William Daniel Leahy – Fleet Admiral, United States Navy

William Daniel Leahy was born in Hampton, Iowa, on May 6, 1875. His father, Michael Leahy, a lawyer, had been Captain of Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers during the Civil War. Young Leahy originally hoped to attend West Point, but there were no appointments available. When he completed high school in Ashland, Wisconsin, in 1893, he was able to win an appointment to the Naval Academy. He graduated in 1897, 15th in a class of 47.

Midshipman Leahy was assigned to USS Oregon, then in the Pacific. He was in that battleship when she made her famous dash around the horn in the Spring of 1898 to participate in the battle of Santiago on July 3.

Having completed the two years' sea duty — then required by law — he was commissioned Ensign on 01 July 1899. At that time, he was on the Asiatic Station, where, during the Philippine Insurrection and the Boxer uprising in China, he served in USS Castine, USS Glacier and commanded the gunboat USS Mariveles. He returned to the United States in 1902, and for the next five years did duty in USS Tacoma and USS Boston which was stationed in Panama during the early period of construction of the canal.

His first shore cruise was at the Naval Academy. Beginning in 1907, he served as instructor in the Department of Physics and Chemistry for two years. He went to sea in 1909 and served as navigator of the armed cruiser USS California in the Pacific Fleet. During the American Occupation of Nicaragua in 1912, he was Chief of Staff to the Commander Naval Forces there.

Late in 1912, he came ashore in Washington as Assistant Director of Gunnery Exercises and Engineering Competitions. In 1913, he was assigned to the Bureau of Navigation as a detail officer where he served until 1915. At that time, he took command of the dispatch gunboat USS Dolphin, and established a very close friendship with the then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, who cruised with him on the ship. He was in that assignment in early 1917 in West Indian waters and had additional duty as Senior Aide on the Staff of Commander Squadron Three of the Patrol Force Atlantic Fleet.

He served for almost a year as the Executive Officer of USS Nevada and in April 1918 went to command USS Princess Matoika, formerly Princess Alice , transporting troops to France.

After a short cruise in that command, he came ashore in 1918 and served for three years as director of Gunnery Exercises and Engineering Competition in the Navy Department, and as senior member of the Fire Control Board. In 1921, he went to sea in command of USS St. Louis, flagship of the Naval Detachment in Turkish waters during the war between Turkey and Greece. At the end of that war, he was given command of Mine Squadron One, and in 1922 further additional duty as commander, Control Force.

When he returned to the U.S. and from 1923 to 1926, he served as Director of Officer Personnel in the Bureau of Navigation, and then had one year in command of the battleship USS New Mexico. In 1927, he reached flag rank and became Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance. After almost four years, he went to sea in 1931 as Commander Destroyers Scouting Force.

In 1933, he came ashore in Washington as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation for two years, when he went to sea as a vice admiral, and Commander Battleships Battle Force. In 1936, he hoisted his four-star flag in USS California and Commander in Chief Battle Force.

He was appointed Chief of Naval Operations, took the oath of office in January 1937 to serve until August 1939 when he was placed on the retired list. On that occasion, President Roosevelt said “Bill, if we have a war, you're going to be right back here helping me run it.”

Immediately following his retirement, Admiral Leahy was assigned the duties of Governor of Puerto Rico in September 1939. He served in that capacity until November 1940 when he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to France where he served from January 1941 until recalled in May 1942.

In July of that year, he was called back to active duty as Chief of Staff to the  Commander in Chief, U.S. Army and Navy, the President of the United States. As such, he presided over the Joint Chiefs of Staff and, when our country was host, over the combined Chiefs. In December 1944, he accepted the appointment and was confirmed as the newly created rank of Fleet Admiral.


On 25 March 1949, the President accepted his resignation from that assignment. He  continued on duty in an advisory capacity in the office of the Secretary of the Navy, and served as President of the Naval Historical foundation.

He died on 20 July 1959.


  • Graduated from the Naval Academy – Class of 1897
  • Ensign – 01 July 1899
  • Lieutenant (junior grade) – 01 July 1902
  • Lieutenant – 31 Dec. 1903
  • Lieutenant Commander – 15 Sept. 1909
  • Commander – 29 Aug. 1916
  • Captain – 01 July 1918
  • Rear Admiral – 14 Oct. 1927
  • Vice Admiral – 13 July 1935
  • Admiral – 02 Jan. 1937
  • Fleet Admiral – 15 Dec. 1944


  • Navy Cross
  • Distinguished Service Medal with two gold stars
  • Sampson Medal
  • Spanish Campaign Medal
  • Philippine Campaign Medal
  • Nicaraguan Campaign Medal (1912)
  • Mexican Service Medal
  • Dominican Campaign Medal
  • World War I Victory Medal with “Overseas” clasp
  • American Campaign Medal
  • World War II Victory Medal
  • National Defense Service Medal

Former Chief of Naval Operations

Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy
Special Military Funeral
20-23 July 1959

Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, former Chief of Naval Operations and personal Chief of Staff to Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman from 1942 to 1949, died at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, on 20 July 1959 at the age of eighty-four. He was given a Special Military Funeral on 23 July.

Under policies published the year before Admiral Leahy died, the service of which he was a member was responsible for coordinating arrangements for the Special Military Funeral. In this instance the responsibility rested with the Commandant of the Potomac River Naval Command, Rear Admiral Elonzo B. Grantham, Jr. Dignitaries asked to participate in or attend the ceremonies received invitations from the Secretary of the Navy; the Office of the Chief of Naval Personnel dispatched these invitations and recorded the responses.

The ceremonies planned by Admiral Grantham and his staff, with due regard for the wishes of Rear Admiral William H. Leahy, son of the fleet admiral, followed, with one exception, the general prescriptions for a Special Military Funeral. The body of Admiral Leahy was to lie in Bethlehem Chapel at the Washington National Cathedral from noon on 22 July until the same hour on the 23d; the funeral service was to be held in the nave of the cathedral at 1400 on 23 July; and burial was to take place in Arlington National Cemetery. The gravesite was in Section 2, about midway between Memorial Gate and the Memorial Amphitheater.

The exception to the prescribed ceremonies had to do with the formation of the main funeral procession, an exception for which there was precedent in the recent funeral for Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald A. Quarles. In the 1958 plan, the main procession for a funeral in which burial was to take place in Arlington National Cemetery was to form at Constitution Avenue and 15th Street, N.W., in Washington. The body was to be brought to this point by hearse from the place where the funeral service had been held, transferred to a caisson, and taken to Arlington National Cemetery in full procession. But in the ceremonies for Admiral Leahy, as in the funeral for Secretary Quarles, a motorized cortege was to take the body of the admiral from the Washington National Cathedral to the Memorial Gate of the cemetery. The casket was to be transferred from hearse to caisson at that point in the presence of a military escort standing in formation on the lawn nearby. The full procession was then to enter the cemetery and proceed to the gravesite for the burial service.

On 22 July the body of Admiral Leahy was placed in Bethlehem Chapel of Washington National Cathedral. A Navy ceremonial guard from the US Naval Air Station in Anacostia, D.C., formed the honor cordon and provided the personal flag bearer. The body bearers were a joint group of ten enlisted men, two each from the Military District of Washington, Headquarters Command of the Air Force at Bolling Air Force Base, Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, Marine Barracks in Washington, and the Naval Station. One of the two men from the Naval Station was the petty officer in charge of the group. Each of these agencies also provided one officer and nine men for the guard of honor to stand watch for the twenty-four hours that the body was to lie in Bethlehem Chapel.

Composing a special honor guard were General Lyman L. Lemnitzer, Army Chief of Staff; Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, Chief of Naval Operations; General Curtis E. LeMay, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, who represented the Chief of Staff; General Thomas D. White; General Randolph M. Pate, Commandant of the Marine Corps; Rear Adm. James A. Hirshfield, Assistant Commandant of the Coast Guard; and General Nathan F. Twining, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Eleven friends of Admiral Leahy, one of whom was an academy classmate, served as honorary pallbearers. Officer escorts for the honorary pallbearers were furnished by the Naval Intelligence School at the US Naval Air Station in Anacostia.

According to protocol, announcements of the funeral service for Admiral Leahy, which in effect were invitations to attend, were sent to all branches and principal agencies of the federal government and to the diplomatic corps. Invitations also were extended to all active and retired admirals of the Navy and Coast Guard, all active and retired generals of the Marine Corps, and all active generals of the Army and Air Force living in the Washington area. Among friends and associates of Admiral Leahy invited to attend, including those asked to serve as honorary pallbearers, those residing outside Washington received invitations by telegram. The honorary pallbearers were Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz; Admiral Thomas C. Hart (retired) ; Admiral Charles P. Snyder (retired) ; Admiral Louis E. Denfeld (retired) ; Admiral Arthur W. Radford (retired) ; Admiral Jerauld Wright; Admiral Robert L. Dennison; Vice Adm. Edward L. Cochrane (retired) ; Rear Adm. Henry Williams (retired) ; Rear Adm. Joseph H. Wellings; and William D. Hassett.

Two Navy agencies located in the Washington area, the Navy Communication Station and the Naval Security Station, furnished officers and men to usher guests to their seats for the funeral service. The service itself was conducted by a Navy chaplain, Capt. John B. Zimmerman.

Following the short service at 1400 on 23 July, a motorized cortege formed outside the cathedral to escort the body of Admiral Leahy to Arlington National Cemetery. As the body bearers carried the casket out of the cathedral and through the Navy honor cordon to the hearse, the US Marine Band, in formation near the honor cordon, sounded ruffles and flourishes and played a hymn.

The cortege moved to the Memorial Gate of Arlington National Cemetery by way of Woodley Road, 34th Street, Massachusetts Avenue, Rock Creek Parkway, Memorial Bridge, and Memorial Drive. (Diagram 35) The military escort of some 550 officers and men, commanded by Admiral Grantham, stood on line on the green at the gate, facing the cortege as the motor column approached on Memorial Drive. In addition to the commander and a staff of four, one field grade officer or the equivalent from the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard, the escort consisted of the US Navy Band and a company each from the Army (3d Infantry), Marine Corps (Marine Barracks), Navy (Navy Air Station), Air Force (Headquarters Command), and Coast Guard (Coast Guard headquarters). Each company had four officers and eighty-five men and was organized with a company commander, guidon bearer, and three platoons, each consisting of a platoon commander, right guide, and three nine-man squads. Also present at the gate were the national color detail of three men, an Army color bearer and one color guard each from the Marine Corps and Air Force, and a personal color bearer from the Navy.

On the street in front of the escort and facing south toward Roosevelt Drive in the cemetery were the caisson and caisson detail, furnished by the 3d Infantry, and the body bearers, who along with the color detail had come from the cathedral by a separate route in order to reach Memorial Gate ahead of the cortege.

When the motorcade reached the gate, the vehicles carrying the special honor guard and the clergy halted on the left side of the street. The others lined up on the right, with the family cars and those bearing the honorary pallbearers and dignitaries at the front. (Diagram 36) After the cortege was in place, the hearse was driven to a position at the left and slightly ahead of the caisson. As the Navy Band sounded ruffles and flourishes and played a hymn, the body bearers re­moved Admiral Leahy's casket from the hearse, which was then driven away, and placed it on the caisson. After this brief ceremony, the escort commander led the procession into the cemetery.

From a distant position in the cemetery, the saluting battery of the 3d Infantry fired a slow-paced 19-gun salute as the procession marched to the gravesite. The escort units moved via Roosevelt and Wilson Drives, then turned right and marched off the roadway across the grass to McClellan Drive. Moving on McClellan to a point almost due south of the gravesite, the escort units formed on line along the edge of the road facing north toward the grave. In front of them, on the grass between McClellan and Sheridan Drives, stood a squad ready to fire the traditional three volleys following the burial service.

The escort commander and the cortege continued on Wilson Drive, then turned right on Sheridan Drive, which passed immediately south of the gravesite. The clergy, caisson, and mourners halted on Sheridan, while the escort commander, special honor guard, and honorary pallbearers left their cars on a narrow unnamed roadway leading off Sheridan and passing north of the gravesite.

With the customary ceremony and honors, Admiral Leahy's casket was carried to the grave, where Chaplain Zimmerman read the burial service. A final cannon salute, the traditional three volleys, and the sounding of taps closed the final rites for the five-star admiral.

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William Daniel Leahy

Fleet Adm, USN. Born: Hampton, Iowa, May 6, 1875. Died: Jul 20, 1959. An American admiral and diplomat. He graduated from USNA in 1897 and served in the Spanish-American War and World War I. In 1937, Leahy became chief of naval operations but retired two years later and became governor of Puerto Rico. In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt named Leahy ambassador to Vichy France. Recalled to naval service in 1942, he was chief of staff to Roosevelt and to Harry S. Truman until 1949. In 1944, Leahy became the first fleet (five-star) admiral. Bibliography: Leahy, William D., I Was There (1950). USNA. WWI Veteran. CNO, CoS to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Ret from active svce: 1946. Born: May 6, 1875. Died: Bethesda, Maryland, Jul 20, 1959. Section 2, Grave 932.

Louise Harrington,  wife of William D. Leahy ( 1876-1942).


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 05/06/1875
  • DATE OF DEATH: 07/20/1959


William Harrington Leahy, Rear Admiral, United States Navy. USNA 1927. Retired: June 1, 1961. Son of William Daniel Leahy. Adjacent site in Section 2. October 27, 1904-May 12, 1986.

Elizabeth Beale Leahy, wife of William Harrington Leahy. May 25, 1904-May 4, 1987.


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