Fleet Admiral William Daniel Leahy (May 6, 1875 – July 20, 1959) was an American naval officer who served as the senior-most United States military officer on active duty during World War II. He held multiple titles and was at the center of all the major military decisions the United States made in World War II.
Leahy was recalled to active duty as the personal Chief of Staff to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 and served in that position throughout World War II. He chaired the Chiefs of Staff and was a major decision-maker during the war. He continued under President Harry S. Truman until finally retiring in 1949. From 1942 until his retirement in 1949, he was the highest-ranking active duty member of the U.S. military, reporting only to the President. He was the United States' first de facto Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (not his official title) and he also presided over the American delegation to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, when the American and British staffs worked together. Leahy was the first U.S. naval officer ever to hold a five-star rank in the U.S. Armed Forces.
== Quotes ==
Everybody may have peace if they are willing to pay any price for it. Part of this any price is slavery, dishonor of your women, destruction of your homes, denial of your God. I have seen all of these abominations in other parts of the world paid as the price of not resisting invasion, and I have no thought that the inhabitants of this state of my birth have any desire for peace at that price, or that they lack the fortitude that is necessary to discourage aggression by the barbarians who are now about to be driven back to their kennels, or by any other savages who may arise at some later date against our civilized Christian world.
Commencement speech at Cornell College in Iowa on 5 June 1944, as quoted by Henry H. Adams in Witness to Power: The Life of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (1985), p. 246[MacArthur's "Old Soldiers Never Die" speech was of] such a superlative quality of excellence... that there is no other individual... capable of preparing and delivering a comparable address... The public enthusiasm for General MacArthur in San Francisco and in Washington was a triumph beyond anything that I have ever seen anywhere for anybody, which seems strange in view of his recent summary detachment by President Truman. If the general's popularity persists for a considerable time, it should actively effect a change in the country's domestic political policy, and it might have a radical effect on the complexion of domestic political development. From a purely military point of view it appears that General MacArthur's attitude will be fully accepted by all qualified military authorities.
As quoted by Henry H. Adams in Witness to Power: The Life of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (1985), p. 341I did not see Julius Caesar's return to Rome, but I am sure that in comparison it looked like a deuce of spades.
Comment by Leahy on Douglas MacArthur's return to the United States after being relieved of command in Korea by President Harry S. Truman, in a 20 April 1951 letter to MacArthur's nephew Douglas MacArthur II. As quoted by Henry H. Adams in Witness to Power: The Life of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (1985), p. 342
=== I Was There (1950) ===
I was there.
p. 1Throughout the war, the four of us- Marshall, King, Arnold, and myself- worked in the closest possible harmony. In the postwar period, General Marshall and I disagreed sharply on some aspects of our foreign political policy. However, as a soldier, he was in my opinion one of the best, and his drive, courage, and imagination transformed America's citizen army into the most magnificent fighting force ever assembled. In number of men and logistical requirements, his army operations were by far the largest. This meant that more time of the Joint Chiefs were spent on his problems than on any others- and he invariably presented them with skill and clarity. King had an equally difficult task. His fleets had to hold Japan at bay while convoying millions of tons of supplies for the second front. He was an exceptionally able sea commander. He was also explosive and there were times when it was just as well that the deliberations of the Joint Chiefs were a well-kept secret. The President had a high opinion of King's ability but he was a very undiplomatic person, especially when the Admiral's low boiling point would be reached in some altercation with the British. King would have preferred to put more power into the Asiatic war earlier. He supported loyally the general strategy of beating Germany first, but this often required concessions of ships which he did not like to make. He could not spare much, since, until the last months of the war, he was working with a deficit of ships. America was fighting a two-ocean war for the first time in its history.
p. 104In the Pacific we gave our enemies a costly lesson in amphibious warfare, just as in Europe we, with our allies, demonstrated successful coalition warfare. The performance of all branches of the services in Europe under General Eisenhower, in the central and southern Pacific under Admiral Nimitz, and in the southwestern Pacific under General MacArthur brought glory to themselves and to their country.
p. 439Once it had been tested, President Truman faced the decision as to whether to use it. He did not like the idea, but was persuaded that it would shorten the war against Japan and save American lives. It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nakasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons. It was my reaction that the scientists and others wanted to make this test because of the vast sums that had been spent on the project. Truman knew that, and so did the other people involved. However, the Chief Executive made a decision to use the bomb on two cities in Japan. We had produced only two bombs at that time. We did not know which cities would be the targets, but the President specified that the bombs should be used against military facilities. I realized that my original error in discounting the effectiveness of the atomic bomb was based on long experience with explosives in the Navy. I had specialized in gunnery and at one time headed the Navy Department's Bureau of Ordnance. "Bomb" is the wrong word to use for this new weapon. It is not a bomb. It is a poisonous thing that kills people by its deadly radioactive action, more than by the explosive force it develops.
p. 441The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children. We were the first to have this weapon in our possession, and the first to use it. There is a practical reality that potential enemies will have it in the future and that atomic bombs will sometime be used against us. That is why, as a professional military man with a half-century of service to his government, I come to the end of my war story with an apprehension about the future. These new concepts of "total war" are basically distasteful to the soldier and sailor of my generation. Employment of the atomic bomb in war will take us back in cruelty toward non-combatants to the days of Genghis Khan. It will be a war of pillage and rape of a society, done impersonally by one state against another, whereas in the Dark Ages it was a result of individual greed and terrorism. Thee new and terrible instruments of uncivilized warfare represent a modern type of barbarism not worthy of Christian man. One of the professors associated with the Manhattan Project told me that he had hoped the bomb wouldn't work. I wish that he had been right.
p. 441-442Perhaps there is some hope that its capacity for death and terror among the defenseless may restrain nations from using the atom bomb against each other, just as in the last war such fears made them avoid employment of the new and deadlier poison gases developed since World War I. However, I am forced to a reluctant conclusion that for the security of my own country which has been the guiding principle in my approach to all problems faced during my career, there is but one course open to us: Until the United Nations, or some world organization, can guarantee- and have the power to enforce that guarantee- that the world will be spared the terrors of atomic warfare, the United States must have more and better atomic bombs than any potential enemy.
== Quotes about Leahy ==
Far less known than other leaders of World War II, Leahy was content to perform his services for his country and for the two presidents he served so closely, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. In his final job, the one he held longer than any other in his career, chief of staff to the commander in chief, he was the president's man. He spoke for the president, he represented the president, he advised the president, and he disagreed with the president when he believed he was wrong. But he did not make waves outside. He seldom gave interviews. When he made his occasional speeches, he talked on mundane subjects such as patriotism or what a proper naval education and naval career entailed. He kept silent- in public- on politics, on international affairs, on controversial issues. He made his opinions known where they mattered... Strictly a black-shoe sailor, Leahy did learn to value naval air and later the importance of air power. As he matured, he learned how the services complemented each other, and he was able to make balanced judgments which he recommended to the president. In the opinion of George Elsey, one-time assistant naval aide to President Truman, Leahy's greatest contribution was keeping the Joint Chiefs of Staff in line.
Henry H. Adams, Witness to Power: The Life of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (1985), p. xiAlways dependable, loyal, shrewd, and intelligent, Bill Leahy was next beside the president in the turbulent years of World War II and in the first few years of rebuilding, offering counsel and advice. Only Harry Hopkins was closer to Roosevelt, and no one on the military side was closer to Truman. George Marshall undertook more jobs for Harry Truman, but Bill Leahy was the one who was in the White House every day until his health demanded that he step down. To most laymen and to many naval officers, he is a forgotten name from the past, one of those shadowy figures whose name is given to buildings and ships, whose picture appearing in books of history is passed over as eyes fall upon the face of the man he is with. The reason for his lack of prominence is simple. He did his greatest work in the shadow of two dynamic presidents. He led no fleets during World War II, only one battle in his entire career, the Battle of Santiago in the Spanish-American War, from a gun turret aboard the battleship Oregon, after her famous cruise around South America.
Henry H. Adams, Witness to Power: The Life of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (1985), p. xiOn the day that General of the Army Douglas MacArthur stood on the deck of the battleship Missouri and sternly ordered the Japanese representatives to sign the articles of surrender, Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy was far from the scenes of power, delivering a routine speech for the president. Addressing the Midwest Farmer Observance, he spoke of responsibility and of duty, especially of the civilian's duty to make "our own system of government and our own way of life... work better in our land than other systems work in foreign lands. Let us not fear the competition of other systems." With the greatest war in history a thing of the past, it was time to rebuild the nation and the world. It was time to plan so that war would never again bring its destruction to man. In Leahy's mind the United States had a sacred duty of preserving the peace in spite of the dawning of the atomic age. His last years of service were dedicated to accomplishing that goal. There were those who believed, now that the war was over, there was no longer a need for a military chief of staff to the commander in chief. Despite the fact that the military men of the United States have never failed to yield to civilian direction and have never failed to lay down their offices when their terms have expired, there remains a paranoid lack of trust among many liberal newspapermen and politicians that the generals and admirals they have relied on to save them from the enemy somehow become the enemy when the guns have fallen silent.
Henry H. Adams, Witness to Power: The Life of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (1985), p. 303All admirals are supposed to be "crusty," and this characteristic is expected to continue into retirement. Leahy often seemed to be crusty, formal, and distant. He had a mean eye when he faced incompetence, stupidity, or neglect of duty. But there was kindness, tenderness, and compassion. He just didn't let those qualities show so much.
Henry H. Adams, Witness to Power: The Life of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (1985), p. 342[FDR] acknowledged needing a primary adviser to coordinate the army, navy and air force operations. In July, he appointed Fleet Admiral William Leahy as chief of staff to the commander in chief, US Army and Navy. Unlike modern presidential chiefs of staff, Leahy's job was related primarily to the military. The sixty-seven-year-old former chief of naval operations had also served as governor of Puerto Rico and ambassador to France after the Nazi takeover- a thankless job if there ever was one. FDR thought Leahy's experience and seasoning would make him an ideal power broker to the big egos of the military command. And he was comfortable with Leahy. Their relationship dated back to FDR's years as assistant secretary of the navy, when Leahy had commanded the secretary's dispatch boat and they'd become friends. "He said [at a press conference] that I would be a sort of 'leg man' who would help him digest, analyze, and summarize a mass of material with which he had been trying to cope singlehandedly," Leahy recalled.
Bret Baier, Three Days at the Brink: FDR's Daring Gamble to Win World War II (2019), p. 237-238It's important to get a mental picture of FDR at the time of his early sails with Bill Leahy. Roosevelt was an energetic and athletic thirty-three year old, easily motoring around on his own two legs. About the only similarity between this man who strode purposefully aboard the Dolphin and almost demanded his turn at the helm and the wheelchair-bound leader of the Allies three decades later was the pince-nez eyeglasses that perched on the bridge of his nose. The fact that Roosevelt was seven year Leahy's junior didn't stop him from calling the lieutenant commander "Bill." Naval etiquette, as well as Leahy's firm separation of familiarity from duty, demanded that Leahy call FDR either "Mr. Secretary" or "Mr. Roosevelt." But the two hit it off.
Walter R. Borneman, The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King: The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea (2012), p. 77The President tried to avoid face-to-face showdowns with King. If he had something to say that would rile King, he would use Leahy, Knox or his naval aides as reluctant surrogates. After the Savo Island debacle, Roosevelt suggested to Knox that carrier task groups employ fewer cruisers and more destroyers. (FDR presumably felt that cruisers could be more profitably used in defending beachheads.) As Knox was the least qualified official in the Navy Department to discuss tactics, King presumably drafted the reply for Knox's signature: the Navy knew best (it said) and would keep the status quo. Roosevelt was smart enough not to overrule King's professional judgment, but he still wanted the last word. Thus Leahy found himself dragged into the discussion when he received word from Roosevelt that the Navy Department memorandum should "receive further study." It did not, of course. Leahy had another unpleasant chore when he entered King's office in mid-1944. King was surprised because Leahy rarely came to see him. Leahy explained that Roosevelt, obviously jealous of his own "commander in chief" title, wanted King, Nimitz, and Ingersoll to change their titles as fleet "commanders in chief." "Is that an order?" asked King. "No," said Leahy, "but he'd like to have it done." "When I get the orders," said King, "I will do exactly that. Otherwise not. The subject was dropped.
Thomas B. Buell, Master of Sea Power: A Biography of Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King (1980), p. 242-243To direct the actions of each supreme commander and to coordinate British and American military policy, ARCADIA established the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS), a joint British-American undertaking composed of the three British chiefs- General Sir Alan Brooke (CIGS); Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, the First Sea Lord; and Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal- and their American counterparts, Marshall, King, and Arnold. At Roosevelt's insistence the Combined Chiefs was headquartered in Washington, where its work was directed by Field Marshal Sir John Dill, who became the ranking British chief and Churchill's personal representative. Dill was joined in July 1942 by Admiral William D. Leahy, whom Roosevelt brought back from Vichy to become chief of staff to the commandeer in chief and, in effect, chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff. In retrospect, the establishment of the command structure to fight the war was an unprecedented achievement that reflected the extraordinary ability of Churchill and Roosevelt to saw off minor differences and find common ground. Roosevelt, unlike Lincoln, was also well served by his long familiarity with the Army and Navy and his ability to pick effective military subordinates. Leahy, Marshall, King, and Arnold were exactly the right men for the job, and they served in their posts throughout the war. In their own way they were ruthless taskmasters, loyal to the president, and, when pushed by FDR, worked effectively with their British counterparts.
Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007), p. 546Admiral Leahy had served with Roosevelt since FDR had been assistant secretary of the Navy and enjoyed the president's complete confidence. Marshall, Roosevelt's personal choice for chief of staff, brought a single-minded, take-no-prisoners dedication to his task- combined with a remarkable sensitivity to political nuance at the highest level. Arnold, underneath his affable exterior, had a genius for organization urgently required to create an air force virtually from scratch. King, to some extent, was odd man out: fiercely Anglophobic, incredibly stubborn, not as gifted intellectually as his colleagues, but a powerful command presence that the Navy needed after Pearl Harbor. FDR said King shaved with a blowtorch, and it was that fierceness that propelled the Navy, even when King was wrong (as he was in early 1942, when he refused to convoy ships in American waters).
Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007), p. 546-547A few weeks previously Leahy had come to King's office one day and said that the President would like to have King cease using the customary term Commander in Chief, both in respect to the United States Fleet and the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets, and to alter these designations to Commander, United States Fleet, Pacific Fleet, or Atlantic Fleet, as the case might be. Thus there would be but one Commander in Chief, and that the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy. King asked Leahy if that were an order or a request, and was told that it was not an order or a request, but the Leahy knew that the President would like to have it done. King therupon told Leahy that if Mr. Roosevelt issued an order, or a request, he would of course have to comply with it, but Leahy said that the President said that the President did not wish to issue a definite order, but simply would like to have it done. That was the last that King heard of that particular matter, but it came to mind when he heard of the President's forthcoming visit to Hawaii.
Ernest King and Walter M. Whitehill, Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record (1952), p. 567During the closing days of 1944 King received the final promotion of his naval career. On 11 December the Congress passed a bill authorizing the appointment of four Fleet Admirals and four Generals of the Army. The President immediately named Leahy, King and Nimitz to the naval five-star rank (Halsey later became the fourth.), and Marshall, MacArthur, Eisenhower and Arnold to the corresponding grade in the Army. The Senate confirmed these appointments on 15 December 1944, and on 20 December- the third anniversary of his designation as Commander in Chief, United States Fleet- King took the oath of office as a Fleet Admiral in the United States Navy.
Ernest King and Walter M. Whitehill, Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record (1952), p. 582To King, Leahy, Nimitz, and naval officers in general, it had always seemed that the defeat of Japan could be accomplished by sea and air power alone, without the necessity of actual invasion of the Japanese home islands by ground troops. In 1942, 1943, and 1944, while the attention of most of the Allied political and military leaders was concentrated on Europe, and while the war against Japan was left largely to King to manage with what forces he could muster, the Pacific war had proceeded largely upon this assumption. With the approaching victory in Europe a larger amount of attention was concentrated on the Pacific by people who had not previously been too greatly concerned with the problems of that war, and an increasing amount of high-priced thought was devoted to it, some of which seemed to King not strictly pertinent. From the time of the Teheran Conference there had been the political consideration of Soviet intervention in the war against Japan, and the Army had been convinced that the use of ground troops would be necessary. Upon Marshall's insistence, which also reflected MacArthur's views, the Joint Chiefs had prepared plans for landings in Kyushu and eventually in the Tokyo plain. King and Leahy did not like the idea, but as unanimous decisions were necessary in the Joint Chiefs meetings, they reluctantly acquiesced, feeling that in the end sea power would accomplish the defeat of Japan, as proved to be the case.
Ernest King and Walter M. Whitehill, Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record (1952), p. 598Above all these sailors was the Commander in Chief, Franklin D. Roosevelt- a remarkable leader indeed. Unlike Winston Churchill, Roosevelt never imagined himself to be a strategist. In general he followed the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which included King, Marshall, and his own chief of staff, wise old Admiral Leahy. Thrice at least he went over their heads- refusing to redeploy American forces into the Pacific in 1942, insisting that Guadalcanal must be reinforced and held at all costs, and inviting a British fleet to participate in the Okinawa campaign. He also threw his influence in favor of MacArthur's desire to liberate Leyte and Luzon against the Navy's wish to bypass them. He was a tower of strength to Marshall, King and Eisenhower against insistent British pressure to postpone OVERLORD and shift DRAGOON from Marseilles to Trieste. The Navy was his favorite service- I heard him once, in his true regal style refer to it as "my Navy"- and he did his utmost to build it up and improve its efficiency both before and during the war.
Samuel Eliot Morison, The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War (1963), p. 583King, in addition to heading the Navy, served as a member of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, which also included General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, General Henry H. ("Hap") Arnold, Chief of Staff of the Army Air Forces, and, later, Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to the President. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and the British Imperial Chiefs of Staff, when meeting together, comprised the Combined Chiefs of Staff, the senior executive body controlling Allied military operations. The CCS delegated most of the control of Pacific theater operations to the JCS, who for this function relied heavily on the advice of Admiral King.
E.B. Potter, in Nimitz (1976), p. 31-32Historians have concluded that Truman grew into the role of commander in chief, and eventually proved more than equal to the job. But in the spring and summer of 1945, the growing pains were evident- and the decisions he must confront during those early weeks were among the most important of his presidency. In his diary, Bill Leahy expressed concern about the "staggering burdens of war and peace that [Truman] must carry." Privately, according to Leahy's son, the admiral regarded his new boss as a "bush-leaguer." He had been accustomed to speaking his mind to Roosevelt, knowing that the late president was "captain of the team" and might accept or reject his advice according to his own judgment. But Truman did not yet possess the confidence or independence to buck his advisers. Truman was in their hands, Leahy told another aide, which meant everyone who advised the president bore heavy responsibility, and must be absolutely sure they were right. In his diary and his subsequent memoir, Leahy betrayed no sense of responsibility or culpability for the new president's relative ignorance. One is struck by this lack of self-awareness in a Washington statesman otherwise respected for his wisdom and good judgment. Whatever he knew or did not know about the state of FDR's declining health, Leahy had been at the late president's elbow for most of the last year of his life. He certainly knew enough to anticipate that Truman might be thrust into the role of commander in chief at any moment. Leahy was the White House chief of staff and the chairman of the JCS. What steps did he take to ensure that the vice president was properly briefed? Who else had that duty, if not himself? No adequate explanation has ever been provided for this breakdown in the basic procedures of sound constitutional government.
Ian W. Toll, Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945 (2020), p. 642-643Leahy had been personally close to FDR, he told Truman, and was "distressed" by his death. He was inclined to retire from the navy and from his position as White House chief of staff. But Truman needed him for the sake of continuity, if nothing else, and asked him to stay on the job to help him "pick up the strands of the business of war." After Truman gave assurances that he would adhere to the same decision-making procedures used by FDR, Leahy agreed to remain on the job for at least a few more months. It turned out that he served another four years, to the end of Truman's first term in office.
Ian W. Toll, Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945 (2020), p. 643On the evening of August 14, the White House press corps was invited into the Oval Office. President Truman was seated behind his desk, with his cabinet secretaries, military chiefs, and aides standing behind him. Their beaming faces told the tale. The president came directly to the point. The Japanese government had accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, and therefore, the Second World War was over. The reporters rushed back to the press room, and moments later the news was on the wires. Soon a boisterous crowd gathered outside the White House gates. Admiral Leahy noted in his diary: "A noisy celebration is going on in the city with all motor cars sounding their horns, and great crowds of shouting people milling in the streets and bringing traffic to a standstill. The radio is bearing for the news of the celebration in cities from Los Angeles to Boston, in all of which the populace seems to be celebrating the war's end with noise in crowded streets. Leahy did not approve. He felt that the occasion called for calm, thoughtful, dignified reflection, "but the proletariat considers noise appropriate and the greatest number of people in democracies must have their way."
Ian W. Toll, Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945 (2020), p. 745-746Admiral: You do not seem to approve!
Harry S. Truman's inscription on the back of Leahy's copy of a photograph of Leahy, Truman, Chester W. Nimitz, and Marc Mitscher on the bridge of Mitscher's flagship, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, on April 22 or 23, 1946. As quoted in The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King: The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea (2012) by Walter R. Borneman, p. 242-243Dear Admiral: I am writing this on the train going 90 mi. an hour. I hope you will be able to read it. I received your letter enclosing an article by Constantine Brown. I wish I could get my hands on him and on the fellow who gave him the false information in the first place. I want you in the White House. I have the utmost confidence in you. You tell me what you think. While you and I don't see eye to eye on some things, we are always frank with each other. Don't you pay any attention to any lying stories the gossipers write. It's part of the political farce as it's played in this country. The opposition try to hurt me by hurting my friends. Please don't let it bother you. When I have anything to say to you, I'll say it to you. You are my friend and I am yours come hell or high water. Sincerely, Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman, in a letter to Leahy written on 23 September 1948, when Truman was running for re-election as President of the United States. As quoted in Witness to Power: The Life of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (1985), p. 332
== External links ==