November 28, 2019

How stealing a US Marine trophy lead to the downfall of a politician

Jack Kemp

If you saw the movie Flags of Our Fathers, you will know that the Sec. of the Navy James Forrestal, while on a ship near Iwo Jima, demanded the Marines hand over to him the first US flag raised on Mt. Suribachi. The movie is fairly accurate because it comes from a book by an historian who is the son of one of the flag raisers. Forrestal got the flag so the Marines had to raise a second flag which is the one that is in the famous photo of five Marines and one Navy Corpsman raising the flag. So Forrestal already had the value of his first flag lessened as it wasn't nearly as famous as the second flag raised and photographed and whose image was placed in newspapers worldwide. But Forrestal's problems didn't end there. By the way, both flags today, as Brett may well know, reside in the US Marine Museum in Quantico, Virginia.

James Forrestal was very helpful to the wording of the surrender terms of Japan, indicating that the Japanese military should surrender but the Emperor would not surrender his position in his central role in Japanese culture and society. A few years later, Forrestal became the first Sec. of Defense under Truman in 1947 (before then, the office was called Secretary of War). But he had differences with Pres. Truman. With the 1948 Presidential election coming up, the Republican Thomas Dewey was considered a "sure thing" to defeat Truman. But a major investigative journalist and radio commentator named Drew Pearson, famous in earlier years, uncovered that Forrestal was secretly negotiating with Gov. Dewey to become his Sec. of Defense. An angry Harry Truman quickly fired Forrestal and when Truman won the 1948 election in a major upset,  Forrestal had lost all his future job prospects with both parties. Why didn't Forrestal wait until a day after the 1948 election to see if he should be contacting Gov. Dewey? Who knows. But here is where the story gets even worse for Forrestal.

James Forrestal got depressed after losing his job and was treated by well known doctors. And then he was sent to the tall Naval hospital building in Bethesda, Maryland, a building that is now the central part of the recently moved Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. They put Forrestal on the 16th floor, a bad place for a very depressed patient because they could possibly find it a tempting and convenient location to jump from. This was built before central air conditioning was invented, so all the windows could be opened. I don't know what was the cause of what next happened but the fact is that Forrestal went out a 16th floor window and died. He also left behind a weirdly nerdy academic suicide note which was a translation of a poem about the suicide of the hero Ajax, a major figure from Homer's  classic book The Iliad (concerning the Trojan War). This sounds a little too artsy for me to believe it was a actual suicide note that Forrestal wrote himself, even though he had an Ivy League education. And I can't prove if this event was a suicide or not. I just have my doubts.

Forrestal had many enemies in government and he knew quite a bit of inside information for someone walking around as a civilian with a grudge.

In 1955 they named the first super aircraft carrier the USS Forrestal. It didn't have nuclear power but served for many years and was scrapped in 2005.

There are morals to this story.

1-Don't steal major war trophies from the US Marines. It's bad karma.

2-As for Forrestal's fights and intrigues behind Pres.Truman's back that blew up in his face, there is a saying: ""Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad" (as in make crazy).

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at 10:13 PM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
Post contains 653 words, total size 4 kb.

1 Great story Dana!  Glad you posted it.

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at November 29, 2019 07:57 AM (CfS0g)

2 Jack posted it, Tim. I just encouraged him to do it. And we had some e-mail discussion about it.

Posted by: Dana Mathewson at November 29, 2019 04:15 PM (LVmqo)

3 Oops; sorry Jack!  I actually knew that; was tired and had a slip-o-the-neuron.

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at November 30, 2019 03:41 AM (Jjg4P)

4 Sounds like the latest designer cocktail. What's in it? More to the point, does AOC know how to mix it?

Posted by: Dana Mathewson at November 30, 2019 02:12 PM (LVmqo)

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