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Vice Admiral Thomas R. Weschler, USN (Ret.) (1917-2016)

Volume I

Vice Admiral Thomas R. Weschler, USN (Ret.)Based on four interviews conducted by Paul Stillwell from October 1982 through September 1984, the volume contains 434 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 1995 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee placed no restrictions on its use.

Weschler was not commissioned at the time of his graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1939 because de did not meet the vision standards. Thus he became a merchant marine officer and served until joining the Naval Reserve in 1941 and being recalled to active duty. He taught briefly at the Naval Academy, then served in the carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) and was on board when she was torpedoed and sunk in September 1942. Later he was in combat operations in the destroyers Sigsbee (DD-502) and Young (DD-580). Weschler took a postgraduate course in ordnance engineering, including study with Dr. Stark Draper at MIT. He was then gunnery officer in the cruiser Macon (CA-132) and on the staff of Commander Cruisers Atlantic Fleet. After duty at the Naval War College, Weschler commanded the destroyer Clarence K. Bronson (DD-668). He was selected as the first personal aide for Admiral Arleigh Burke, who became Chief of Naval Operations in 1955. Weschler's oral history provides fascinating insights into Burke’s personality and working style. Afterward, Weschler was executive officer of the missile cruiser Canberra (CAG-2) and then worked on the development of the Polaris missile guidance and fire-control system.


An index to this volume can be viewed here (.pdf).



Admiral Weschler: There is one other story I wanted to tell you about, relayed to me from his driver, Chief Hamilton. It had to do with Quantico again. It was not the '55 one where he got his four stars, but a couple of years later. With the job, there was a huge Chrysler Imperial that was available to the CNO. Usually you went down to Quantico on a Saturday morning, and he didn't want to have the car kicking around there unnecessarily. This day he got the driver and said, "We're going down to Quantico, but it's such a nice day, I want to drive." So, Admiral Burke climbed in the front seat, and he said to Hamilton, his chief, "You get in the rear seat. I'll give you the ride down." So down they went and arrived at the gate. The sentry saluted, and Chief Hamilton returned the salute from the back seat. Then they pulled up to the building where the conference was, and a Marine sergeant opened the door and the chief climbed out. Meanwhile, Admiral Burke, who was in shirt sleeves up front, climbed out, put on his four-star uniform, and walked around the car. He said it was worth the price of admission to see the expression. He loved that. Then he sent the car off and had it back later. I thought that was classic Burke.


One other story, just to show personality. Early on, Admiral Burke was always trying to get people to use their initiative and to do things on their own. So, he told the captains with whom he was working regularly that he was going to create an award for the fellow who first exercised his initiative or went beyond his authority to such an extent that it was necessary to reprimand him. After he had said this, everyone sort of forgot about it. Then one day he said to me, "Put together a citation. I've got a winner."

Admiral Arleigh Burke, USN (Ret.)



I said, "Do I know who it is?"


He said, "It's young Jack McCain. Admiral Duncan has just had him in his office and has bawled him out for grossly exceeding his authority. I think it's appropriate that tomorrow morning I have him here and give him his citation."[*]


Paul Stillwell: This is Admiral Wu Duncan, the VCNO?


Admiral Weschler: Admiral Wu Duncan, the VCNO, had chewed out Junior McCain, who was then Admiral Burke's Navy propagandist.[†] He had a special office, whose job was to dramatize the Navy and sell it to the Navy itself and to the Navy League and to congressional committees. So that unlike Chinfo going external, this person was really internal and was getting all the word back and forth with Admiral Burke in order to sell the Navy to itself, and I think the biggest target was Congress.[‡] Anyhow, that was Jack McCain's job.


The next morning Admiral Burke had his usual meeting of the deputy chiefs and the vice chief after he had met with his aides. When they were all assembled and they'd had the intelligence brief and discussion, then I was called in to read the citation. Jack McCain had been alerted, and he was waiting on the other side of the office. The aide over there, who was Captain Thurston Clark, sent Junior McCain in.[§] He saw this four- and three-star group sitting there, and then I came in and read the citation, which congratulated him for being the first to have so grossly exceeded authority that he had to be personally upbraided by the Vice Chief. I said that Admiral Burke wanted to shake his hand and let him know we needed more like that. Well, it was wonderful. Wu Duncan was kind of flabbergasted, and all the deputies just really thought it was funny, after they kind of figured out what was going on. Anyhow, it was a lot of fun.


Paul Stillwell: It was kind of a joke on the VCNO more than anybody.


Admiral Weschler: That's right. But, by the same token, it got across the point of what he was trying to do, and all of the captains knew that he was watching. As long as what you were doing was for the good of the Navy, if you stepped on a few toes, that wasn't going to bother Admiral Burke too much. This reminds me of a favorite Burke quote: "You only get your toes stepped on when you're sitting still."


Paul Stillwell: How would you characterize the working relationship between Burke and Duncan?


Admiral Weschler: I was just coming to that, because I

wanted to mention two other points from these stories. Number one, I really think that it was six months to a year after Admiral Burke became CNO before he stopped standing up every time Admiral Duncan walked into the office. If Admiral Duncan came in, Admiral Burke rose and talked with him until they both sat down to have a cup of coffee or to go over the papers, or Wu would shove him down and hold the papers there and go through what was going on. But that's the way he treated him.


Admiral Duncan had had enough experience around there that he was wonderful for Admiral Burke in those years. He had the rank.[**] There wasn't any question that he could call up anybody he wanted to, three- or four-star. He had many more years on them, so he was a wonderful bridge to say a lot of things to people that needed saying that Admiral Burke might have been uncomfortable saying. Admiral Duncan was sensitive enough to be able to fill that kind of a role for him.


(Note: Due to edits, corrections, and/or amendments to the original transcription draft, there are some inconsistencies between the recording and the text.)

[*] Captain John S. McCain, Jr., USN, was then officially director of the Progress Analysis Group in OpNav. He was also instrumental in developing sea power presentations for public audiences.

[†] Admiral Donald B. Duncan, USN, Vice Chief of Naval Personnel. Admiral Duncan’s oral history is in the Columbia University collection.

[‡] Chinfo—Chief of Information.

[§] Captain Thurston B. Clark, USN.

[**] Duncan was in the class of 1917 at the Naval Academy, six years ahead of Burke. He had been a four-star admiral since 1951, four years earlier than Burke.



Volume II

Based on five interviews conducted by Paul Stillwell from September 1984 through May 1981. The volume contains 365 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 1995 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee has placed no restrictions on its use.

For several years, beginning in 1962, Weschler was involved in various aspects of the developing war in Southeast Asia. As a student at the National War College, he studies South Vietnam and made a visit there as part of a class field trip. Then he commanded the attack transport Montrose (APA-212) during Pacific Fleet exercises. On the staff of Commander Amphibious Force Pacific Fleet, he participated in large-scale exercises, then helped do the planning for the 1965 landing at Danang. As Commander Amphibious Ready Group Seventh Fleet, he executed Dagger Thrust raids in Vietnam, then in 1966, upon selection for rear admiral, became the first flag officer as Commander Naval Support Activity Danang. In 1967 he became program coordinator for the DX/DXG program that led eventually to the Spruance (DD-963)-class destroyers and Virginia (DLGN-38)-class frigates. Later tours of duty were as Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla Two and Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Force Atlantic Fleet. Finally, as a vice admiral, Weschler headed J-4, the logistics branch of the Joint Staff, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and Arab oil embargo. Following retirement in 1975, he taught at the Naval War College.



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