James V. Forrestal


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(b. Beacon, New York, 15 Feb. 1892; d. Bethesda, Maryland, 22 May 1949)

US; Secretary of the Navy 1944–7, Secretary of Defense 1947–9 The son of a builder, Forrestal attended local schools before becoming a reporter, first for the Journal and then for the Mount Vernon Argus. In 1911 he returned to full-time education, attending Dartmouth College as a freshman before transferring to Princeton University in 1912. He acquitted himself well as an athlete at Princeton but he left in 1915 without taking a degree. He gained employment first as a cigar salesman with the Tobacco Products Co. and then as a bonds salesman with the banking house, Dillon, Reed & Co. During the First World War he enlisted in the US Navy Reserve and served in the Navy Department in Washington. After the war, returning to his former employers, he soon became a partner and eventually, in 1939, company president.

Forrestal returned to public service in 1940 when he became an administrative assistant to President Roosevelt. Later that same year he was appointed to the newly created position of Under-Secretary of the Navy, becoming Secretary of the Navy in 1944. In 1947 he became America's first Secretary of Defense, a position which he held until resigning in 1949.

Forrestal was a quiet, modest man who had a ‘passion for anonymity’. He was energetic and dedicated to hard work: a factor which may help to explain the circumstances of his death. Suffering from a serious mental breakdown, he retired from office on 28 March 1949 and flew to Florida in order to take a long rest, having taken only one week's leave since 1940. Less than two months later he jumped from a window on the sixteenth floor of the Bethesda Naval Hospital and died instantaneously.

Subjects: Warfare and Defence.

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