In 1940, Forrestal resigned his position to join the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration as undersecretary of the navy. His primary role was in procurement, which was vital in preparing the U.S. Navy for World War II. He worked closely with his army counterpart, Undersecretary of War Robert P. Patterson, to streamline contracting and purchasing policies. Forrestal oversaw the rapid expansion of the navy in the early years of the war, including not only number of ships but also facilities and training. On the sudden death of Secretary of the Navy William F. Knox, Forrestal succeeded to the post in May 1944 and continued in the position until 1947.
In September 1947, Forrestal became the first secretary of defense. In this capacity he is sometimes referred to as the "godfather of the national-security state." Forrestal was a staunch proponent of efforts to halt what he saw as Soviet expansionist policies, and he lobbied hard for George Kennan's Containment Doctrine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He also supported the concept of a balanced military establishment.
The immense strain of his position weighed on Forrestal and led to irrational behavior. In January 1949, President Harry S Truman informed Forrestal that he was replacing him as defense secretary with Louis Johnson. On 1 March 1949, Forrestal resigned his post. Admitted to Bethesda Naval Hospital, Maryland, for psychiatric care, on 22 May 1949 Forrestal leaped to his death from the sixteenth floor of that facility. Todd M. Wynn
Albion, Robert Greenhalgh, and Robert Howe Connery, with Jennie Barnes Pope. Forrestal and the Navy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962.; Forrestal James. The Forrestal Diaries. Walter Millis, ed., with E. S. Duffield. New York: Viking Press, 1951.; Hoopes, Townsend, and Douglas Brinkley. Driven Patriot: The Life and Times of James Forrestal. New York: Knopf, 1992.; Rogow, Arnold A. James Forrestal: A Study of Personality, Politics, and Policy. New York: Macmillan, 1963.
Todd M. Wynn