Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
Teaser Image

Forrestal, James Vincent (1892–1949)

Title: James Forrestal
Button: Click to display an enlarged version of the image.
U.S. secretary of the navy and later secretary of defense. Born in Beacon, New York, on 15 February 1892, James Forrestal entered Dartmouth College in 1911. The next year he transferred to Princeton, but he left school without graduating in 1914. Two years later, Forrestal secured a position with the investment-banking corporation of William A. Read and Company (later known as Dillon Read Company). When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, Forrestal enlisted in the navy. Soon afterward, he transferred to the aviation branch; he trained in Canada with the Royal Flying Corps but never saw combat. At the end of the war, he left the navy as a lieutenant and returned to Dillon Read Company, becoming its vice president in 1926 and its president in 1938.

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


Further Reading
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.
 

©2011 ABC-CLIO. All rights reserved.

  About the Author/Editor
  Introduction
  Essays
  A
  B
  C
  D
  E
  F
  G
  H
  I
  J
  K
  L
  M
  N
  O
  P
  Q
  R
  S
  T
  U
  V
  W
  X
  Y
  Z
  Documents Prior to 1938
  1939 Documents
  1940 Documents
  1941 Documents
  1942 Documents
  1943 Documents
  1944 Documents
  1945 Documents
  Images
ABC-cLIO Footer