“Come sail with me,” he began. “Come sail with me.”
It was more than an invitation; it was an irresistible challenge and opportunity. Speaking from a stage at the U.S. Naval Academy on a warm July day in 1978, Admiral Thomas Bibb Hayward accepted his appointment as the 21st Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). Much later, when I inquired about his “invitation,” the admiral said he recalled it from a biography of John Paul Jones that he had read as a midshipman.
After serving as an enlisted sailor during World War II, Hayward graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1948 then continued on to flight school. He completed 146 combat missions flying from the USS Valley Forge (CV-45) in the Korean War, became a test pilot at Patuxent River, and flew combat missions as an air wing commander in Vietnam.
“People ask me about the exhilaration of flying,” he said in his Naval Institute oral history. “It’s not something I’ll ever forget. Flying, I think for anybody, has to be exhilarating when you can go straight up or flip on your back, go straight down, or pull all kinds of Gs. You’re in a constant mode of taxing yourself and challenging yourself and competing against others around you, particularly in the whole fighter game. It’s a skill competition sort of environment, but a very exciting one. Flying is just a lot of fun. You seldom run into an aviator who doesn’t like what he’s doing.”
Admiral Hayward later would command both Seventh Fleet and the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
As commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, he was appalled to find that Naval Magazine Lualualei in the valley beyond Schofield Barracks stored almost no modern weapons and that most of the warships under his command were in desperate need of repairs and updating. He was equally disturbed by the lack of pride and professionalism of the crews—a product of the embarrassing conditions of the ships, the poisonous trend toward leniency in discipline, the availability of drugs, and increasing racial friction.
Admiral Hayward also was stunned by the official war plan that he would be expected to execute. That plan, in accordance with a “Europe First” defense policy, mandated that the Navy would abandon the Pacific Ocean in the event of war with the Soviet Union and reassemble in the Atlantic. Admiral Hayward reckoned that the Soviets would take full advantage of such a U.S. withdrawal: intimidating Japan, seizing the Aleutians, and even attacking Alaska and the West Coast from the sea. Mobilizing his staff and drawing on military expertise from various think tanks, he fashioned an alternative plan—known as “Sea Strike”—that called for employing the Pacific Fleet to take “prompt offensive action” against the Soviet Far East.
When he became CNO, Admiral Hayward was keen to solve the Navy’s internal problems, but addressing U.S. relations with the Soviet Union had to take precedence. He vigorously pursued acceptance of Sea Strike by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense and ultimately saw it win prominence.
The Navy’s role in U.S. defense required constant readiness, and the internal problems detracted from that. So using the new war plan as a benchmark for combat readiness, Admiral Hayward attacked each issue, one after the other, emphasizing material readiness, training, and sailor well-being. Perhaps most memorable was his “zero tolerance” of drug use, expressed in his “not on my watch, not on my ship, and not in my Navy!” speech, which was filmed and shown repeatedly at every Navy command.
As CNO, Admiral Hayward had the unique challenge of having to navigate the very different personalities of three Secretaries of the Navy. He understood clearly that unless Navy leadership was seen by the President and Congress as unified and coherent, nothing serious could be accomplished. Fortunately, after struggling to match views with two previous secretaries, Admiral Hayward welcomed the appointment of John Lehman by incoming President Ronald Reagan. Secretary Lehman and the admiral shared nearly identical views about correcting the Navy’s internal problems and the benefit of progressing the Sea Strike Pacific offensive model into a two-ocean maritime strategy, which placed a huge burden on Soviet military calculations and thus made a significant contribution to the peaceful end to the Cold War.
“Happily,” he would write in the June 1982 Proceedings, “we now find ourselves with an administration determined to reverse the trends of the last ten years through a major investment in our Navy to ensure that we compete effectively with the Soviets. . . . A major aspect of this naval buildup is the absolute requirement to increase the level of our offensive strength at sea—which the President’s budget signals by its determination to support our concept of maximizing the employment of cruise missiles on submarines, surface ships, and aircraft, and by commencing now—not later—to build two additional nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. . . . The aircraft carrier is the primary difference between our offensive capability and that of the Soviet Union. The aircraft carrier resolves the real issue: the issue of air power at sea.”