During a March 1999 interview, Moorer commented that people frequently asked him about the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, since he was present there. “I tell them I remember just one thing: Before the attack lots of people were writing articles and making speeches claiming we were spending too much money on defense. But as soon as the first bombs fell on Pearl the expression on everybody’s faces changed, and then the same people were asking, ‘Why didn’t you buy more defense?’”
- On February 19th, 1942, during the Dutch East Indies campaign, he was shot down in a PBY, north of Darwin, Australia.
- Served with Patrol Squadron 101 in 1942 and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
- In October 1962 he assumed command of the 7th Fleet.
- He became commander in chief of the Pacific fleet in June, 1964.
- On April 30th, 1965 he assumed command of NATO’s Allied command, Atlantic and the US Atlantic Fleet. He was the first naval officer to have served as commander-in-chief of both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets.
- On June 3rd, 1967 he was named Chief of Naval Operations.
- Nominated to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on April 14th, 1970.
Thomas Hinman Moorer was born on February 9th, 1912, in Mount Willing, a small community about twenty-five miles southwest of Montgomery in Lowndes County, Alabama. He was the son of Dr. Richard Randolph Moorer and Hulda Hill (born Hanson) Moorer. He had a younger brother, Joseph Park Moorer.
Young Moorer attended Cloverdale High School in Montgomery, from which he graduated in 1927, as the valedictorian of his class. Two years later, Moorer decided that he wanted a career as an officer in the United States Navy. As a result he sought and received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He entered the Academy on June 10th, 1929, as a midshipman, and played on the Academy’s football team for three years. After he graduated from on June 1st, 1933, with a bachelor of science degree, he received his commission as an ensign in the United States Navy.
After graduation, Moorer received orders to the cruiser USS Salt Lake City and served in its Gunnery Department for the next six months. Moorer subsequently was assigned to assist in fitting out the new cruiser USS New Orleans at the New York Navy Yard. After its completion and commissioning on February 16th, 1934, Moorer served aboard the vessel both in its Gunnery and Engineering Departments. While Moorer enjoyed the surface Navy, two other interests began to influence his career.
One of these interests was naval aviation, and Moorer became certain that he wanted to learn to fly. As a result, he was accepted to the United States Naval Aviation Training School at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida in June 1935. There he successfully completed his flight training in July 1936, and received his designation as a naval aviator. The second interest was Carrie Ellen Foy, with whom he fell in love and later married in November 1935. From their marriage were born Thomas Randolph, Mary Ellen, Richard Foy, and Robert Hill Moorer.
By 1936, world events were beginning to take shape that would greatly influence Tom Moorer’s naval career. In January 30th, 1933, Adolf Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany. “Der Fuhrer”, as his followers called him, later seized power as an absolute dictator on March 23rd. In 1934, Fascist Italy under Benito Mussolini invaded and conquered Ethiopia. The two militaristic nations then joined forces and formed the Berlin-Rome Axis on October 27th, 1936. Later, on September 27th, 1940, Japan would join the Axis powers. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union’s brutal tyrant Joseph Stalin began strengthening his hold on power in 1936 with “trials” and executions of hundreds of Communist Party members and military leaders. He also terrorized the populace of the Ukraine by starving and executing millions of civilians. That same year, the Spanish Civil War erupted when an army revolt, led by General Francisco Franco, restored the monarchy. Germany and Italy supported Franco, while Russia aided the Spanish Republicans. Eventually, Franco established himself as the Spanish dictator.
Moorer’s first duty as a Naval Aviator came in August 1936, when he was assigned to Fighting Squadron 1-B (VF-1B) based aboard the aircraft carrier USS Langley. Affectionately called the “Covered Wagon,” it was the nation’s first aircraft carrier and had been converted from a Collier in 1922. In fact, the first takeoff from the Langley had been accomplished on October 17th, 1922, by a Vought VE-7 trainer. Nine days later, Lieutenant Commander Goeffrey de Chavalier made the first landing on the Langley. Originally, VF-1B had been equipped with Boeing FB-5 biplanes aboard the Langley.
Then Fighting Squadron 1-B was transferred to the 33,000 ton carrier USS Lexington, that had been converted from a battleship hull in 1927. The “Lady Lex”, as she was called, had a top speed of 33 knots and carried 90 aircraft aboard. In July, 1937, Moorer was transferred to Fighting Squadron 6 (VF-6) based aboard the carrier USS Enterprise, and he served aboard this carrier until August 1939. By now, world events had taken a further turn for the worse. In 1937, Japan attacked China, and by 1938 had captured most of its coastal regions. In March 1938, Hitler invaded Austria and annexed it to Germany. On September 29th, 1938, Britain, France and Italy agreed to allow Germany to partition Czechoslovakia under the terms of the Munich Agreement. The following year, on March 15th, Germany took most of the remainder of Czechoslovakia. Italy subsequently annexed Albania on March 15th, 1939. On August 24th, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a 10-year non-aggression pact, which freed Hitler to engage in further conquests.
While Moorer had flown single-seat Grumman F3F-2 fighter biplanes with retractable landing gears aboard the Enterprise, when he joined Patrol Squadron 22 (VP-22), a unit of Fleet Air Wing 2, he had to learn to fly the Navy’s new Consolidated PBY Catalina patrol bomber flying boats in 1939. By then, the troubles in Europe had reached the boiling point when Germany invaded Poland without warning on September 1st, 1939. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany, officially starting World War II. On September 17th, the Soviet Union invaded Poland and the “twin tyrants” Hitler and Stalin partitioned the country on September 29th. Also, the Soviets invaded Finland in 1939 and eventually forced it to give up about one-tenth of its territory. After the conquests of Norway and Denmark, the Nazis turned their blitzkrieg westward and conquered Luxembourg, Netherlands, Belgium and France in May and June of 1940. Then Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were annexed by the Soviet Union and Germany conquered Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Greece. Hitler then sent his troops into Russia in June 1941, but they met stiff resistance and bogged down that winter.
About this time, Moorer’s Patrol Squadron 22 was transferred to Fleet Air Wing 10 based at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. He was serving there on December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese suddenly launched their infamous air attack against the warships of the United States Fleet anchored there. In addition, they also attacked British bases in the Pacific. With the resulting immediate entry of the United States into World War II, Moorer’s squadron rushed to the Southwest Pacific after British and American leaders agreed on December 28th, 1941, to create a unified command for Allied forces in the Far East. As a result, Sir Archibald P. Wavell became head of ABDACOM (American, British, Dutch and Australian Command), and his responsibilities included command of all forces in Burma, Malaya (now Malaysia), the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines. However, Allied resources in the area were incapable of denying Japan control of the air and the sea, and the Japanese march southward continued. Their intent was to knock out the United States Asiatic and Pacific Fleets, to destroy British Naval power in Southeast Asia, to destroy Allied airpower in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia. By mid-February, 1942, the Japanese had taken Guam, landed in the Philippines and Borneo, captured Wake Island and Hong Kong, begun attacks on New Britain Island, invaded the Dutch East Indies, started into Burma, invaded Malaya and captured Singapore.
During the Japanese attempt to take the Dutch East Indies, Moorer was shot down in his Consolidated PBY Catalina patrol bomber flying boat on February 19th, 1942, north of Darwin, Australia. Fortunately, a friendly ship soon rescued him at sea. However, the enemy sunk the ship that very same day, and Moorer was rescued for a second time in one day. For this mission, he received the Purple Heart Medal for wounds that he sustained. He was also presented the Silver Star Medal for “extremely gallant and intrepid conduct as a pilot of a patrol plane during and following an attack by enemy Japanese aircraft near Cape Diemen.” He was also made eligible to wear the ribbon, and a facsimile of the Presidential Unit Citation to his Patrol Squadron 22, for its actions during the Dutch East Indies Campaign.
In late February 1942, fighting in the Java Sea ended Allied Naval resistance in the Dutch East Indies. When the Japanese invaded New Guinea, Moorer was serving with Patrol Squadron 101 (VP-101) in March 1942. Then in the next few months the Japanese drove the British out of the city of Rangoon and completed their conquest of Burma (now Myanmar). They also secured Java to complete their conquest of the Dutch East Indies. The Japanese went on to capture Corrigedor and complete their conquest of the Philippines, and closed the Burma Road supplying the Chinese. However, they suffered a major naval defeat in the Battle of Midway before they went on to invade Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
After serving with Patrol Squadron 101 until July 1942, Moorer returned to the United States for a brief period before receving orders to England in August 1942. He would serve there on temporary duty as a mining observer for Admiral Ernest J. King, the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations. At this time, the Allies were in a defensive posture in the North Atlantic and struggling to keep communication channels and sea lanes open to Great Britain and to safeguard the war materiel flowing to it in order to guarantee the security of the Western Hemisphere.
While Moorer was in England, Canadian and British forces, along with a contingent of American Rangers, raided Dieppe, a small French port across the English Channel, to test German defenses along the so-called Atlantic Wall. Their losses were very high, but the Allies gained very useful knowledge for a subsequent major invasion of Europe. In addition, General Dwight D. Eisenhower became Commander-in-Chief of Allied Expeditionary Forces in September 1942, in preparation of the invasion of North Africa, which was launched on November 8th, 1942, from England, Gibraltar and the United States under the code name Operation Torch. In the end, it was a success and opened the Mediterranean for Allied action against Sicily, Italy and southern France.
In March 1943, Moorer was recalled to the United States to direct the fitting out of Bombing Squadron 132 (VB-132). Then he assumed command of its various operations in Cuba and Africa from his headquarters at the Boca Chica Naval Air Base at Key West, Florida. From there, his squadron helped clear the Caribbean and the South Atlantic of German-submarines. Tom Moorer’s next assignment came in March 1944, when he became the gunnery and tactical officer on the staff of the commander of Naval Air Forces in the Atlantic. He held this post until after the war in Europe and Japan ended. For his meritorious conduct in this service, he was awarded the Legion of Merit.
On August 15th, 1945, Moorer was assigned to the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of Japan team for the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. This was a combination civilian and military organization that President Harry Truman directed to study the effects of the Pacific Campaign air attacks upon the industrial resources and war efforts of Japan. During this assignment, Moorer interrogated many high Japanese officials. This survey, and a similar one on Germany, was later extensively used as a source of information on military operations and for planning postwar defense policies.
In May 1946, Moorer became Executive Officer of the Naval Aviation Ordnance Test Station at Chincoteaque, Virginia, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. After this assignment, he served as Operations Officer of the heavily-armored battle aircraft carrier USS Midway, beginning in July 1948. It had left the yards on Ship Improvement Program No. 1, the first postwar modification to provide it with special weapon capabilities, and to accept the transition from propeller-driven to jet-powered aircraft. Then in December 1949, he became Operations Officer on the staff of the Commander of Carrier Division Four of the Atlantic Fleet. War erupted again on June 25th, 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea. Immediately, the United Nations called for aid to repel the invasion. As a result, the United States and 15 other countries began sending troops to South Korea, which were placed under General Douglas MacArthur as the United Nations Supreme Commander. As the tensions grew in the world, Moorer reported to the Naval Ordnance Test Station at Inyokern, California, in August 1950, where he served as the station’s experimental officer, directing its development and testing of new naval weapons.
In 1952, Moorer enrolled in the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, where he received training that would prove useful in higher positions of naval authority. After graduation in August 1953, he was assigned to duty on the staff of the Commander of the Air Force of the Atlantic Fleet. By now the war in Korea had ended with a truce, signed on July 27th, 1953. However, over a million persons had died in the war, including 54,000 United States servicemen.
In May 1955, Moorer was ordered to duty with the Navy Department in Washington, D.C. as Aide to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air. In July 1956, he became commanding officer of the USS Salisbury Sound (AV-13). President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved his promotion to the flag rank of rear admiral on July 26th, 1957. In October 1957, Moorer became a Special Assistant in the Strategic Plans Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in the Navy Department. Then, after serving as Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for War Games from January 1st, 1958, to July 1959, he took command of Carrier Division Six. Once again in 1956, communism threatened to engulf more of the world, and this caused President Dwight D. Eisenhower to proclaim his so-called Eisenhower Doctrine on January 5th. He said that the United States would send troops to aid any Middle Eastern nation in fighting communist aggression. The Senate approved this doctrine on March 7th. A year and a half later, on July 15th, 1958, American troops landed in Lebanon. They later withdrew on October 25th. On January 1st, 1959, Fidel Castro finally overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista after a three-year civil war.
Upon returning to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C. in November 1960, Moorer served in that office as Director of the Long Range Objectives Group until October 1962. During this period, relations between the United States and Cuba deteriorated badly.
In October 1962, Admiral Moorer assumed command of the United States Seventh Fleet based in the Pacific. For his exceptional performance in this capacity, he was awarded the Navy’s Distinguished Service Medal. Then in June 1964, he was elevated to Commander-in-Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet, and promoted to the rank of full admiral. But once again communist aggression threatened the United States when North Vietnam torpedo boats attacked U.S. Navy destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964. In retaliation, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered United States bombers to strike at North Vietnam military bases. On August 7th, 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving President Johnson the authority “to prevent further aggression” in the area. On June 28th, 1965, Johnson authroized the first use of U.S. ground combat troops in Vietnam to fight the North Vietnamese forces trying to take over South Vietnam. At the same time, he intensified diplomatic efforts at negotiating a settlement of the war.
Meanwhile, on April 30th, 1965, Admiral Moorer assumed a combined command responsibility in which he concurrently served as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Supreme Allied Commander of the Atlantic, as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Atlantic Fleet, as Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic, and as Commander-in-Chief of the Western Atlantic area. In recognition of his meritorious service in these commands, Moorer received a Gold Star in lieu of a second Distinguished Service Medal on June 17th, 1967.
After his service with NATO, Johnson named Admiral Moorer to succeed Admiral David L. McDonald as Chief of Naval Operations of the United States Navy. As a result, on August 1st, 1967, he became the eighteenth Chief of Naval Operations. During this tour of duty, he received a Gold Star in lieu of a third Distinguished Service Medal on January 13th, 1969, “for exceptionally meritorious service as Chief of Naval Operations from August 1967, to January 1969.” Then he was reappointed Chief of Naval Operations on June 12th, 1969 by President Richard M. Nixon.
During Moorer’s two tours of duty as Chief of Naval Operations, the war in Vietnam continued to accelerate and command much of the United States’ military attention. In January 1968, the North Vietnamese launched their Tet Offensive against Saigon.
On April 14th, 1970, President Nixon nominated Admiral Moorer to become the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As a result, the United States Senate confirmed his appointment on June 17th, 1970. Subsequently Admiral Moorer received another gold star in lieu of a fourth award of a Distinguished Service Medal “for exceptionally meritorious service to the Government of the United States in a duty of great responsibility as Chief of Naval Operations from August 1967, to July 1970.” The citation reflected Admiral Moorer’s contributions to the modernization of the Navy’s ships and aircraft, to the United States’ future status as a world maritime power, to the security of the United States, and in support of United States foreign policy and national strategy. The following day, Admiral Moorer assumed the office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the most important military position in the United States next to that of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Service, held by the President.
Meanwhile, the war in Vietnam dragged on, and U.S. troops even entered Cambodia in April 1970, to destroy North Vietnamese supply bases. In Poland, Soviet troops brutally suppressed riots. In October, 1971, Communist China was admitted to the United Nations when the United States ended 22 years of opposition to its admittance. In April 1972, North Vietnamese troops invaded South Vietnam to begin a major new offensive. A month later, President Nixon ordered the mining of North Vietnamese ports and the bombing of its supply routes to China.
On June 20th, 1972, President Nixon appointed Admiral Moorer to a second two-year tour as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his appointment was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on June 23rd. Soon afterwards all United States combat operations ended in Southeast Asia by congressional order on August 15th and the last of the American troops left Vietnam. Then in January 1973, truce agreements were formally signed in Paris by United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam and the Vietcong and the cease fire began on January 28th, 1973.
During his second tour as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Thomas Moorer was presented the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal by Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird on January 10th, 1973, “for extraordinary meritorious and distinguished service to the Government of the United States in a position of unique responsibility as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from July 1970 through January 1973.” The citation went on to note that “Admiral Moorer has carried the heavy responsibilities of the country’s senior military officer with great distinction during a critical period in the history of the United States. He has been relied upon extensively by the President and Secretary of Defense for advice and counsel, which has invariably been characterized by thoroughness, accuracy and wisdom.” The citation also noted Moorer’s contributions in the areas of negotiations related to the Strategic Arms Limitation (SALT) Treaty, Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions, Incidents at Sea, and the effectiveness of the Joint Chiefs of Staff representing the Armed Forces of the United States in the national security decision-making process.
Admiral Thomas H. Moorer retired from active duty with the United States Navy on July 2nd, 1974, after 45 years of service. At his retirement he was presented a second Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal by Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger “for extraordinary performance of duty and exceptional achievement as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from January 1973, to June 1974.” In the citation, the Secretary of Defense said, “I particularly note that Tom Moorer has always put his country’s interest before anything else, and it is this quality I recognize in presenting him the only oak leaf cluster ever given to the Defense Distinguished Service Medal.”
At his retirement, Admiral Moorer was also presented the Distinguished Service Medal of the United States Army, and the Distinguished Service Medal of the United States Air Force. During World War II, he had also received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal; the European, African, Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Navy Occupation Service Medal, the China Service Medal, the National Defense Medal with a Bronze Star, and the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. Later he received the Vietnam Service Medal, the Philippine Defense Ribbon, the Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He also received decorations from Brazil, Chile, China, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Venezuela.
Admiral Moorer received honorary Doctor of Law degrees from Stanford University and from Auburn University, as well as an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree from Troy State University, all three of which are in Alabama. Among Admiral Moorer’s clubs are the Chevy Chase Country Club, and the Army-Navy Country Club in Arlington, Virginia. He was also a member of the United States Naval Institute. Admiral Moorer had a younger brother, Joseph Park Moorer, who served with distinction in the United States Navy and rose to flag rank.
Admiral Moorer was a member of the board of advisors of the Georgetown University Center for Strategic and International Studies; the Citadel of Charleston, South Carolina; and the Valley Forge Military Academy and Junior College. He was also a member of the board of directors of Texaco, Inc., vice-chairman of the board of Blount, Inc., and a member of the board of Alabama Dry Dock & Shipbuilding Company. He was also chairman of the board of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, Inc., and president of the Association of Naval Aviation, Inc.
Admiral Moorer was author of “Formulation of National Policy,” published in Strategic Review in the Fall of 1975. He also co-authored “U.S. Overseas Bases: Problems of Projecting American Military Power Abroad”, published as Washington Paper 47 by Sage Publications in 1977. Thomas Hinman Moorer, through his 45-year career in naval aviation as a flying officer, a squadron leader, carrier commander, staff officer and Chief of Staff of the United States Navy, indeed gave extraordinary service to his nation in the air in both war and peace. Through his service as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he provided the leadership on the land on the sea, and in the air that preserved our heritage of freedom as individuals and as a nation.
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