Ernest Joseph King (Nov. 23, 1878-June 25, 1956) gained his fame as Commander in Chief, United States Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations during World War II.
As a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he directed the Navy’s operations, planning, and administration. He was the second most senior officer after Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy.
King’s naval career began at the United States Naval Academy where he attended from 1897 until 1901. He graduated fourth in his class and was given the honor of attaining the rank of Midshipman Lieutenant Commander.
During the Spanish-American War, he took leave from the Naval Academy to serve as a junior officer on a couple of battleships. During this time he returned to the Academy and graduated.
From 1923 to 1925, King held several posts associated with submarines. After attending a short training course at the Naval Submarine Base, he took command of a submarine division. He never did earn his Submarine Warfare insignia, although he did propose and design the now familiar dolphin insignia.
In 1926, he took command of the aircraft tender USS Wright with additional duties as senior aid on the staff of Commander, Air Squadron Atlantic Fleet. However, before continuing his command in the Squadron Fleet, he was required to be either a naval aviator or naval aviation observer. Therefore, King reported to Pensacola, Florida, and received the training necessary to become a pilot. He received his wings on May 26, 1927.
Upon further research, it was discovered that King barely qualified as a pilot. However, since he was already a captain and the flying instructors knew he would never fly a combat plane he was given a “probationary pass.” (For those with an Army background, a captain in the Navy has the same rank as a “bird” colonel in the Army.)
During World War II, King was promoted to Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet. It was during this period that he wrote a message to President Roosevelt to say he had reached the mandatory retirement age of 64. Roosevelt replied with a note reading “So what, old top?” (In other words, I will not accept your retirement.) He left active duty on December 15, 1945.
This story would not be complete if his personal life was missing. He married Martha Egerton, a Baltimore socialite in a ceremony at the Naval Academy on October 10, 1905. The couple raised six daughters and one son.