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In Memoriam: Rear Admiral Jimmie B. Finkelstein, USN

March 7, 2024 | By Sam Cox (Rear Adm. USN, Ret.), Director, Naval History and Heritage Command

It is with deep regret that I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral (lower half) Jimmie Bennie Finkelstein, U.S. Navy (Ret.), on 3 March 2024 at age 85. Rear Admiral Finkelstein enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve in July 1960 and served as a public affairs officer (PAO) until his retirement in August 1989 as Chief of Information (CHINFO) in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV). His senior PAO assignments included Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic/Commander in Chief U.S. Atlantic Command and the office of the Secretary of the Navy. During an extended temporary duty in 1965, he opened what would later become the Seventh Fleet Detachment Charlie public affairs office in Saigon, Republic of Vietnam.

Jimmie Finkelstein graduated from Louisiana State University in 1960 with a bachelor of arts degree in fine arts. He enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve on 29 July 1960 and reported for active duty at Officer Candidate School on 18 August 1960. He was commissioned an ensign on 16 December 1960 and continued on active duty. The next month, he reported to the attack transport USS Muliphen (AKA-61) in Norfolk, but in March 1961 was transferred to attack transport USS Francis Marion (APA-249). He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in June 1962. Francis Marion participated in the naval quarantine of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, embarking elements of the 8th Marine Regiment.

In December 1962, Lieutenant (j.g.) Finkelstein reported to the Headquarters, Eighth Naval District, in New Orleans. There, he was designated a public affairs officer (designator 1650). In December 1964, he was assigned as a PAO to Commander in Chief U.S. Pacific Fleet headquarters at Pearl Harbor. He was promoted to lieutenant in January 1965. He subsequently deployed on extended temporary duty to Saigon, Republic of Vietnam. In March 1967, he was assigned as PAO to Commander First Fleet in San Diego. In August 1968, he was administratively assigned to the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps unit at the University of Wisconsin while earning a master of arts degree in public relations. He was promoted to lieutenant commander in January 1970.

In January 1970, Lieutenant Commander Finkelstein was assigned as PAO for the U.S. Naval Academy. In July 1972, he reported to the Navy Office of Information, serving as director, Public Information Division. He was promoted to commander in July 1974. In March 1976, he was assigned to Internal Relations Activity, Atlantic, with a job title of special assistant for public affairs to the Chief of Naval Operations, working for CNO James L. Holloway III. In July 1979, he attended the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, graduating in 1980. In April 1980, he reported to Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, in Norfolk, Virginia, as chief of public information for Admiral Harry D. Train II. He was promoted to captain in November 1980.

In July 1982, Captain Finkelstein assumed duty as public affairs officer for Commander in Chief U.S. Atlantic Command, with additional duty as PAO for Commander in Chief U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Commander in Chief Western Atlantic, and Commander Ocean Area Atlantic. (Admiral Wesley McDonald held all these commands).

In June 1983, Captain Finkelstein reported to the Office of the Secretary of the Navy (then the Honorable John Lehman) as special assistant for public affairs. He was promoted to rear admiral (lower half) in May 1986 and assumed duty as the 21st Navy Chief of Information (CHINFO) in the Office of the CNO. He retired from active duty on 1 August 1989.

Rear Admiral Finkelstein’s awards include the Legion of Merit (three awards); Defense Meritorious Service Medal; Meritorious Service Medal; Navy Commendation Medal; Navy Achievement Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Cuba); Vietnam Service Medal (two campaign stars); and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross (with Palm).

Rear Admiral Jimmie Finkelstein has been described as “a legend”—not only within the public affairs community, but by other Navy leaders who had contact with him. He had a nose for the action, volunteering to go to Vietnam early in the war. His list of duty stations and those he worked for is like a “dream sheet” come true for a public affairs officer—and he landed those jobs because of how good he was. He played a prominent role in articulating Secretary Lehman’s forward-leaning maritime strategy and the need for a strong Navy (600 ships) to counter the Soviet Union (and it was the Soviets’ inability to sustain the cost to match this, particularly in the undersea environment, that contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union). Nevertheless, some of Secretary Lehman’s policies engendered pushback and Rear Admiral Finkelstein had to explain them in convincing fashion. As with the best PAOs, he had to adhere to the truth so as to not damage the Navy’s credibility, while being mindful of potential operations security considerations and supporting the Navy leadership’s objectives. This is actually a very difficult task, requiring specialized skill and experience. He also had to work with some of the most renowned (and hard-nosed) media figures in the business, always wary of the “gotcha” question. In the words of one of his successors as CHINFO, Rear Admiral Tom Jurkowsky, “Jimmie was an extraordinary professional—a master at his trade—and a marvel to watch in action. He was the consummate pro—highly respected throughout the Pentagon’s leadership.” Rear Admiral Finkelstein set the bar of excellence for the public affairs community extremely high, an example for all who followed. And, as with any flag officer career, it came at a high price in time with family, for which the Navy and nation should be grateful.

Rest in Peace, Admiral Finkelstein.