See you at one o'clock." Shortly thereafter, Pease called back and switched the meeting to 2:30 because Boorda had to attend a meeting with deputy Defense secretary John White.
11 AM, WHITEFISH - David Hackworth was not in Salt Lake City, as reported by Duncan to Chun, but was sitting in the office he called "World Headquarters" in Whitetish.
"I'm working on a big story," he said into the telephone. "Read Newsweek next week." With those words, he concluded a telephone lecture to Professor Gary Rice's journalism class at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. Hackworth described himself to the students as an "old-fashioned, shoe-leather kind of reporter."
Earlier, Hackworth had faxed a 16-page story to Maynard Parker in New York and to Newsweek's Washington bureau so Evans and Barry could have it before they went to see Boorda.
"Two bronze Vs for valor… indicate that Admiral Boorda distinguished himself under fire," Hackworth's story began. "To an observer who can read the armed forces' DNA code, he is a war hero. But Boorda is an impostor. He wears his dishonesty on his chest like a billboard. There-s nothing more foul to anyone who has ever worn a uniform."
Hackworth's story quoted other retired officers he had interviewed, each expressing outrage at Boorda's conduct as Hackworth had described it. Hackworth also quoted from the citations for Boorda's medals--though not from the wording in each that referred to Boorda's meritorious service "operating in combat missions" and "combat operations."
Upon finishing the article Hackworth had told his assistant. Heidi Duncan, that if Boorda's story were known, "he just might put a gun to his head."
10 AM, THE PENTAGON - At his office, Boorda met for more than an hour with his Flag Officers Casualty Committee. They discussed an accident at sea in which a chief petty officer had been killed as a boat was being lowered. The sailor's father had complained that he couldn't obtain the Navy's accident report. After reading the father's letter at home over the weekend, Boorda had called aides to protest the bureaucracy's unresponsiveness. Now he planned to write a directive to correct faulty procedures in the handling of accidents.
As the meeting ended, Boorda brought up the case of a sailor who had killed himself while standing watch on the deck of a submarine. The sailor had been hazed in a now-forbidden ceremony called "tacking on" when he was awarded his "dolphins" pin as a qualified submariner. Threatened with punishment unless he revealed the identities of the fellow sailors who had hazed him, the sailor had shot himself with his service revolver.
Boorda had read all the material on the case. Adequate attention had not been paid to the sailor's mental condition, he said. Everyone needed an advocate--one-on-one leader down to the junior level. The sailor clearly had not had that kind of leader. Boorda now ordered an investigation of the general climate on the submarine, the accountability of its officers,. and the Navy's responsiveness to the sailor's family. "It's one thing to lose or damage a piece of gear, and altogether something else when someone is killed,." Boorda concluded.
From 11:30 until noon, Boorda worked on "flag assignments"--new jobs for his admirals--with Admiral Jay Johnson, the vice chief of naval operations, and with Vice Admiral Frank L. "Skip"
Bowman, chief of naval personnel.
At noon, Boorda spoke with Bowman for another 15 minutes
about an orientation session they planned to conduct for new
admirals. This meeting was jokingly called "the knife and fork school for flag officers."
"We need to plan how we are going to talk with the new flag officers," Boorda said. "We need to get the point across that our admirals live their lives in a fishbowl."
Boorda wanted to emphasize the leadership principles ignored by the half dozen admirals who had been fired for improper behavior during the previous year--a submariner accused of adultery, an admiral having an affair with an enlisted woman, another who had made remarks insulting to Asians, and one who had used derogatory language about women employees in the White House. Another investigation report awaited action on his desk: Two admirals were accused of accepting special favors from a Navy post exchange.
"I'll be the good cop, and you'll be the bad cop," Boorda joked as a knock at the door interrupted their conversation.
12:15 PM - Admiral Pease came into the room. He had just spoken with Evan Thomas, he said.
"Is this a follow-up on the Webb speech?" asked Boorda. Pease said the inquiry was about medals. The Newsweek reporters believed "you were wearing V devices you shouldn't be wearing."
"Yeah, we got a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act request] on that," said Boorda. "The JAG [Judge Advocate General] came in and told me that the paperwork didn't justify the Vs.”
Pease, Boorda's lawyer Captain Tom Connelly, and Captain Timothy LaFleur, his executive assistant, gathered in Boorda's office.
Commander Allen Myers, Boorda's administrative assistant, called the Navy's Office of Awards and Special Projects to get copies of Boorda's award citations. He spoke with Jean Kirk, the Navy's longtime arbiter on medals, who told him that Boorda was not authorized to wear the V on either medal.
The information about Boorda's medals had been known to personnel in the awards office since early 1988. During the ten months that he had served as Secretary of the Navy, Jim Webb had questioned the medals worn by so many admirals that the awards office had decided to run a check on the medals of all 257 of them.
The review disclosed what the office believed were discrepancies in medals worn by a large number of admirals.
Awards office personnel believed that many--including Boorda—
mistakenly wore combat Vs. The office began notifying admirals
of the findings, but interest lagged after Webb resigned in
As Boorda's aides gathered around, Pease played a tape
recording of his telephone conversation with Evan Thomas. "Thomas thinks it's a big deal," Pease said. "It was an honest mistake," said Boorda. He had taken the Vs off on July 25, 1995, the day Captain Connelly informed him--following Roger Charles's FOIA request--that he was not authorized to wear them.
"What do we do?" Boorda now asked his aides, then answered his own question: "We will tell them the truth."
Boorda's steward brought in his lunch, but the admiral said he would go home to eat. He told Captain LaFleur to tell Admiral Johnson to represent him at the 1:15 meeting with deputy Defense secretary White.
Told that the interview with Thomas and Barry was set for 2:30 PM, Boorda said he would return at 2:15 to prepare.
Seeing the concern on Admiral Pease's face, Boorda recited his usual jest about what they would do in retirement.
"Don't worry," said Boorda. "You'll still have a job in my hardware store."
"You won't need a PAO [public-affairs officer]," said Pease. "You'll be bagging nails," said Boorda.
When Boorda was ready to leave, aides were unable to find his driver. Captain Connelly accompanied Boorda down the stairs, intending to drive him to Tingey House in Captain LaFleur's car. But Boorda found his dark blue Lincoln in its usual parking space. His naval aide, Commander Martin Moke, punched in the code to the door lock, and Boorda got into the driver's seat. Moke twice tried to get into the front seat, but a smiling Boorda said, "No, thank you." Captain Connelly pulled Moke away from the car and said to let the admiral go.
1:05 PM - The records on Boorda's two medals were brought to Admiral Pease, who raced downstairs to catch Boorda. The citations' references to "combat operations" and "combat missions" showed how there could be confusion about the Vs. But Boorda was gone. Pease decided he would show the CNO when he returned.
1:05 PM WASHINGTON NAVY YARD - As Boorda drove through the Navy Yard gate, the Marine guard saluted, Boorda returned the greeting with a wave out the window of the Lincoln.
Inside Tingey House, Boorda asked the steward if Mrs. Boorda was home and was told that she had gone to their daughter's.
The admiral went to his second-floor study, where he wrote two letters on his computer. One was to his wife. A longer one was addressed "To my sailors." A note at the top expressed appreciation to Pease and Connelly. The letter read:
What I am about to do is not very smart but it is right for me. You see I have asked you to do the right thing, to care for and take care of each other and to stand up for what is good and correct. All of these things require honor, courage and commitment . . . our core values.
I am about to be accused of wearing combat devices on two ribbons I earned during sea tours in Viet Nam. It turns out I didn't really rate them. When I found out I was wrong I immediately took them off but it was really too late. I don't expect any reporters to believe I could make an honest mistake and you may or may not believe it yourselves. That is up to you and isn't all that important now anyway. I've made it not matter in the big scheme of things because I love our Navy so much, and you who are the heart and soul of our Navy, that I couldn't bear to bring dishonor to you.
If you care to do so, you can do something for me. That is take care of each other. Be honorable. Do what is right. Forgive when it makes sense, punish when you must but always work to make the latter unnecessary by working to help people be all they really can and should be. My idea of one-on-one leadership really will work if you let it and honestly apply it. We have great leaders and I know you'll succeed.
Finally, for those who want to tear our Navy down, I guess I've given them plenty to write about for a while. But I will soon be forgotten. You, our great Navy people, will live on. I am proud of yon. I am proud to have led you if only for a short time. I wish I had done it better.
Boorda's son-in-law had given him a 38-caliber, five-shot Smith & Wesson revolver six months earlier for protection at home. Boorda kept the weapon unloaded in a desk drawer in his study. He took the gun out of the drawer, loaded it with the hollow-point bullets Dowling had given him with the gun, went downstairs, and walked to the rear of the garden.
1:30 PM - Commander Moke drove Admiral Boorda's driver, Marine Sergeant Seth Hayes, to the Navy Yard. Hayes got into the Lincoln and turned it around in the driveway in preparation for Boorda's departure.
1:53 PM - Sergeant Hayes answered a call on his car telephone from Commander Moke, who was concerned that the time was near for the admiral's meeting with the Newsweek reporters. As the driver spoke with the aide, he glanced into his rear-view mirror and reported seeing Admiral Boorda in the garden. Suddenly, he saw the admiral fall. "Oh, shit." he said, "gotta go."
Thinking Boorda had suffered a heart attack, Hayes--who had heard no shot--ran to the back of the garden where Boorda lay, dressed in his Navy whites blood spreading across his chest. On his left breast were ribbons for the three highest medals he had earned: the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, and the Legion of Merit, the latter two with gold stars indicating that they had been awarded more than once. Hayes took off his necktie to use as a compress on the
wound. He and a Navy lieutenant who had been passing by administered CPR.
About 2:15 an ambulance arrived and took Boorda to DC General Hospital. The bullet had ripped through the admiral's sternum, causing massive damage to the heart, and emerged from his back. He was pronounced dead at 2:30 PM.
SUNDAY, MAY 19, ARLINGTON CEMETERY - Admiral Jeremy Michael Boorda was buried in a ceremony attended by his immediate family and several close Navy friends. Rabbi Allen S. Kaplan, a reserve Navy captain, read from Ecclesiastes, led the family in the 15th and 23rd Psalms, and recited Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead.
Midway through the service, David Boorda took a can out of his coat pocket, snapped the top open, and took a sip. "Cream soda," he said. "Dad's favorite." Boorda's other children--Ed, Bob, and Anna--all smiled.
A bugler played taps. The service ended with a 21-gun salute and presentation of the American flag to Bettie Boorda.
TUESDAY, MAY 21, WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL - Some 2,500 people gathered to pay tribute to the late chief of naval operations. Among them were the nation's political and military leaders, as well as hundreds of men and women who called Boorda "the sailor's sailor."
President Clinton spoke: "There are countless thousands of people alive in Bosnia today because of this small man with a big heart, a large vision, and great courage."
Secretary of the Navy John Dalton recalled the day President Clinton asked Boorda what he should do to stop the Bosnian fighting: On the presidential barge in Pearl Harbor, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Boorda had told the President: "We need to get their attention and hit them hard...so that there is no confusion that we mean business." The President followed Boorda's advice, ordering the cruiser Normandy to fire Tomahawk missiles to knock out the Bosnian Serbs' command-and-control systems. Three weeks later, the Serbs had agreed to come to Dayton, Ohio, to talk peace.
Master Chief Petty Officer John Hagan of the Navy read a prayer, then spoke about what made Boorda special to his sailors: "He was the leader we longed for and looked to. He didn't just shake a sailor's hand. He grabbed it. He held it. He drew energy from the encounter. He was, he is, and he always will be my hero. It is rare when your hero is also your friend."
MONDAY, MAY 27, SPRINGFIELD, VIRGINIA - The Navy Times announced that it no longer would publish letters to the editor that constitute "personal attacks." For letters in which the writer's name was withheld, the newspaper would provide at least the author's rank and location.
The Times also ran a second letter from Commander Carey—
this one signed--in which he expressed sorrow for "Admiral
Boorda's family and the sailors he loved" and regret for having
written his first letter "at a time when Admiral Boorda must have had many troubles on his mind."
WASHINGTON - Admiral Elmo Zumwalt wrote Secretary Dalton urging him to authorize the V device posthumously to Admiral Boorda for his two Vietnam medals. As CNO during the war, Zumwalt said, he had encouraged Navy personnel to wear the V on medals they had won in combat areas. A Navy Department official told Zumwalt by telephone that Dalton would not be answering his letter.
MONDAY, JUNE 3, ANNAPOLIS - Former Navy undersecretary Dan
Howard, who had challenged Webb after his speech at Annapolis
--declaring that his assertions smacked "more of fiction than of
history"--wrote a rebuttal in the Naval Institute's Proceedings. In Howard's view, Boorda had been caught between the competing demands of Navy traditionalists and civilian rule. Webb's do-it-my-way-or-I'll-resign approach to military leadership, he suggested, was neither prudent nor effective in a nation in which the military must follow civilian authority.
Bending to the public will is no dishonor," wrote
Howard. "It means that our leaders are listening to the
public: that is what is supposed to happen in a democracy."
THURSDAY, JUNE 13, WHITEFISH - Colonel David Hackworth added a final chapter to his new book, Hazardous Duty (subtitled "America's Most Decorated Living Soldier Reports from the Front and Tells It the Way It Is") describing how he exposed Boorda's wearing of the combat Vs. In his newspaper column, Hackworth said the nation had gotten off lightly. "Instead of going home and shooting himself," Hackworth wrote, "Boorda could just as easily have walked into the Pentagon's War Room and ordered up a holocaust."
According to military officials, the chief of naval operations--who is not in the chain of battle command--has no authority to order the use of weapons of war, nuclear or otherwise.
SUNDAY, JUNE 16, ARLINGTON CEMETERY - Navy Captain Frank Lugo and his wife, Carol, stood alone at the grave. "We'll miss you, Mike," they said. They drank a farewell toast, then poured the rest of the bottle of Gentleman Jack, Boorda's favorite whiskey, on his grave. Captain Lugo removed from his shoulder the gold-braided aiguillette he had won as Admiral Boorda's aide and laid it on his friend's grave.
FRIDAY, JUNE 21, THE PENTAGON - Commander Robert Stumpf, the most publicized attendee at Tailhook, walked out of a grilling by the Navy's deputy general counsel, convinced that the Navy was more interested in indicting than promoting him. Stumpf resigned from the Navy.
In a closed session of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain protested that the committee staff had been instrumental in blocking Admiral Arthur's nomination to CINCPAC as well as the promotion of Commander Stumpf and other aviators who had been at Tailhook.
"It was death by a thousand cuts for Admiral Arthur," says McCain. "It's not clear to me that Admiral Boorda ever could have gotten the nomination through the committee… I know of no man, including my own father and grandfather [both legendary Navy admirals], more devoted to the men and women of the Navy."
FRIDAY, JUNE 28, WASHINGTON - Roger Charles was fired as Washington correspondent for the National Security News Service. A principal founder of the organization had withdrawn one grant and threatened further reductions unless Charles was removed. The foundation was interested in supporting nuclear disarmament, not exposes that resulted in unfavorable publicity.
MONDAY, AUGUST 5, THE PENTAGON - Admiral Jay Johnson was sworn in as the 26th Chief of Naval Operations to succeed Admiral Boorda, but not before the Senate Armed Services Committee had questioned his activities at Tailhook. Navy secretary Dalton had given Johnson a "nonpunitive letter of caution" because he "did not take effective action" after observing that drinks were being served out of a plastic rhinoceros penis in the Marine aviators' notorious "Rhino suite." Fifty-eight Navy and Marine aviators remain on the Senate committee's Tailhook blacklist.
Even before the funeral, Commander Edward Boorda went to the Naval Historical Center to begin retracing his father's footsteps through the Vietnam War. He examined the ships' logs of the destroyers Craig and Brooke. He looked at the Craig's post-action report for the 1965 period during which his father directed gunnery fire at the Viet Cong for 20 consecutive days. He went through his father's footlocker, where he found his exemplary 1973 fitness report from the Brooke among souvenirs of 40 years in the Navy.
Commander Boorda read the regulations governing the award of Navy medals and searched for photographs of his father wearing them. He found a picture of Commander Mike Boorda wearing the combat Vs in 1977--nine years earlier than Newsweek reported that he had put them on.
Boorda went to the Navy's Office of Awards and Special Projects to talk to Jean Kirk, the medals expert. He came away convinced in his own mind--even if Kirk was not--that a July 1967 regulation authorized his father to pin a combat V on his Navy Achievement Medal.
Finally, Ed Boorda filled out "an application for the correction of military records of Jeremy M. Boorda." He believes that his father was automatically authorized to wear the V on his Navy Achievement Medal and that "administrative oversight" led to omission of language authorizing the device with the Navy Commendation Medal. Boorda intends to file this application, accompanied by supporting material, with the US Navy.
"I am endeavoring to get the record corrected--and that won't stop as long as I live," says Ed Boorda. "My father always said, "Son, we're going to make it right."
"The fundamental issue is, who is going to make it right for Admiral Boorda? Maybe he didn't think there was someone who would make it right for him. That's what really happened."