Dr. John T. Mason Jr.’s oral history of Admiral Mack was published by the Naval Institute in 1980. However, Mack specified that the Institute could not release a sensitive portion of it until after the deaths of all involved. The embargo ended with the passing of former Secretary of the Navy John W. Warner in May 2021. The excerpt has been slightly edited.
In 1972, when Mack was serving as Commander, Seventh Fleet, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Jr., directed him to become superintendent of the Naval Academy—to prevent Vice Admiral Stansfield Turner from taking over the Academy and instituting radical curriculum changes, such as he later did at the Naval War College. Mack recalled that he was to stay in Annapolis for a year and then receive a more prestigious billet:
Near the end of one year, Admiral Zumwalt called me and said he was issuing my orders to be Commander in Chief, Allied Forces Southern Europe, to be Admiral Richard Colbert’s relief. This was a little earlier than he had thought, and it wasn’t exactly the job he was going to put me in. But Admiral Colbert had found he had cancer and a short time to live. I was to get ready to go on fairly sudden notice and relieve him. Admiral Zumwalt said, “I’m sending your nomination to the Secretary of the Navy and then down to the Secretary of Defense, and it should be announced shortly.”
I waited for a couple of weeks and finally I got another call from the CNO. He said Admiral Colbert had persuaded the Secretary of the Navy that he should be left in his position as a courtesy until he could no longer function. What he wanted more than anything was to stay in that job, regardless of what happened to his health.
So I was told to go back on hold and that my nomination had been withdrawn, although it had been signed by the Secretary of the Navy, signed by the Secretary of Defense, and was just about to go to the White House. Admiral Zumwalt retrieved it and apparently kept it in his desk. Admiral Colbert then came back to the States at the end of his second year. At that time, Admiral Zumwalt called me and said, “Okay, get ready again. Admiral Colbert is coming back to the States, and I’ll let you know what to do and when.”
About two weeks later, the CNO called again and said he was having difficulty with the nomination. He had sent it to Secretary Warner, who had said, “What’s this? I’ve already promised this job to at least three other people, one of whom is Means Johnston.”
Admiral Zumwalt didn’t tell me that part on the telephone. He flew down in a helicopter and talked to me for about an hour about this, apologizing profusely for what had happened. He said he didn’t want it on the telephone, and that was why he had come by helo. He was so unhappy about it that, rather than send for me, he’d come on down to the Naval Academy to apologize to me in person. He said what had happened was that he’d sent the nomination forward, already signed, and Secretary Warner said, “Well, that’s all history now.” His chief candidate was Admiral Johnston, who was then the Navy’s chief of legislative affairs and a constituent and very close friend of Senator John Stennis of Mississippi. That’s when he told me that Secretary Warner had in a sense traded his nomination to Senator Stennis in return for Senator Stennis’s vote in favor of the Trident [ballistic-missile submarine program].
This was an unusual procedure for the Secretary to promise an operational assignment without consulting the CNO. It was the first time I ever heard it happen, and I think it’s probably the last. Obviously, Admiral Zumwalt was extremely unhappy and told Secretary Warner that it was in his purview to recommend, at least to the Secretary of the Navy, those persons who were to take jobs like this, and the Secretary of the Navy did not have that expertise, and it was not right to put people in high office for political reasons. They were supposed to be competent in their field, and a political reason was not to be considered, except perhaps in making a choice between two people or something of that sort.
Furthermore, he said, he didn’t think Admiral Johnston was qualified to take this job, for various reasons. He had been a vice admiral only a short time, and he had never been to sea in that rank. Here they were about to make him a four-star admiral, and that was not right. But Secretary Warner kept pushing, and eventually it was resolved by Admiral Johnston being nominated and approved by a Senate committee—headed by Senator Stennis, which made it very easy.
I add, as an after note, that Admiral Johnston was relieved early.