By Sandy Gall, Communication and Outreach Division, Naval History and Heritage Command
It’s a somewhat rare event to know when history is about to happen. Even rarer that you get to plan for it, but when our office learned the commissioning date for the USS Zumwalt would be October 15th, we knew it was going to be big and we knew we had a responsibility as the Naval History and Heritage Command, to share with the American people the remarkable story of how this man changed — revolutionized — the Navy. As part of that preparation, earlier this year, I had the great honor to interview Zumwalt’s three surviving children, Ann, Jim and Mouzetta. After spending months researching Zumwalt, scouring our archives, looking through our photo collection, and transcribing his Z-grams, I didn’t think I’d learn much more than I already knew. I was wrong. The interviews were moving and enlightening. Each gave me unique insight into how one man shaped the Navy we know today. The first interview was with Ann Zumwalt, the Admiral’s eldest daughter. What I learned from her was, while one man held the title CNO and signed the policy changes, his work and his reforms were not done alone.
Sandy: I’m going to jump right in with the questions if you don’t mind. . . How did your father’s propensity for social change affect your family and personal lives?
Ann: My mother and father conducted their lives as an example of how we should behave.
Now that I’m older and understand more, I’ve asked myself, how did Dad come to do these things? What in his own life brought him to the understanding that minorities and women were capable of doing anything?
I think it started for him, as it did for me, at home. My father’s mother was a physician before she had the right to vote. In her, he had an incredible role model for what a woman could accomplish. His dad, also a physician, would come home from work and twirl my grandmother around…that image displayed the kind of love that my father grew up with. It’s the same love that he continued on in our family and with my mother.
There was a strong, long understanding of human suffering and the human condition that his parents gave him and that he passed to us, compounded with my mother’s own history fleeing tyranny as a child. As a result, the way my father treated people wasn’t a unique attribute in our family – it was just one of those things – it was just something we grew up knowing. Everyone was equal to each other in terms of their opportunities and ability to become what they wanted.
So, when my father made these changes, for me personally, it was just part of who we are as human beings. He wasn’t doing anything unique.
Still, you had to know that what he was doing was big. There had to be some signs that what he was doing was revolutionary.
An interesting tidbit as I look back, I remember: my father would come home, and this is not an exaggeration, every night with four briefcases bulging with papers. He would lie in his bed at the house and go through each one. One night, he mentioned to me that he was changing the regulations at the United States Naval Academy to allow women to be admitted to the USNA and to serve aboard ships at sea. I remember asking him, would women be able to see combat? “Not now,” he said, “but I have all the faith in the American public that someday that will come to pass.” I remember so vividly that conversation. I think that story illustrates his optimism about the American people.
What made him choose the Naval Academy? You talked about him as a bit of wild child…
His father was an Army physician and my father applied to West Point. Even as a boy he was a risk taker; his parents had hoped the military school would offer some structure to his life. While on a trip with his dad, he was introduced to a Navy captain who asked, “Why would you want to join the Army when you can see the world!” My father in his core was a romantic so that appealed to him greatly. He changed his mind and he applied to the Naval Academy.
In seeing the world he met your mother, and that leads me to another question. So much of this is about your father’s legacy and a man’s achievements, but I’m sure there is something that deserves to be attributed to your mother. What role did she play in all this? How did she help his success? How would you like her remembered in all this?
That question is extremely profound to me… (collecting herself)
You may be aware my father’s tombstone is inscribed with ‘The Reformer,’ and the inscription for my mother’s is ‘His Strength.’ The love my mom and dad had was extraordinary. I often tell people to understand the depth and breadth of my father and what he did in the Navy, one really needs to understand the impact his mother and father had on him and his upbringing but also the impact on his life from this very beautiful, genuine, sincere woman he met in Shanghai.
Her background was incredible and she was a woman that lived during the intersection of the rise and fall of the Chinese empire, the rise and fall of the Japanese empire, and the rise and fall of the old Russia and the new Russia. Her life story really intersects all three cultures. Her strength of coming out of Japanese occupation of Manchuria, knowing her own parents had to flee Russia, she grew up with an incredible insecure feeling of what her future might hold and yet, she developed an inner strength that was one of kindness and a profound ability to survive life and maintain a sincerity and compassion towards human beings.
I had two remarkable parents with unusual backgrounds. We grew up with a world view that there was an earth to be concerned about and it was through the Navy that my parents were able to view the world. So, the two were well matched.
How do you continue the legacy your parents created?
Presently, the ship [DDG 1000] of course carries my father’s name and I view that as probably the most beautiful gift that the Navy could have given him. To have that ship in a class of ships that bears his name ensures that his legacy will not fade. It gives me the opportunity to articulate the kind of people my mother and father were and how they felt about our fellow brothers and sisters. It’s such a privilege to get to know the Sailors of the Zumwalt and learn how they are carrying out the innovative changes my father established.
Speaking of the crew…they say they knew about your father, and had a lot of respect, but through the process of commissioning the ship they have become enamored. They feel the weight and respect to carry on his legacy.
It’s very moving for me to hear them sincerely assure me that they intend to continue that legacy. I’ve asked the Sailors, when they depart the Zumwalt, to educate new Sailors about the impact my father and mother had on the Navy. I would like them to carry on the respect and affection my parents demonstrated to others.
Every single time I look at the Zumwalt, I think about the revolutionary changes my father made and how she literally represents everything he envisioned for the Navy in the 21st century…he would be astounded.
What’s it like to be a sponsor?
My sister, Mouzetta, and I are co-sponsors and it’s been thrilling. It is such a unique opportunity. As an aside, I’m sure you all know the story about the Sullivan brothers? When I was a little girl, my father told me that story of the Sullivans. As he told it, he became emotional—it affected him deeply.
Several years ago an Admiral told me a story about how the family of the Sullivan brothers has continued to maintain contact and share a connection with USS The Sullivans.
I was so moved after all these decades the Sullivan family has remained connected to their ship. I hope for a relationship with the Zumwalt as strong. I tell my daughters, Lauren and Camille [Ship’s Maids of Honor], that when I leave this world, this relationship is passed on to them.
How do you connect with the current crew?
For the last three years I have taken four Sailors out to lunch at a time so that I now met the entire crew. When they tell me they are honored to meet me, I tell them, “No I’m honored. Honored more than the stars.” It has been a complete joy and so inspiring to get to know them and hear their stories as to why they chose the Navy. Each has a family and has made sacrifices. They are all so excited about the ship and are bursting at the seams. They are all such brilliant, talented, and responsible Sailors. Speaking to the women and men who have come up through the ranks and are now chiefs…I can’t even put into words my feelings – it’s extraordinary.
What would your dad’s reaction of the ship be?
I think he would see the ship and be so proud of the thousands and thousands and thousands of men and women who have brought that ship into existence. He’d know that the Navy he envisioned has literally come to pass.
What would people be surprised to find out about your dad?
Number one, he was a romantic.
Secondly, he was named after the Patron Saint of the sea, Elmo. St Elmo of the seas is one of the 14 holy helpers. I’m not sure if you aware of the ship’s first sea trial, but there was a fishing boat captain who was having heart issues who the Coast Guard could not rescue via helicopter. So, the Coast Guard radioed for nearby ships and Captain Kirk, Zumwalt’s Captain, said they were near and could help get the fishing boat captain via RIB boats. I think that’s such a neat story and what a fitting first mission, given that my father’s parents were physicians, that my father entertained the idea very seriously to leave the Navy and become a physician, and that his name is Elmo after a Saint of the sea.
Lastly, he had an unbelievable Tarzan yell and he’d often be asked to do it at parties!
DDG-1000 will be commissioned as USS Zumwalt, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016 at a 5 p.m. ceremony in Baltimore, Md. If you can’t be there, watch the ceremony live online at www.navy.mil