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Power in Peace

Associated Press

REBEL: Crowe was an unlikely leader.

From Stanford (September/October 1997): “Crowe's rise to success is a study in contradictions. He is the maverick who rose to the top of the military with a succession of jobs in Washington rather than a string of commands at sea; the career officer who endorsed the 'draft-dodging' Clinton for president; the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who appeared (as himself) on the television sitcom Cheers. He was the rumpled sailor in the wrinkle-free Navy.”

Admiral William J. Crowe Jr., of Bethesda, Md., died October 18 of cardiac arrest. He was 82. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the Cold War neared its end, he led U.S. troops through the 1986 air raid on Libya and through standoffs with Iran over control of the Persian Gulf, and created an unprecedented relationship with the Soviet military head. The New York Times called him “the most powerful peacetime military officer in American history.”

Born in Kentucky, Crowe, MA '56 (education), earned his bachelor's degree from the U.S. Naval Academy and, after Stanford, received his first command on the diesel sub USS Trout. His PhD at Princeton led him to decline—twice—a position in the nuclear submarine corps. The decision landed him repeatedly in dead-end posts. Still, he found ways to stand out.

A naval order to consider “iconoclasts” for advancement led to Crowe's 1973 promotion to rear admiral.

President Ronald Reagan made him chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1985. In 1988, he defused a brink-of-war situation by immediately apologizing after a U.S. warship mistakenly shot down a civilian jetliner in the Persian Gulf, killing 290 passengers. But Crowe said the most crucial event of his chairmanship was when he told Reagan that military leaders opposed Reagan's proposal that the United States and the U.S.S.R. eliminate all ballistic missiles in 10 years. The proposal disappeared.

Crowe declined a second four-year term, but did not retire quietly. He condemned the military's anti-gay bias, endorsed Bill Clinton's presidential campaign and served as ambassador to the United Kingdom for three years in the mid-1990s. When he returned to the United States, he taught at the U. of Oklahoma, studied military issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and ran BioPort Corp., the nation's only licensed manufacturer of anthrax and rabies vaccines. Three years ago, he was among 27 retired diplomats and military commanders to condemn President George W. Bush's administration's handling of global leadership.

His awards include four Defense Distinguished Service Medals, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star and an Air Medal. In 2000, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Clinton. Survivors include his wife of 53 years, Shirley; two sons, Marine Col. W. Blake and J. Brent; one daughter, Bambi Coval; and four grandchildren.

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