The last cabinet level Secretary of the Navy, and the first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal was not content to remain in Washington. As Secretary of the Navy during World War II he often visited the sites of active combat operations. Thus it was that he was present on Iwo Jima when the flag was raised on Mount Suribachi. What he said then has entered the lore of the Marine Corps:
The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years.
Appointed the first Secretary of Defense in 1947, Forrestal fought against budget cuts proposed by President Truman that he thought endangered the nation’s security. He also opposed the proposal to unify the services which would gut the Navy and eliminate the Marine Corps. On March 31, 1949, Harry Truman, angered over Forrestal’s opposition to his policies, fired him. Tragically, Forrestal, who had worked non-stop on Defense issues since he joined the Roosevelt administration in 1940, had a nervous breakdown. While undergoing psychiatric treatment he committed suicide by jumping from the 16th floor of the National Naval Medical Center. He left behind a note with a quotation from Sophocles’ Ajax:
Fair Salamis, the billows’ roar,
Wander around thee yet,
And sailors gaze upon thy shore
Firm in the Ocean set.
Thy son is in a foreign clime
Where Ida feeds her countless flocks,
Far from thy dear, remembered rocks,
Worn by the waste of time–
Comfortless, nameless, hopeless save
In the dark prospect of the yawning grave….
Woe to the mother in her close of day,
Woe to her desolate heart and temples gray,
When she shall hear
Her loved one’s story whispered in her ear!
“Woe, woe!’ will be the cry–
No quiet murmur like the tremulous wail
Of the lone bird, the querulous nightingale– (more…)