NASOH’s John Lyman Book Award

ZUMWALT received the only Honorable Mention in the Biography and Autobiography category for Lyman Book Award in 2013.
John Lyman Book Award

Naval History February 2013 Review of Zumwalt

Larry Berman, author of four previous works on Vietnam, has produced a gem on one of the most important Navy leaders of the 20th century. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1942 with higher grades in academics (7th) than conduct (275th!) and choosing surface warfare, Lieutenant Elmo Russell Zumwalt earned the Bronze Star for actions on board the destroyer Robinson (DD-562) in the Battle of Surigao Strait; his skipper had recommended him for the Navy Cross. Zumwalt would earn more commendations for his service as navigator on board the battleship Wisconsin (BB-64) during the Korean War.

His shore tours included two with the Bureau of Naval Personnel, where he played a key role in changing the ratio of sea and shore duty for some of the most- deployed sailors in the Navy, dramatically improving retention of key ratings. Zumwalt commanded the destroyer Isbell (DD-869), taking a ship that had stood eighth in a squadron of eight and turning her into the top destroyer in the squadron in one year. After another tour in BuPers, he commanded the first guided-missile frigate, the Dewey (DLG-14) and then attended the National War College, where he impressed Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Paul Nitze.
Zumwalt played an important role as Nitze’s aide during the Cuban Missile Crisis and again when Nitze served as secretary of the Navy. He was deep-selected for promotion to flag rank at age 43, making him the youngest admiral in the history of the Navy. He commanded Cruiser Division Seven and led the newly created Systems Analysis Division of the Office of the chief of Naval Operations. There he helped kill the FB-111 as a Navy airplane before assuming command of U.S. naval forces in Vietnam in 1968 after the Tet Offensive. He focused on innovative brown-water riverine operations that resulted in the Navy, like the Army under General Creighton Abrams, conducting clear-hold-build operations and preparing the Vietnamese to take over responsibility for their own war. One of his practices was the use of Agent Orange to clear foliage from riverbanks—but the resulting health problems cost many lives, including that of Zumwalt’s son Elmo, who had commanded a swift boat.

Zumwalt was deep-selected in 1970 to become the first surface-warfare officer since Arleigh Burke to serve as CNO. He dramatically changed the direction of the Navy as it moved to an all-volunteer force, reducing the number of ships from 769 to 512 but improving readiness and retention through initiatives that increased opportunities for women and minorities in
every commanding officer to have open discussions with subordinates on the issues about which Zumwalt cared so deeply and that he devoted his career to improving: racial equality, opportunity for women, and taking care of sailors and their families. (I would also have a conversation with the leadership of the Naval History and Heritage Command, with which author Larry Berman had a difficult time over access to documents, all detailed in his “author’s research note.”)

The Navy leads the armed services in the rapidity with which it relieves unsatisfactory performers. A focused and sustained discussion about the career of Bud Zumwalt would go a long way toward reducing the incidence of relief and furthering his legacy of continually improving the world’s best Navy.

Applauded by many as a visionary, and called by critics a lax disciplinarian who promoted “beer, beards, and broads,” Zumwalt faced with equanimity fortune’s slings and arrows, including race riots on board several ships and the secrecy and double-dealing of the Nixon administration in its final days. No CNO did more to bring the Navy into the 20th century.

At the end of his four-year term, Zumwalt turned down an unprecedented offer of another two years in the office and an invitation to head the Veterans Administration. Instead he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in Virginia and, with more success, led efforts to win compensation and support for Agent Orange victims and Vietnamese refugees to the United States, particularly those who had served in the Vietnamese navy. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the first DDG- 1000 destroyer was named for him. It was a life well lived that earned him the title “Father of the Modern Navy.”

If I were CNO, rather than just a scribbler in the Naval Academy, I would have every officer in my service read this book. Then I would order every commanding officer to have open discussions with subordinates on the issues about which Zumwalt cared so deeply and that he devoted his career to improving: racial equality, opportunity for women, and taking care of sailors and their families. (I would also have a conversation with the leadership of the Naval History and Heritage Command, with which author Larry Berman had a difficult time over access to documents, all detailed in his “author’s research note.”)

The Navy leads the armed services in the rapidity with which it relieves unsatisfactory performers. A focused and sustained discussion about the career of Bud Zumwalt would go a long way toward reducing the incidence of relief and furthering his legacy of continually improving the world’s best Navy.

–John A. Nagl, the Minerva Research Professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, is a retired Army officer and veteran of both wars in Iraq and the author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam.

Wall Street Journal’s “The Man Who Modernized the Navy” January 26, 2013

“Mr. Berman’s “Zumwalt” isn’t merely about a celebrated naval officer. It is an education in leadership.”

Read the entirety of the article at

John Lehman’s Washington Post Review December 7, 2012

There is nothing wrong with hagiographies, if they are well researched and written – and if the praise is deserved; we need more of them. “Zumwalt” is a fine example, an engaging book about an extraordinary sailor and human being, who had an inspirational faith in the strengths of America, its people and its Navy.

Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt was commissioned into a U.S. Navy fighting hard in a world war. He served courageously in that war, just after which – in a charming Shanghai love story – he married a White Russian beauty who became “his strength” from then on. His Navy career was fast-paced and exciting, both at sea and in Washington, and his arrival in Vietnam in 1968 as commander of U.S. Naval Forces there revolutionized the in-country naval campaign. Zumwalt’s innovative and effective tactics in Vietnam earned him promotion to chief of naval operations, an announcement that brought many retired admirals close to cardiac infarction. Their worst fears were realized at once, when a barrage of directives called “Z-Grams” poured from Zumwalt’s office changing everything in the Navy great and small. He intended to reform the Navy completely, to restore a sense of mission, a sense of excitement and a sense of real racial equality. Guerrilla warfare against him began at once from the old guard in Congress and the retired admirals, especially those from the old South. But Zumwalt, who would have been at home at the Medici court, could maneuver and scheme with the best of them.

For those who like high drama and bitter conflict, veteran historian Larry Berman provides plenty: Zumwalt vs. Adm. Tom Moorer; Zumwalt vs. his second secretary of the navy, John Warner; Zumwalt vs. Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon; Zumwalt vs. Hyman Rickover. His reformist ideas and his strong opposition to Nixon’s policy of detente with the Soviets put him at odds with many, and his tour as CNO was tumultuous. But those looking for the texture of these disputes will be disappointed. Zumwalt’s opponents – each a great public servant – are painted as without merit and he as an infallible leader. But those who want to read about service, leadership, patriotism and real humanity will be much pleased. Zumwalt’s passion for his country and his implacable enmity toward its adversaries, his loyalty toward those who mentored him, his fierce support for those who assisted him, and above all his enormous compassion for the young Americans serving in his Navy – enlisted and officers, black and white, men and women – defined him.

And they returned the ardor. Here’s former Vietnam Swift boat sailor Joe Muharsky: “He gave us something (that) may not have meant much to others but to us it meant the world. There’s a simple word for it, it’s called respect.”

Zumwalt’s obsession with merit comes through clearly, as he drove himself to ever greater accomplishments and endlessly searched for others whose diligence and insight he could harness. Berman highlights Zumwalt’s commitment to equality, and especially his deeply felt – and strongly acted-upon – belief that minorities in his Navy must be given the opportunity to succeed. His hostility to discrimination was as great as his hostility to the Soviets. And he fundamentally changed the Navy.

Conscious of his place in history, the admiral wanted his story told. He created and stored piles of records, notes and tapes. He used them to write a lengthy autobiography and later to embellish a book co-authored with his son, Elmo III. (The son was a Vietnam War hero who later succumbed to cancer, probably induced by exposure to the very herbicide his father had ordered sprayed along Vietnam’s rivers, to uncover Viet Cong firing positions and protect U.S. and Vietnamese sailors.) Berman has made extensive use of the massive Zumwalt archive, as well as numerous interviews with those who interacted with the admiral.

But there’s still much in that archive that remains to be mined. Berman’s recounting of Zumwalt’s early life is fascinating, and his chapters on the admiral’s strategy and operations in Vietnam and his anti-discrimination crusade are gripping. But those in search of details and insights on Zumwalt’s performance in the core duties of a modern chief of naval operations – organizing, training and equipping the navy for the future, and rendering advice on naval operations – will be disappointed. Berman tells us about Zumwalt’s ambitious and contentious master plan for the Navy. But how this plan fared is mostly relegated to an endnote, and only a few other details are scattered around the book to tell us how and why some of his many innovative programs endured while others crashed and burned. Nor is there much in the book on the Navy’s operations during Zumwalt’s tenure as CNO. So there’s still a whole other book waiting to be written about his life and times.

Many of the naval leaders of the past 30 years, including me, decided to stay with the institution because of the new spirit Zumwalt sparked. The Navy benefited greatly from his legacy, and he continued to provide valued advice to his successors and to me. He was a true American hero, and Larry Berman has done him justice.

— John Lehman

John Lehman was secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration and a member of the 9/11 Commission.

Pure Politics Review October 24, 2012

Atlanta, Georgia- Bill Clinton referred to Admiral Elmo Russell “Bud” Zumwalt, Jr. as the “conscious of the Navy” according to author Larry Berman who wrote a book on Zumwalt as spoke about the book with the audience at the Carter Presidential Library on October 9, 2012. President Clinton not only honored Zumwalt with the Medal of Freedom but he also gave the eulogy as a sitting President at his funeral.

Berman resides in Atlanta and is the founding dean of the Honors College at Georgia State University and has written four books. Berman crossed the path of “Bud” Zumwalt as he was working on another project. This book captures the life and times of this unspoken hero.

The book has several interesting parts, in the end with the author research notes has a fascinated tale on how the book almost was never written. Berman had to take his case to court to open the public documents that should have been open to begin with. The Navy and government bureaucracy almost succeeded in squashing the project, fortunately Berman persisted and prevailed.

Another part is the dialogue and interaction with the great late Admiral Hyman Rickover is fascinating. Rickover was known as a tough old bird and a bit of a jerk. The passages about Rickover interviewing Zumwalt are riveting.

Zumwalt also was an advocate for those veterans affected by Agent Orange and his own son Elmo got sick from his exposure. Ironically it was Zumwalt’s orders that exposed his son to this chemical. This prompted him to work tireless on the victims behalf and he also help start the national bone marrow donation program. Berman also points to some new evidence that the Reagan administration had a consorted effort to deny the existence of the link between Agent Orange and illness.

According to Berman, Zumwalt was also instrumental in shifting the paradigm of the modern navy where it diversified the higher ranks with women and blacks.
Zumwalt worked in the Nixon white house under Kissinger and ran for United State Senate. His life was full of ups and downs, but through it all he was a honorable man who strived to do the right thing.

In his Medal of Freedom citation it reads “In both wartime and peacetime, Elmo Zumwalt has exemplified the ideal of service to our nation… For his dedication, valor, and compassion, we salute Bud Zumwalt.”

This book Zumwalt: The Life and Times of Admiral Elmo Russell “Bud” Zumwalt, Jr by Larry Berman is a fascinating peek into one man’s remarkable life and selfless commitment to public service. A good read about a good man.

–Wilton Trivino

Booklist Advance Review October 1, 2012

“Fairly or not, few of the top military brass emerged from the Vietnam era with their reputations enhanced. Perhaps the most notable exception was the late Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt. Berman, professor emeritus at the University of California, Davis, is an unabashed admirer of Zumwalt, and this detailed, complimentary but fair biography shows his subject worthy of that esteem. Zumwalt commanded all U.S.naval forces in Vietnam from 1970 to 1974. Although he harbored serious doubts about the feasibility of military victory in the war, he showed remarkable innovative skills, especially in shifting responsibility to South Vietnamese naval forces as part of the “Vietnamization” policy. He also earned the admiration of both superiors and subordinates for his constant concern for the welfare of ordinary seaman. Then, as chief of naval operations, Zumwalt carried out dramatic reforms that helped the U.S. meet new Soviet challenges as well as confront embedded racism in the navy. This is a fine tribute to a man of high achievement and character.”

Library Journal Advance Review October 1, 2012

“Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt was one of the more colorful, beloved, and perhaps controversial figures in recent U.S. naval history. Berman (Univ. of California, Davis; Planning a Tragedy: Lyndon Johnson’s War) provides an insightful look into Zumwalt’s life and career. Zumwalt spent 32 years in the navy, including serving as the leader of all naval forces in Vietnam, before concluding his career as the youngest chief of naval operations (1970–74), for which he is largely credited with integrating and modernizing the navy. Later, Zumwalt was active in promoting veterans’ issues, especially the fight for those exposed to Agent Orange, a struggle that was deeply personal when his son succumbed to illnesses related to exposure (and the subject of Zumwalt’s My Father, My Son). VERDICT: Berman presents a well-researched study, although far stronger on the details of Zumwalt’s naval career and political battles than on his personal life. This will appeal to those interested in 20th-century naval or political history or the Vietnam War in particular.”

Kirkus Review of Zumwalt August 29, 2012

“Admiring biography of Elmo Russell Zumwalt (1920–2000), who transformed the U.S. Navy and went on to an equally commendable career after retirement.

Berman (History Emeritus/Univ. of California, Davis; Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, 2007, etc.) emphasizes how quickly Zumwalt impressed commanders after graduating from Annapolis in 1942 and taking part in naval engagements against Japan. Rising to admiral during the Vietnam War, he commanded the “brown water” navy that patrolled rivers and coasts and suffered heavy casualties from snipers. He approved spraying Agent Orange to defoliate the heavily forested banks, which dramatically reduced casualties but came back to haunt him when its toxicity became known and his son, who served under him, died of cancer from exposure to the chemical. In 1970, President Nixon appointed him Chief of Naval Operations, and he energized the transition away from World War II technology and hidebound personnel policies. The Navy had been integrated for 20 years, but blacks and Filipinos were deliberately given dead-end assignments. Zumwalt changed that, and he allowed beards and longer hair among enlisted men and began permitting women to serve aboard ships. Dealing with major issues, he clashed with leaders such as Adm. Hyman Rickover, who demanded nuclear power in all new ships, and Henry Kissinger over Zumwalt’s opposition to détente. He remained active after retiring in 1974 but—rare among former military men—not in right-wing politics. He led the fight for victims of Agent Orange and served many humanitarian causes.

Readers who tolerate Berman’s frequent pauses to quote praise from letters, speeches and articles, as well as tributes during award, change-of-command, retirement and funeral ceremonies, will agree that he makes a good case that Zumwalt was an outstanding naval leader.”

Publishers Weekly July 30, 2012

“Berman’s solid command of archival and published sources underpins his analysis of a career that began during WWII and continued during the cold war.”  Read the entire review of ZUMWALT: