Chapter XXVI
The Long Last Mile

Admiral Ballentine, who was Chief of Staff at the time of Admiral Turner's retirement, wrote:

When Admiral Turner retired, there was no ceremony, no flag hauled down. He just closed his desk and came to our apartment for cocktails, and dinner with the Navy group.1

Admiral Turner attained full membership in that vast faceless array of the retired citizens of America on 1 July 1947, and existed therein for nearly fourteen years.2

It was not quite faceless, for even retired officers of the Military Services have occasional distinctive citizen chores to perform. And Admiral Turner never dodged doing a useful chore down to the day the Navy laid him away in the Golden Gate National Cemetery alongside of Harriet Sterling Turner.

But for a centurion who had commanded legions of men, and who had said to this man "Go, and he goeth, and to another, Come, and he cometh," and to his servant "Do this, and he doeth it," the official retirement letter from the Secretary of the Navy was something less than a prescription for perpetual peace of mind, contentment with himself and the world. Even worse, it was not a plan for a busy tomorrow.

Public speech making, the common chore of the military great, he gradually grew to abhor. And since he had about the same glamour during the delivery of his thought-provoking speeches as Herbert Hoover or Hyman Rickover, the calls for this service gradually grew fewer and never arose from those who wished to avoid thinking about what the speaker was saying.

Admiral Turner was a powerful advocate, a skillful defense counsel, and a dangerous opponent in any small discussion group. In such gatherings, he was not one to speak cryptically. His words bludgeoned his adversaries. His


reasoning cut straight to the marrow of the argument. He did not seek to lull others into agreement. Rarely profane, but frequently vulgar, he was a difficult man to deal with by those who could not express their thoughts instantaneously with the concise spoken word, or for those whose anger boiling point was at a relatively low degree in the argument scale.

But, when speaking to large groups, it was quite different. His policy in this regard was:

I will not speak off hand, but must have a manuscript. The addresses I give are the result of long hard preparation, and require a lot of work.

Furthermore, in my position, I am bound by a Presidential Executive Order to clear with the State Department all public statements that in any way concerns foreign policy. (This is the result of Henry Wallace's undermining speech and letter when he was Secretary of the Interior.)3

During a pre-speech gathering, when this writer was to make an address to the graduating class at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, and Admiral Turner was to be one of the distinguished officers on the platform, Admiral Turner was told that the 25-minute address was to be made from memory. He promptly expressed with window dressing a dim view of the proposed procedure. When the address was completed, with RKT following it closely from the master copy, his comment was:

By God, I didn't think you could do it. I should have learned [to do] that long ago. I am a S.O.B. if I shouldn't have.

One of the things which bothered him during the War, and which continued to bother him thereafter, was the mental unpreparedness of the young American male to put his life on the line for his country. This was a recurring theme in his discussions, and in speeches before patriotic groups.

Speaking of World War II at the first Memorial Day thereafter, he said:

Above all American young men had not been trained to fight, nor even trained to have their minds ready and eager to fight for the existence of what we love, the democratic way of life.4

The Professional Officer

The first mention of Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner in the official United States Naval Chronology, World War II, is on Saturday, 18 July 1942, when he established and took command of Amphibious Force, South Pacific.5


By that date, he had been around in the United States Navy some 38 years, and while the official chronology may not have noted him sooner, there was many a naval officer--both senior and junior--who had done so.

One of those who had noted him, and with whom he had worked closely during the five-month period from late December 1941, to early June 1942, was Ernest J. King. Admiral King believed in delegated authority and independent decision by subordinate commanders and operated conspicuously within the framework of this sound military principle. Few officers came under his strong approbation unless they did likewise.

Richmond Kelly Turner also believed in the principle of delegated authority. But he found it difficult to abide by the principle in practice, because as he told his subordinates in terse language from time to time, they had not done enough within the range of their own authority and independent decision to fully ensure accomplishment of the definite tasks necessary to attain a specific objective or to actively further the general mission. He then suggested or demanded that specific things be done to attain the objective.

Kelly Turner also knew that the commander should not engage in tasks which might properly be delegated to others. But whether as a captain or an admiral, Kelly Turner was apt to come up with a comprehensive solution to an ordered-from-above campaign, an operation, or just a major naval problem and reduce it to writing before his subordinates, staff or otherwise, could produce an equally comprehensive solution.

He would then call a conference, outline his solution, and ask for "better alternates," or say "What's wrong with it?" By and large, the solution presented by Kelly Turner was first-rate, perhaps the same one his subordinates had come up with. On occasion, it was obviously a better solution. When judged less desirable than other practicalities, the clear-cut advantages of an alternate plan were not always easy to formulate or present. If one had an alternate, and the guts to present it, Kelly Turner would listen.

But all the time he was listening, one could almost hear the alternate plan being dissected by the beetle-browed schoolmaster who sat there frowning at you. If it had unmistakable merit, Kelly Turner, who was always asking his subordinates for "new ideas" and "better alternates" and who worked more contentedly through his eyes than through his ears, would say: "Reduce it to writing and let me see it." That was a real victory.

Sometimes he would interrupt an exposition of an alternate solution with a biting technical, tactical, or strategic comment, or if one rose to the challenge of the "What's wrong with it?" Kelly Turner would frequently say


"That's nit picking." But this did not mean that the comment was not accepted.

The only way to become an accepted member of the Kelly Turner team was to have ideas and to be able to express them clearly and cogently; to be willing to do battle with him and to spit in his eye when it was necessary to spit. One also had to have the physical capacity to work around the clock with him or for him, being quick on the uptake during all the hours, minutes, and seconds of the interminable days of a long war.

As one young officer on his staff during the difficult days of 1942 and 1943 wrote:

Admiral Turner loved nothing better than to engage j.o.'s in a debate and to mentally joust with them. They loved and respected him as few men are respected. We soon learned to speak up and defend our point of view. The first sign of vacillation or uncertainty could be catastrophic. I served as his diarist for about three months. He could recall more about ships and troop movements from a quick glance at the morning message board than I could after several hours of preparation and writing.6

Another, currently a special assistant in Buddhist affairs in the Department of State, wrote:

I recall Admiral Turner not only as a brilliant strategist, an indefatigable and exacting staff officer, but also as a man of remarkable literary expression: fine prose style would be reflected in his dispatches and, as a student of Japanese literature and military history, I took pride in that we had a highly cultured commander who could equal the literary accomplishments of the traditional Japanese military commander, and also surpass him at the military campaign!7

As one participant in planning conferences during 1944 and 1945 put it:

During a planning conference on UDT operations for Saipan, RKT knew more about UDTs than I did, more about communications than the Communication Officer, more about gunfire than the Gunnery Officer. He knew the results he wanted, knew how to get those results, and knew how to keep casualties low. This latter never left his mind.

Kelly Turner dreamed up the plan for the underwater demolition teams to do their chores with heavy gun support at Saipan. So I dreamed up the idea of borrowing a battleship to practice it at Kahoolawe. I harassed the PHIBFOR staff with no luck. Finally got in to the Admiral. He agreed not only to give me one battleship but to give me three for practice.

I attended a Task Force conference on the tentative communication plan--


because of the importance of communications to the underwater demolition teams.

During the conference, the Admiral rewrote the communication plan. I walked out of the conference with the Staff Communication Officer. He was obviously upset. He said to me: 'I'm upset--not because he threw my plan out, but because he produced a better one.'

You always got a hearing. Maybe an abrasive hearing, but a hearing.8

A former officer on the Amphibious Force Staff wrote:

I joined Admiral Turner at Kwajalein en route to the invasion of Saipan. I am afraid I wasn't very much of a success as a staff officer in that first invasion. In fact, Kelly gave me a set of duodenal ulcers as big as walnuts in, the first six weeks. The day after the island was secured, he sent me back to Aiea hospital. I felt in disgrace because I had not been able to stand the pace.

Here's where most people misunderstood Kelly. He had a hard, rough exterior but inside he was soft as a grape. He sent for me just before I left the ship and gave me a new book his wife, Harriet, had sent to him to read. He had arranged for my transportation and comfort as a father might for a son. Furthermore, he said if I could get well by the time he returned to Pearl Harbor, the job of Flag Secretary was mine.

* * * * *
Released I was, and thus embarked upon an adventure with Kelly for the rest of the war. It was my job to physically gather and get typed the plans for the invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. This job encompassed nagging the Heads of Departments to get their own parts of the plan in for evaluation and approval by the Admiral. Here again I was to witness the sheer brilliance of this man as a strategist and as a writer. There was no one on the staff who could touch him when it came to putting down on paper ideas, whether they were other people's ideas or his own. Usually, they were a combination of the two.

He was impatient with delay, with slovenly work, with staff officers who didn't produce according to his standards. Those staff officers, like Charlie Horne, his communicator, and Jack Taylor, his gunnery officer, who learned what he wanted and produced according to his time table, he adored and would boast about to all and sundry. When he had confidence in an officer, it was very difficult to shake that confidence.

* * * * *
This was true of Commodore Theiss, a lovable man not noted for his quickness in making a decision. I don't know how many times instead of relieving him as requested by the Bureau, Kelly would go back with a message insisting that Theiss be immediately promoted to Rear Admiral.


Loyalty to subordinates who performed according to his standards was a long suit of Admiral Kelly Turner.

* * * * *
It was his custom at sea to rise at 4 o'clock in the morning and begin work. By 7 o'clock his orderly would have made three or four trips to my room and the Lord knows how many to other staff officers' cabins. Each time he came, he would have a note--'Do this, do that, or why haven't you done this or done that.' By breakfast time my day's work was always outlined with Kelly' s 'snowflakes' as we called them. The hell of it was, he was usually right and you couldn't get mad at him because you had to recognize that he was smarter than you were and way ahead of you in his far-ranging thinking.

I remember one time when he was a guest in my home after the war, he came down for breakfast one morning roaring with laughter and exclaiming at the top of his voice: 'It's a forgery. I never said it. It's a forgery.' I had forgotten that in the guest room where he was sleeping I had a framed snowflake which said simply 'My mistake--R.K. Turner.' It was one of the few times I was able to prove to him that I was right and he was wrong. Furthermore, he had acknowledge his mistake. I had had it framed. Happily, he enjoyed the joke as much as I did.9

A classmate of Kelly Turner's and a most distinguished fighting commander in his own right, said:

Turner rode rough shod over other people and their opinions, but he was bright enough to pick their brains and use the best amongst their proposals. . . . He was intolerant of others.10

A subordinate who differed strongly but not bitterly with Kelly Turner opined:

Kelly Turner was a driver. He knew no other way. He believed in kicking people around. He was an intellectual snob. He started kicking me around and I resented it. Transport commanders were more afraid of Kelly than they were of the Japs. Marines were bitter against Kelly Turner because they were bossed around. Kelly got results.11

Kelly Turner was a "Can Do" officer, and "Kelly Can Do" was the unofficial motto that many subordinates in their more relaxed moments adopted for the Amphibious Forces. He surrounded himself purposefully with "Can Do" subordinates.

As one very distinguished subordinate put it:

In my opinion RKT was the #1 operational Naval Commander of the


Pacific War. Knew what was needed, got it. In command at all times. Very brilliant and very forceful. Superb 'boss' to work for, despite his driving and needling. Very conscious at all times of his responsibility to win the war with absolute minimum personnel loss. This latter always was his very heavy personal load.12

By the time Kelly Turner had reached his mid-forties, he had found worth in the officer class virtue of personal "wantlessness," the basic ingredient of the old German General Staff. This particularly applied to (a) personal monetary matters, (b) the full weekly operating schedules of naval ships, and (c) the concomitant separation of naval families.

He believed that one of the virtues of the German General Staff had been its small size and, like Admiral King and Admiral Spruance, he fostered a very small and consequently constantly vastly overworked staff, particularly in the early days of World War II.

The Marine Colonel with long service on Kelly Turner's staff who was quoted by Leif Erickson as saying of Turner, "He's a mean S.O.B. but I love him," has been identified as Colonel H. D. Linscott. General Robert E. Hogaboom, USMC, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps prior to retirement, made the same remark to this writer, except in the past tense and added: "He was a tough perfectionist."13

The Strategist

Admiral John L. Hall made this assessment:

Turner was the best strategist in the Navy, in my opinion. I formed that opinion at the War College when I was a student and he was in charge of that department, and it was confirmed during the War.14

From having served on Admiral King's staff at the beginning and again at the end of World War II, this quill driver can testify to the high opinion Admiral King had of Kelly Turner's strategic thinking. Admiral Nimitz, while disagreeing with his subordinate 'upon occasion, expressed his high opinion of his strategic thinking in the fitness reports which he rendered upon Admiral Turner. Admiral Turner's greatest interest lay in this field. Few who ever served closely with him fail to remember how he plumbed


their strategic thinking from time to time. It was a professional hobby which paid off in his detail in 1940 to the War Plans desk. It created an attentive ear in his superiors, as he moved along.

Admiral Turner viewed the war as a whole and he viewed the operation he was engaged in as a whole. He was concerned, but never scared about what the Japanese might do to his attacking forces. He drove through to the objective without fear or favor, not forgetting that he didn't like to see soldiers swim.

A distinguished Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, and one who had many a verbal bout with Kelly Turner during the Guadalcanal campaign, said he was "explosively competent" and "never a man to miss a trick or neglect a lesson."15

A much younger officer mentioned Kelly Turner's habit of introspection. He said:

I always had the opportunity of talking with the Admiral when each campaign was over and done. He would say 'These are the mistakes I made during the last operation.' He didn't say the mistakes made by the Transport Commander or the Gun Support Commander, but the ones 'I made.'16

Admiral Turner believed that a military leader must know, must know that he knows, and must make it clear to all hands that he knows. Once his subordinates, by their own judgments over a period of time and during a series of events, come to accept this, then they are happy to join with the leader, putting forth their best efforts to make the joint venture a success. Admiral Turner believed that it was seldom that one person could make a major success. Success came from the joint efforts of many.

The Personal Man

Kelly Turner was not a back slapper, a "jolly fellow" given to light bantering or smutty jokes, but was ready at the drop of the hat to discuss for long periods most any naval, political, technical or historical subject.

He was not a naval "Green Bowler," a schemer, or a naval bureaucrat, but he was highly conscious of the need of friends at all levels of the naval Service, and an exponent of the naval truism "you can't have a better assignment, than your friends who are your seniors, wish you to have."

Kelly Turner, by nature, was a loyal man. But his deep desire for perfection


in all he was interested in meant that his loyalty encompassed intelligent comment or criticism of his country, his Navy, his superiors, and his subordinates.

He thought that a great deal of the wisdom of the world had been committed to the written words, and that much of this wisdom could be absorbed by an alert mind through reading and study.

For many years of his Service life, Kelly Turner was a living example and on occasional exponent of the modern version of the Spartan ideals of the officer class. He believed in naval officers giving strict attention to the Navy's business and that they should seek a strong physical body kept in tune by regular physical exercise which would permit long hours of first-rate duty performance.

Kelly Turner was blessed with a marvelous memory. As General Hogaboom stated:

His memory was great and retentive of tremendous detail. Amphibious Operation orders were lengthy and in great detail, but once he had prepared one, he rarely had to refer to it. An example of the sort of information he carried around in his head was the number, dimensions and cube of just about every piece of equipment in a Marine Division.17

The Turner-Smith Team

As one of the younger officers on his staff wrote to Admiral Turner in 1948:

Many times as a staff duty officer, I had been close aboard when you and Holland Smith discussed the tactical situation, and I had the feeling, invariably, that here was the perfect team, each member complementing the other in his own peculiar fashion, but usually coming up with a touchdown play.18

General Hogaboom, who had served both of these capable officers, wrote:

This was a rare team. They were both tough and aggressive fighters. With reserved contempt for faults they detected in each other, there was mutual recognition of their respective strengths and talents.

General Smith, though tough, was generally relaxed and easy going, but with a tense, hard driving aggressive Chief of Staff. Admiral Turner, tough and tense was essentially without a Chief of Staff. This Turner-Smith combination was quite a combination. The running fight was generally in the grey area of command relationships.


Prior to the Marianas, there was a real battle over who was to command the Reserve (27th Infantry Division). This was finally taken to Admiral Spruance. I was present at the conference. Admiral Spruance listened quietly as each strongly presented his case, then quietly announced his decision (the Landing Force Reserve would be under the Landing Force Commander), got up and walked out. Admiral Turner accepted the decision completely and the question was never in doubt thereafter.

Lieutenant General Holland Smith, when the chips were about to be put down at Iwo Jima, and in the presence of the Secretary of the Navy and assembled Marine and Naval personnel, said for all to hear and record:

In Admiral Turner we have full confidence--we would rather go to sea with him in command than any other admiral under whom we have served.19

This was a bit of a left-handed compliment, but from "Howlin Mad" Smith, a real Valentine.

Religious Aspects

Kelly Turner was not a church-going man, nor a formal religionist. Like most of those who go to sea for many years, he gave full acceptance to a God who ruled over wind and wave and who had a personal interest in all who ventured into the boundless oceans. He had a strong belief that this was a world overseen and guided by a great and good God. He quite honestly and openly called upon this God in a perfectly frank way, as in this November 1942 message to his amphibians:

No medals however high can possibly give you the reward you deserve. With all my heart, I say 'God Bless the courageous men dead and alive of Task Force 67.'20

Among his personal papers was this modified version of the Navy Hymn as written during World War II by one of the many God-fearing officers serving in the amphibious Navy.

For Our

On Sea and Land, and in the Air.

Eternal Father! strong to save,


Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
    O hear us when we cry to Thee
    For those in peril on the sea.

Creator! who dost from above
Observe Thy sons with eyes of love,
Who canst preserve where'er they be
Our men who fight for home and Thee;
    O put Thou forth a guiding hand,
    For those in peril on the land.

Almighty! who cans't from on high
Protect our fliers in the sky
And guide each pilot in his plane
The length and breadth of Thy domain;
    O hearken to our fervent prayer,
    For those in peril in the air.

O Trinity of love and power!
Our forces shield in danger's hour;
From peril, onslaught, fire and foe
Protect them where-so-e'er they go;
    Thus ever may there rise to Thee
    Glad hymns from air and land and sea.

--Version by Commodore Richard W. Bates, USN (1915)

The only philosophical note among Admiral Turner's papers was an extract, hand copied by him from The Duel by Joseph Conrad. This reads as follows:

No man succeeds in everything he undertakes. The great point is not to fail in ordering and sustaining the effort of our life. In this matter, vanity is what leads us astray. It hurries us into situations from which we must come out damaged, whereas pride is our safeguard, by the reserve it imposes on our choice of our endeavors as much as by the virtue of its sustaining powers.

Kelly Turner had his sentimental moments. As a past midshipman, in the cruiser West Virginia, he wrote:

It has been my best Service Christmas, though it wasn't like being at home. There were sixteen at our table, which was covered with greenery, and our Christmas tree in the center with a little toy for everybody in the mess and the guests. The walls and decks overhead were covered with greens and with flags. It was all very pretty. But the best feature was the fireplace that we built. You know a Christmas doesn't seem real without a fireplace, so out of


lattice and papers we constructed a huge one, the paper painted to represent bricks, and on the hearth an artificial fire made of electric lights underneath red bunting. It looked very homelike with most of the lights turned out.
* * * * *
However far one gets away the rest of the year, one wants home and Mother on Christmas.21

Family Life

During the early years of their marriage, Mrs. Turner suffered from a troublesome illness labeled "the colic." Ensign and Lieutenant (jg) Turner's letters to his mother and sister are full of legitimate worry and concern in regard to the health of his wife.

Kelly Turner's love and devotion to his wife continued throughout his life. His wife did not have robust health in either her earlier or her later years.

One day, I am alright and the next can hardly move. . . . I always feel alright at night.22

* * * * *
When we left New York, Harriet was in bad shape . . . driving makes her very tired.23

For a man whose fury and rage made strong men quake, it is a bit surprising to read in Kelly Turner's letters of his "blessed lamb, " "sweet little girl," and similar expressions.

As noted previously, those of the Class of 1908 who were on duty together in the California in 1922-1923 were Lieutenant Commanders Turner, H.F.D. Davis, and Ernest W. McKee. The McKees, Davises, and Turners became intimate friends during their California cruise, and remained so during the many, many years following.

McKee, the last of the California trio alive, described his classmate, Kelly Turner, as:

A brain, a very fast reader, a thorough worker, completely honest, meticulous financially. When Kelly said something, he said it because he believed it. There was no sham, never an effort to deceive. He was very intolerant of the second-rate mentally. He loved the Navy. It came first in his thinking.24


Mrs. McKee added:

Harriet was a marvelous cook and a great walker. Harriet, when she was young, never wanted to be in a position where she was handicapped physically and that's my guess as to why the Kelly Turner's never had any children.

Harriet also was a great reader. In their last years, she watched over Kelly like a hawk and tried to reduce or eliminate his drinking. She wouldn' t let him keep any liquor in the house, so he hid it in the garden tool house.

Kelly had a green thumb, with everything. He loved to work in his garden, and he worked at the garden like he worked at everything else--furiously. His back hurt him constantly, but still he worked. He wouldn't let anyone pick his New Zealand spinach, which was out of this world, but Harriet spent a lot of effort trying to give away the quantities of other vegetables, fruits and flowers he grew--marvelous apples, wonderful roses; everything. Even the deer used to find the garden at night and eat things up.

When his heart started acting up, and he had to cut down on the gardening in order to continue to live, that really hurt him.

Harriet's sister married a Navy doctor--George P. Carr.25

As far as can be determined, the Turners had many, many acquaintances and admirers, but a limited number of intimate friends. By and large, they were sufficient unto themselves and did not need a large amount of company to keep happy. Admiral Bieri recalled:

He was a man of high character. He and his wife seemed to be devoted and constant companions when he was free of official duties. While they participated in many of the social events current, they spent much time in their home and with their intimate friends. Both were avaricious readers.26

The hundreds of letters held by the family attest to the fact that Kelly Turner was a good family correspondent--and that there was a deep and affectionate relationship between him and his brothers and sisters.

The Turner Family and the Turner Dogs

Harriet Turner's interest in life other than her husband was her Lhasa dogs. Her letters are full of the never-ending succession of their illnesses and recent progeny. There is no question that she lavished on them the same affection which most women give to their children and grandchildren.

"Hinie sleeps right by me every night."27


At the time this scribe visited Admiral Turner in his home the year before he died, his beloved wife Harriet was in bed much of each day and slowly dying of cancer.

Mrs. Turner told me that there were just two earthly things which her condition justified her wishing for, before she died. One was to live long enough to observe her fiftieth wedding anniversary, and the other was to live long enough to vote for Richard Nixon. The wedding anniversary was observed on 3 August 1960, the vote was cast on 1 November 1960, and Harriet Turner died on 3 January 1961.

Of the funeral occasion, a 1908 classmate wrote:

Yesterday we saw Kelly for an hour. Though visibly sad, he did not break down, nor would we have expected him to do so. Rugged and tough, a man who never asked for quarter, but frequently gave it, his upper lip was stiff and his courage sublime. And all this with his whole system ridden with arthritis, a steel brace without which I doubt if he could walk. Kelly Turner had these qualities from the first day we knew him.28

Kelly Turner's retirement years held no emptiness until his wife died.

Sense of Humor

Kelly Turner had a wry sense of humor at times.

When this writer was having one of his annual physical examinations, and the medical officer was making small talk as he proceeded from here to there, the doctor elicited the information that this factual study was being worked on, and in answer to a question as to whether the doctor had ever served with Admiral Turner, he said: "No, but I know a story about him told to me by a doctor who did serve with Admiral Turner." The story ran as follows:

While Admiral Turner was serving at the United Nations, the routine for the annual physical examinations for all Flag Officers was amplified to include a prostate finger wave and smear. After the Doctor had conducted this examination he said 'Now Admiral . . .' Admiral Turner broke in and said 'Now that you know so much about me, just call me Kelly.'

A Captain in the Navy who was young enough to be a caddy on the golf course when Captain Turner was on the Staff at the Naval War College, relates this story:


Admiral Turner visits his wartime flagship, USS Eldorado, in September 1954
Admiral Turner visits his wartime flagship, USS Eldorado, in September 1954.
(Turner Collection.)

I never knew any other golfer who regularly actually talked to his golf ball. Captain Turner talked to his golf ball frequently in very uncomplimentary terms, but he also pled with it, cajoled it, and occasionally praised it. He might walk up to his ball and say: 'Why you S.O.B., why did you pick out such a stinking lie? Now this time--head right up for that pin. Keep out of that g.d. trap.' He played a good game of golf, but a very serious game.'29

General Hogaboom wrote:

I was never able to detect much of a sense of humor in Admiral Turner. On social occasions, he could be genial and gracious, but I never saw him relax into warm, happy, good humor. With his staff and subordinates, he was serious, tense and pressing.

I believe it was at Kwajalein that a hard pressed troop unit was calling for gunfire very close to the plotted troop position. The Gunnery Officer was reluctant to open fire, so close to the forward lines, and came to the Admiral. Admiral Turner immediately took the voice radio and talked directly to the young naval gunfire officer on the beach. The Admiral said: 'This is Buckeye, Buckeye himself. Can you see the forward lines?'


The reply came: 'Sir, I can p--s on the forward lines.'

Without a word or a smile, the Admiral turned and said: 'Open fire.'

A Fair Shake

Kelly Turner strongly believed that every officer deserved a full opportunity to prove his worth. For this reason, first interviews with him were nearly always pleasant. His schoolmaster appearance, and his ability and desire to explore the professional and mental capabilities of those he was meeting, provided a real purpose in his mind to the occasion, and in a very pleasant way, he made the most of it.

General Holland McTyeire Smith, U.S. Marine Corps, described it this way:

On first meeting, he suggests the exacting schoolmaster, almost courtly in courtesy. He is precise, affable in an academic manner, and you are tempted in the first five minutes of acquaintance to make the snap judgment that he is a quiet, softly philosophic man. Nothing could be further from the truth.30

Another Marine described him as follows:

I had known Turner when he was a Navy planner in Washington. A lanky chap, who wore steel rimmed glasses, he resembled an erudite school teacher, whose didactic manner proved irritating to some people. . . .31

Perhaps General Vandegrift used "didactic" in its third dictionary sense: "Too much inclined to teach others." For the whole Department of the Navy was Kelly Turner's school, and that included the Marines.

A subordinate, the skipper of the Wacky Mac (the McCawley) who fought through a fair share of the Pacific War with him, wrote:

During the Solomon's Island Campaigns, Turner shared the bridge and my cabin with me countless hours, and even days. Countless times we faced certain destruction together. The long vigils--in which Turner talked to me about every subject under the sun and he knew about them all--were a part of my life, I can never forget.32

Another subordinate wrote:

Twenty-five years later, 1943, I came under Kelly's command when he had the Amphibious Force in the South Pacific and I had command of LST Flotilla 5.


I will never forget when I first reported to him. He put me at ease at once, and I fell in love with the guy.

The same qualities of industry and intelligence that were present in 1915 were of course more so in 1943, but tempered with maturity. His mien and manner had a tinge of graciousness. You felt his personality at once and realized full well that your chances for the white alley under his guidance were a damned sight better than ever.

Here I discovered his personal magnetism, absent, so I thought in 1918. The rare and wonderful form that is backed and fortified by peerless ability in deed and action.

You always knew where you stood with R.K. Turner. It was either damn good, or no damn good. Such went for friend or foe, junior or senior, the latter spared not at all. As T. B. Brittain, on an occasion when we were talking together about Turner, so aptly said 'equivocation was not in the man's makeup.'33

There were many who thought and said that Kelly Turner was tough and some said that he was a martinet. To the first charge Admiral Turner himself quickly pleaded guilty, saying that combat leaders must be tough. Historians may seek combat leaders who are not tough, but few who have felt frequently the strange vacuum of passing shells, or watch dive bombers or kamikazes zero in on their ship or formation, want leaders other than tough leaders. Thus Admiral William F. Halsey was quoted in the newspapers as saying:

If you want something tough done, call on Turner.34

As to being a martinet--a stickler for rigid regulations or a strict disciplinarian--the opinion of the vast majority of the hundreds interviewed by the author in this nine-year endeavor is distinctly "no." For example Rear Admiral Hurst wrote:

My personal contacts with Admiral Turner were most pleasant during the many landing operations from the Gilberts thru the Marianas. I was flattered on several occasions when he sent for me and asked my opinions and recommendations on various uses and operations of LSTs. I can truthfully say I admired and respected him very much. He, in turn, always treated me with respect and consideration.

Admiral Turner had a reputation as a tough task master and that probably was true in the case of those officers who didn't perform or carry their weight. As an instance of his 'loyalty down' I might mention that I was passed over on the first time my class came up for Captain and when this was called to his attention by Captain Robert Bolton, he personally wrote to Admiral


Nimitz stating he couldn't understand it and that I 'was an excellent combat officer and should be promoted.' I was, on the next go round.35

Another subordinate wrote:

Turner was a most complex character. He could love one day and murder the next. But he had a single purpose 'To get on with the war.' Turner' s commands were out of the ordinary only in their 'will to win' and 'can-do-attitude.' He had a fabulous memory, a keen and alert mind and was the most decisive of all naval officers. Once in a planning conference in regard to Underwater Demolition Teams I asked for and got eleven major decisions in twenty minutes.36

There were even a few who did not think Kelly Turner was tough.

Another puncture in the myth about his toughness; when I was detached at Pearl in 1940, he came to the gangway and told me in that stage whisper voice of his that my successor was going to have to have mighty big shoes.

* * * * *
Our chaplain failed to show up when we were due to sail from Cavite Navy Yard for Hawaii and Puget Sound. Captain Turner delayed sailing four hours. (We were on our way home from Japan, where we had delivered Saito's ashes.) About half an hour after we were due to sail, the chaplain came rolling down the dock singing 'Hallelujah I'm a Bum.' Later, this officer felt ill- treated, when he was recommended for trial by General Court Martial. The Turner reputation of martinet was fostered by the inefficient and inept.37

Like most naval officers, Kelly Turner's character developed over the years, and opinions of him varied with the particular year and circumstances of service with him. After retirement, he deteriorated. Just how much, again depends on the viewer and the year. One former shipmate remembered:

I last met Turner in the Navy Exchange at [the] PG School, Monterey in 1954. I had a short chat with him and I had the surprise of my life. I suspected that he had half a 'snootfull' of booze in him and this was early afternoon. The surprise baffled me as to the change in the man. . . . This was a big disappointment to me, but I had knowledge that he was as strong a naval officer as anyone could know, thus my disappointment was salved somewhat.38

A letter to Admiral Turner from the Director of the Naval Gunfire Officers School, Marine Corps Schools, written during the Korean War, and Admiral Turner's long-hand reply, indicates that in 1952 Admiral Turner was still


Admiral Turner and Captain R.C. Peden
Admiral Turner and Captain R.C. Peden, USN, Commanding Officer of Eldorado, September 1954.
(Turner Collection)

coming through loud and clear. Pertinent parts of the letter and the red-penciled comments to these parts are reproduced herewith:

Dear Admiral Turner:

In an article which I am preparing on the evolution of fire support coordination during the Pacific War, I have written the following passage (based on a story which had wide currency in the V Amphibious Corps in 1944-45).

'There is a story that Admiral Kelly Turner, while commanding the Joint Expeditionary Force and Southern Attack Force at Kwajalein happened to see (or thought he saw) a U.S. plane fly into U.S. gunfire or artillery and then fall in flames. From that day forth, legend says, Admiral Turner determined that some system must be devised to prevent aircraft from being unduly endangered by gunfire and artillery. Secondary to the question of safety, it seemed clear by that time we must take positive steps to eliminate undue mutual interference among the fires of air, naval gunfire, and artillery.'

'At any rate, whether Admiral Turner did see that airplane fall (and whether he did swear that solemn vow) it is in the Marshall Operation that we find the first symptom of fire support coordination procedure.'


Emboldened by reports from my friends, Bob Sherrod and Sam Morison, of much helpfulness by you in historical matters, I wonder if you would comment on this passage, and confirm, deny, elaborate, or correct.

Admiral Turner's red pencil comment on this follows:

This happened just as the boats were about 300 yards from the beach. The plane was a seaplane, I think from one of the BBs [from the New Mexico]. I did see it and I did not like it. The plane was hit by fire from the 7th DIV Artillery, on that little island to the west [Enubuj]. [Pilot killed, radioman rescued.]

There was no vow. It was no fault of any person, but after that time I tried to prevent such an eventuality.39

As one retirement year eroded into another, more and more of the 650,000 officers and men who were in his command when the Pacific War suddenly collapsed, vividly recalled the merit of the man and forgot the sharp tongue or the seemingly unreasonable demands. They wrote him letters of high regard and Kelly Turner said:

They made me out to he the man I would have liked to have been.40

The Most Conspicuous Trait

It was probably during the long Okinawa campaign that Admiral Turner's most conspicuous trait was decided upon by many. This trait was named and commented on by Rear Admiral Kauffman:

RKT's most conspicuous trait was his irascibility. This was the most conspicuous, but not his most important trait. People who got fired by him stress the most conspicuous, rather than his most valuable trait.41

Swearing with the Best of Them

General Washington set the standard for the American "Military Man" almost two hundred years ago when in the general order of July 1776, he wrote:

The General is sorry to be informed that the foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing, a vice hitherto little known in our American


Army, is growing into fashion. He hopes that the officers will, by example as well as by influence, endeavor to check it and that both they and the men will reflect that we can little hope for the blessing of Heaven on our Army, if we insult it by our impiety and folly.

There can be little doubt that Kelly Turner was a frequent violator of the standard. The extent and the nature of the violations depended on the circumstance. It bothered some subordinates a good deal, but others not at all. At best, it was a distasteful habit which he did little to control. At worst, it made smaller the number of subordinates who found no wrong in Kelly Turner.

Personal Courage

A number of Kelly Turner's shipmates remarked on his personal courage. One shipmate related:

Admiral Turner felt a compulsion to demonstrate his courage in some dramatic way. After Tarawa, there was grave concern about Japanese anti-boat and beach mines. Admiral Turner gave a great deal of thought to these obstacles. One hopeful invention was a rake-like device mounted on a boom extended beyond the bow of an amphibious tractor. Our U.D.T. and Landing Force engineers tested it and said it would work, but troop leaders were skeptical. Admiral Turner proposed and insisted that he and I get in an amphibious tractor and put on a demonstration by driving through a mine field. I saw I could not reason with him, so I said:

'Admiral, I do not recommend you make the Japs and General Holland Smith happy by getting your stern sheets blown into the sky.'

So he desisted.

In his orders he would make no plans for an alternate command ship. I questioned him on this one day and he said:

'If my ship goes down, I will swim to the nearest ship and continue to command the force.'42

Medals and Citations

During the Pacific campaigns, Kelly Turner had received a large quota of decorations--a Navy Cross and four Distinguished Service Medals. He was proud of them and he cherished them. He noted with asperity that it appeared that, in some commands, political personalities had been handed


out medals for routine operational tasks rather remotely connected with enemy bullets. He wished that there could have been absolute equity throughout the war in the award of medals, but in the early days of the war there weren't any real standards to judge by, and in the later days of the war, "the civilians and the shore end of the Navy got into the act" and "started pressuring for awards, so the standards were progressively lowered."

During the first years after the end of the Pacific War, Admiral Turner's correspondence was belly full with responses as he was pressured for recommendations for awards. To some he yielded gladly, to others grudgingly, and some he refused. In 1960 the whole matter bothered him, and he brought it up for discussion with this writer. He produced a letter which he had written much earlier, expressing his opinion. Part of it read:

About the time we went into the Gilberts, Admiral King sent out a private letter stating that the policy of the Department was not to give officers on staffs citations unless an officer had performed some particular duty that entitled him to a citation for a specific act of personal courage, or on the occasion of the detachment of the officer or of his Commanding Officer. Since previous to that time, there had been widespread criticism of admirals for giving citations to their staff officers for ordinary staff duty during particular operations, 'I felt it necessary to adhere to that view of Admiral King.'

* * * * *
Now the thing has been completely upset by the shore part of the Navy.
* * * * *
I think somebody in the Department made a very bad mistake.43

The Navy as a Career

In writing to a Naval Reserve officer who requested advice in regard to applying for a commission in the regular Navy, Admiral Turner wrote:

For each grade to which I have been promoted, I have found that it was necessary to make good all over again, and to spend a great deal of time in careful study and thought. Reserve Officers who have been intelligent and determined enough to follow this strict course of procedure have gotten along as well as, and often better than, Naval Academy Officers.44

On Keeping the Mind Flexible

Kelly Turner gave this sound advice on mental flexibility:

As we grow older, we all have a tendency to become too conservative.


Before the War, through the War, and since, I found that I had constantly to whip myself in order to be receptive toward new ideas. It is so easy to reject new ideas, in favor of ones that we have long been used to. However, it's a very poor plan to follow, in my opinion.45

The Pacific War Memorial

On 26 October 1953, Admiral Turner accepted an invitation to become an honorary member of the Pacific War Memorial Commission. He wrote that:

It surely will appeal for the support of . . . the United States and of other free Pacific Nations as a concrete expression of the noble sentiments which have inspired this great project. Particularly appealing, I think, is that the Pacific Memorial System is planned not to be primarily local to Hawaii, but national and even international in scope.46

The names of the more than 18,000 officers and men of the Armed Forces killed and missing in action during the Pacific War are inscribed in the Punch Bowl Cemetery in Hawaii.

Specialty of the House

Nearly every old-time naval officer over the years learned to produce a "specialty of the house," an appetizing drink that appealed to medium- sized social gatherings of shipmates' families, at homecomings after long cruises, or selection or promotion to higher rank celebrations, or during the Christmas Season.

The Kelly Turner family specialty was Christmas egg nog, and various shipmates offered the recipe. Since it's not only good, but excellent, it is worth recording, one version at least. This one comes from the recipe book of Mrs. Peg Bonney, wife of Captain Carroll T. Bonney, U.S. Navy (Retired), and dates from 1938.


In a letter written on Christmas Day 1941, Kelly Turner's devoted wife wrote:

We had a nice Xmas. Kelly worked all day.

Another Yuletide letter reported:

I had a small egg nog party last evening. Only two men got here and Kelly never did. They had a White House meeting.47

Kelly's Drinking Habits

This writer questioned both Fleet Admiral Nimitz and Admiral Spruance, Kelly Turner's two immediate superiors during World War II, in regard to their knowledge of his drinking habits and what their reaction to these habits had been.

Fleet Admiral Nimitz's comment was:

In regard to Kelly Turner's drinking habits, of which I heard much during the war, I always told the tale-bearer the same thing as Lincoln is supposed to have told someone regarding General Grant: 'Please let me know what brand of whiskey Kelly's drinking so I can feed it to some of my other admirals.'

I never saw Kelly Turner when he was not capable of doing his duty and thinking straight.48

When Admiral Spruance fielded the same question, his comment was:

When any operation was over and Kelly returned to Pearl or Guam to plan the next one he was going to command, there always was a period when he had more than his share of liquor, after each day's working hours. The man had tremendous resilience, and the next morning his mind would be as


sharp as a steel trap, and he would put in another long productive working day.

I always felt I could handle Kelly and his drinking. When Chester and I discussed the problem, I always told Chester to let me handle it. Chester did let me handle it. And I think I did. It never really got out of hand during the War.

I never saw him tight during working hours, except once on Guam after he had finished up at Okinawa. His breath would knock you down at 15 feet. His head was clear as a bell.49

As one of his Flag Captains wrote:

Turner was very tired and fatigued at the end of the war. Many persons took this for over drinking. Like Lincoln, I wished more of our commanders would have drunk Kelly's whiskey.50

General Hogaboom wrote:

To my knowledge, Admiral Turner never touched a drop until the fight, as far as his part of it was concerned, was over and in the bag. But once the fight was over, he became bored and took to the bottle.

While this character defect was not fatal, it did exact a price. His interest was primarily in the fight, and he drove himself without mercy until it seemed victory was clear. He neglected no detail associated with the assault. He took little or no interest in such matters as evacuation of the wounded, hospitalization, safety and welfare of boat crews and similar matters. These details he left to unrewarded subordinates and they were frequently poorly planned and little supervised in sharp contrast to the minute supervision he gave to details of the assault. He just wasn't interested.

Financial Matters

Like all Naval officers whose only income is their monthly pay, Kelly Turner had many periods of financial stringency in the years before attaining Flag rank, and some financial problems afterward. However, he was meticulous in meeting his financial obligations. Better than that, he lived within his income, except for occasional borrowings intra-family to meet his mother's urgings over the years for him to help provide income to a brother to sustain "unremunerative artistic efforts." At one such time, he wrote:

I shall have Izer paid up by next July thank goodness, though meanwhile, I'll have to stay aboard ship all the time. Well I don't care.51


Japanese Naval Officers

Kelly Turner had one of the great Christian virtues. He could forgive his enemies. Despite all the unkind things which the Japanese radio said about him during the War, he forgave the Japanese. He thought we should become friends again. He knew and admired certain of the virtues of the Japanese, and he liked many Japanese naval officers. Up to the time of his death, he exchanged Christmas cards with about half a dozen Japanese naval officers--including Admiral Kichisaburo Nomura and Vice Admiral Yoshimori Terai. He spoke unkindly of some of the acts of individual Japanese, but not unkindly of the Japanese people.

Public Relations

During the early days of the Guadalcanal campaign, Rear Admiral Turner had had little contact with the press. But his personal files during this period indicate an awareness of its existence and possible use. For example, he recommended to Vice Admiral Ghormley, when the 164th Infantry Regiment was embarked on transports for passage to duty at Guadalcanal, that as an indication of "fine inter-service cooperation" and "the highest ideals of cooperation and unity of command," Major Generals Harmon and Patch inspect the transports McCawley and the Zeilin carrying the Army troops. He continued:

I suggest that newspaper correspondents and newspaper photographers attend this ceremony.

This suggestion is made for the purpose of giving publicity to the idea of inter-service cooperation.52

On 23 December 1942, he wrote to the editor of The Call Bulletin in reply to a letter:

Just before I went into Guadalcanal on our last reenforcement, I offered one young newspaperman here the chance to come along on board one of our ships and watch the show from the water side. We were delayed a couple of days; he became impatient and insisted on flying up to get on shore with our troops--and so missed a battle which in time will be a classic of naval warfare; the night action of November 12-13 which really set them on their heels.53


A correspondent who was in the Solomons during the preparatory phases of the TOENAILS campaign for the middle Solomons wrote:

Admiral Turner is one who sincerely believes this is a people's war and the people should be informed about it, through press and radio. Where certain colleagues in the Silent Service have taped their mouths and gone . . . hush-hush, Admiral Turner has been generous with information, even in advance of important operations.

. . . Admiral Turner . . . more than a month ahead of the New Georgia offensive, let correspondents in on the secret of D-Day so they could make necessary plans for coverage. . . . Actually we were tipped off twice--in general terms before we went up to the Solomons, and in intimate detail on a Friday afternoon at Camp Crocodile, Guadalcanal, five days before the landings on Rendova and the other islands of the New Georgia Group.

. . . (Turner) looks worn and very gaunt. His sensitive face is pale and lined and marked with fatigue. His speech is slow and slangy. His unpressed khaki is open at the throat. He smokes cigarettes thriftily to the cork tip, and he alternates two cigarette lighters, one gold, the other black G.I. . . .54

Until Rear Admiral Turner learned that Congressional approval of his promotion to Vice Admiral was being held up in the Senate, because of what had appeared in the public press in regard to his actions at Guadalcanal and at Tarawa, he was not conscious that he was getting what is called "a bad press." He was as aware as the next man that the press thrived on "color, catchy phrases and pithy headlines," and that the color was not all in bright and pleasant hues, the catchy phrases not all from seasoned opinions of knowledgeable observers, and the pithy headlines not all strictly factual. He did not live by public relations or for public relations, but he realized full well they had a part in winning the war.

During World War II, the communication media did not discover that Kelly Turner existed until the Savo Island battle inspired them to look for a scapegoat. Tarawa spurred them on in the scalp hunting. "Terrible Turner" kept silently working along.

Some of the correspondents who sought a war cruise on one of the "Big Flags" but could not get assigned to untaciturn Admiral Halsey's battleship flagship and did not want any assignment on Admiral Spruance's taciturn, but outstandingly effective, cruiser flagship, ended up on Rear Admiral Turner's "clumsy waddling old Grace Liner" or Vice Admiral Turner's or Admiral Turner's new amphibious command ship.

Some of the headlines and some of the titles applied to Kelly Turner


Richmond Kelly Turner as pictured by artist Bortis Chaliapin on Time Magaine cover, Febrluary 7, 1944
Richmond Kelly Turner as pictured by artist Boris Chaliapin on Time Magazine cover, February 7, 1944.
(Courtesy of Time-Life Publication)


were: "fearless, irrepressible, crafty," or "tough, profane and sentimental," or the "most shot at Admiral."55

However, Time, The Weekly News Magazine, carried a Boris Chaliapin painting with a sneer on Kelly Turner's face on the cover sheet of its 7 February 1944 issue. The accompanying news article said Kelly was a "mean son-of-a-bitch" and was known as "Terrible Turner." He was "vociferous, " "talking incessantly," and was "abrasive as a file." "His self confidence reportedly approached arrogance."

This February 1944 Time article drew the following comment to Time Magazine by another Time correspondent who had ridden with Kelly Turner during the Marshall campaign.

David Hulburd
News Bureau
Time Magazine
Time & Life Bldg
Rockefeller Center
New York City
KWAJALEIN ATOLL, February 9, 1944

Dear Dave:

Our cover story on Rear Admiral Kelly Turner in the February 7th issue played too heavily on the Admiral's reputation for harshness. I have found the nickname "Terrible" Turner to be compounded not only out of regard for his sharp mind but out of a great deal of affection. The man who called him a "mean son of a bitch" must have been a disgruntled naval officer who failed to match up to the clear-cut Turner standards, or else he said it with a smile in his voice. Of course, I am only acquainted with the Admiral as he is today, a man with a signal triumph to his credit, but from those with whom I talked in the Solomons I always received the same impression of his character that I know held--the impression of a warm, witty, caustic gentleman, who while warily respected is at the same time whole-heartedly loved.

A man who could weld such magnificent cooperation out of all the units involved in this operation, and could achieve such harmony, could not do it through creating an atmosphere of "tautness." His may not have been "happy" ships--I don't know about that--but his certainly is a "happy" amphibious force.

The Admiral's facial expressions are, to my eyes, very indicative of his character. His eyebrows do not beetle, they twitch expressively as he talks, and rather humorously. His eyes, behind his spectacles, can, I suppose, be icy, but most of the time they are keen and warm. His mouth, while it can be severe, is always ready to break into a smile that eased the blow. I have seen


him "blow up" a junior officer and I was taken in, till I saw the look in his eye and the smile that finally came. There was no joke about the "blowing up," but he is aware of men's sensitivities and he recognizes their abilities even when they occasionally annoy him. His men admit he is tough--he admits it himself--but they love to work for him. An aviation officer says that often when he feels that he has just gotten a grip on the stone wall of a problem, someone comes along to trample his fingers--it is Turner, who has already surmounted the problem. 'That Turner, what a wonderful guy' is a typical Army comment, 'you're never conscious of the fact that he' s Navy. You think of him simply as the boss of the show, and he's a hell of a good boss.'

Rear Admiral Kelly Turner is today one of the most popular commanders in the Pacific Theatre. Army, Navy, Marines--all the men serving under him feel that they are serving under a brilliant leader and a real Character, a Character whom they not only respect but also love.

William H. Chickering
War Correspondent
Time Magazine
303 Stangenwald Bldg.
Honolulu, Hawaii

Chickering was thoughtful enough to give a copy of his letter to one of the officers in the FIFTHPHIBFOR STAFF, who gave it to the writer.

Another observer of the public relations problem during this period opined:

RKT made a conscious decision that the day was not long enough to give all aspects of the war their full due. He decided the personal public relations aspect was one part that could be sloughed off without hurting anyone but himself. He just didn't give a tinker's damn about that happening.56

Kelly Turner toward the end of World War II told a newspaperman who was on his staff, and who served with him through six major amphibious campaigns in other than a public relations capacity:

Of all command problems, public relations are the most difficult.57

And Admiral Turner told this recorder:

It's the small fraction of correspondents who lack the necessary character to stand up to the temptation of making a headline which causes real public relations problems in war. Call a man a S.O.B. and the copywriter may give you a headline on page 1. Call a man tough or a driver, or say he has brains,


your article may have to take its place on overall merit. It's a great temptation.58

Admiral Turner showed his wisdom in the public relations field during his retirement years by penning the following regarding General H.M. Smith's articles in the Saturday Evening Post on the amphibious campaigns of the Pacific War:

You may be surprised to learn that Smith's articles did not make me explode. . . .

I clearly remember the horrible Sampson-Schley battle, which brought great discredit to both--and to the entire Navy. None of that stuff for me, thank you.59

Turner's Secret

Admiral Turner had one secret which, in 1960, he was willing to get into the record. He had confided it to Admiral Spruance, with whom this writer checked, and perhaps he had confided it to others.

The secret was that Rear Admiral Turner had lost his job as Assistant Chief of Staff for Plans on Admiral King's staff. He was told by Admiral King that he had been sacrificed to maintaining good relations with the Army planners, a sacrifice made by the Navy at the direction of the President.

Admiral Turner related the matter as follows:

In February 1942, after a long series of bitter discussions at the Joint Planning level, and mainly over the establishment or build-up of our bases along the line of communications to Australia, I was called into Admiral King's office and told that General Marshall had complained about what I said and the manner in which I had said it in the Joint Planners' Committee meetings. General Marshall specifically had suggested to Admiral King that Joint Planning would be facilitated by providing a new senior Navy member of the Joint Planning Committee. He told me that he had told General Marshall, at least for the moment, 'no.'

Admiral King said that he backed my position in the build-up of bases matter to the hilt, but please try to keep it clean and not to state that the Army planners were dumb, dam dumb, or g.d. dumb, that we had to persuade them to see things, not clobber them or cut them to pieces. He knew that it was difficult to convince them, but the job had to be done.

I said a lot of things--but ended up by saying, and I meant it, that I would give my best to the soft answer. And I did try, and for awhile thought I was


succeeding. But late in March, I was called in again by Admiral King and told that General Marshall had made the recommendation to the President for a change in the person of the Navy Senior Planner on the Joint Staff. The President had directed him to make the change, and I would have to go, much to his personal regret. To say I was broken up by this is to put it lightly.

In the later years of the Pacific War, whenever Admiral King and I were together alone, he would always ask me with a smile:

'How's the Army's greatest single contribution to the War in the Pacific?' And I would always reply:

'Fine. The greatest favor that anyone ever did me.'60

One of Rear Admiral, Turner's senior subordinates in the Plans Division, and a brilliant and effective officer who later held the same detail of Assistant Chief of Staff Plans to Admiral King, opined when asked whether he had any background knowledge of the reason for Rear Admiral Turner's change of duty:

As you remember, he was intent on getting to sea, and I think was a little impatient, to say the least, at having to work with the young crop of generals which the Army was turning out so fast. He was glad to let me struggle with it and was even more glad to see Cooke come to take over from him.61

Quick Death

When Admiral Turner died, at the home of Colonel Warren T. Clear, U.S. Army (Retired), near Monterey, California, while having lunch on Lincoln' s Birthday, 1961, a national magazine carried the findings of the coroner that death had been due to a chicken bone sticking in his throat.

Some six months later, his regular physician made this statement, some of which, from its nature, was hearsay:

Admiral Turner died of a coronary occlusion despite the coroner's finding that he died of a stuck chicken bone in his throat.

I had been attending Admiral Turner for several years. He had had one previous heart attack, when he lost consciousness out in his yard. He lay in the yard for an unknown length of time and when he regained consciousness, he was able to walk inside to a lounge and lay down.

On the Sunday he died, February 12th, he had already complained to his host, Colonel Clear, of a pain in his chest while they were enjoying the view from the Colonel's lawn. When the pain went away, lunch was served. Suddenly


the Admiral slumped in his chair, then to the floor and started to vomit. He gasped for breath a few times, and in so doing sucked the little piece of chicken bone into his windpipe long with a piece of biscuit. Both of these were found there by the coroner.62

Colonel Clear, the host, wrote as follows:

Until she became invalided, Harriet came to our home at least once (and oftener twice) a week for bridge and Admiral Turner about once a week for dinner here or in town. On the occasion of his last visit, on a bright, sparkling day, he looked over Monterey Bay, Carmel Bay, and the three mountain ranges to be seen from our living room and exclaimed: 'This is the most beautiful homesite in the world. I want to keep on living when I get up here.'

One evening he came up when the moon was rising over the Santa Lucias in the East, and the sun was sinking in the Pacific and said:

'I never thought I would see anything bigger than the Pacific Ocean but this clear sky above us is just beyond measurement or calculation.'

He insisted on sitting out on the terrace until eleven thirty that night, lost in quiet contemplation. As I stated, when he arrived the last time on the hill, he said: 'I want to keep on living when I get up here.' But an hour later, when the subject of Harriet's last terrible months and years came up he said:

'Its knocked something out of me. I'm not going to live very long. I've become more aware of that the last month.'

He made a similar remark to Admiral Spruance a day or so before that. I would not say he was melancholic or depressed; rather, it seemed, introspective and resigned to the prospect of passing on. He was not well. We could see a month to month deterioration physically and he sometimes groped for words in conversation and would give up trying to finish an occasional sentence.

He had had a drink at his home while I waited to bring him to our home the day of his death, and when he arrived he asked my wife for another. We talked for about an hour and then sat down to a broiled chicken luncheon. He and I were discussing the role of the submarine and plane in future warfare and the contemplated movement of large bodies of troops from continent to continent by air. He was very lucid and quoted figures to show the tonnage required to maintain a fighting man overseas (food, shelter, ammo., armor, vehicles, hospitalization, etc.), and then he said:

'They can never get away from the old surface ship, whose broad bottom compresses the water and is an aid to her burden carrying. A thousand years from now she will not be out of fashion, if you have to ship soldiers and their 'keep' overseas. The 'fly-boys' believe what they say but they don't have all the facts at their finger tips.'

Then he went on to clarify his comment by saying:

'Of course they may all just stay where they are and do each other in by


ICBM, but I think they will still have to occupy their beaten enemy's territory to impose their terms on him, and that means shipping the soldier overseas, hundreds of thousands of him, probably. The water will carry the freight again in WW III. At the start or the end of the donnybrook.'

Gradually his voice weakened and several times he had to stop, each time breathing heavily and with apparent effort. I asked: 'Kelly, are you ill?' He shook his head, took a small piece of chicken, was chewing it, and suddenly threw his right arm across his chest, striving to rise. Then he fell sideways to the floor, without a sound. I felt of his pulse and put my hand inside his shirt but could detect no heart action. He was ghastly pale but his face was not contorted and gave no evidence of agony or pain. I ran to the phone and got Dr. Mast Wolfson, President of the Monterey Heart Association and one of our greatest 'heart men', and our oldest (in terms of association) friend in this area. He left his lunch at once and I drove down halfway to Monterey to direct him over a freshly made piece of road which cut some distance off his trip--total trip about two miles. When he arrived at my home, Mary was in a state of shock and the Admiral was where I had placed a pillow under his head. Dr. Wolfson at once gave him artificial respiration. His trachea were clear as we could hear the air leaving his lungs.

Later, at the autopsy, ordered by Dr. Wolfson, a small piece of chicken was found in the Admiral's mouth, or back of his teeth, but Dr. Wolfson' s findings is that he died of a massive coronary occlusion. We called Dr. Wolfson because he is the most competent heart man in this area, if not in the State, knew the Admiral well, and is a dedicated man who will respond at once to any call of need, night or day. One of the San Francisco papers, addicted to sensationalism, had the Admiral choking to death on an unchewed piece of chicken; an account that brought great mental anguish to my wife, but Dr. Wolfson found no evidence of the trachea being blocked. I have witnessed four sudden deaths due to heart failure and I am convinced that a failing heart and his knowledge of it, was the immediate cause of his death, and the source of his frequent asides that: 'My life is over, so why should I try to remake the world,' etc. I would say, without hesitation, that he had a premonition of approaching death.

An autopsy was performed at our, and Dr. Wolfson's, insistence.

It is my, and Mary's, solid opinion that Admiral Turner began to fail rapidly with Harriet's death. She died after four years of agony that had him up at all hours of the day and night ministering to her. Although the Admiral was seen by Admiral Spruance every day (because Admiral and Mrs. Spruance observed, with us, his deterioration), and was seen by us about every other day, either at his home, or walking the dog, or at our place, he became detached from his surroundings, lost interest in the daily papers, was discouraged by what he referred to as 'The gradual destruction of the moral fibre of our people.'

He had a strong man's love of his country. There was nothing mawkish or


maudlin in his affection for the men he commanded during the war and during his service at sea. He could be said to 'love the sailor.' Once when three sailors were so reluctant to be put in the paddy wagon while out on the town in San Francisco, that it took twelve police to convince them that the ride was necessary, the Admiral said:

'When three cops can put three battlewagon sailors in a wagon without permission I'll join the Girl Scouts of America.'

He had a delightful sense of homespun humor, appreciated by those who called him 'Terrible Turner.' He said to us once:

'I can accept rough-necks, truculence, occasional carelessness, a hundred minor shortcomings in an officer, but I won't have a 'stupid' on my staff. The stupid man cannot be entrusted with heavy responsibilities and duties, or with the lives of others. Stupidity in an officer is a permanent and total disability. It's the unforgivable fault.'63

Burial--Golden Gate National Cemetery

Fleet Admiral Nimitz related how it came about that Kelly Turner is buried in the Golden Gate National Cemetery:

As you well know, BUPERS buries people. When I was CHBUNAV, Helen Hess, who handled all the Bureau's arrangement of funerals, said to me:

'Why don't people plan ahead in connection with their burial?'

When I came to retire in the 12th Naval District, I remembered her remark and looked around. I found the Presidio Burial Grounds filled. I went out to the Golden Gate Cemetery at San Bruno, and the caretaker there said, 'I have just the place for you, a high spot in the center of the cemetery.' I wrote to Admirals Spruance and Turner and asked them if they were interested in being buried at the apex of the war dead in the Golden Gate Cemetery. When Harriet Turner became very ill, Kelly wrote to me and said, 'Is the offer still good?' I said it was and she was buried there and Kelly soon followed.64

On 13 September 1952, Fleet Admiral Nimitz wrote to the Chief of Naval Personnel:

While I fully understand and appreciate the decision of the Quartermaster General to make no grave site reservations in the Golden Gate National Cemetery for other officers, I earnestly request that Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, USN (Retired), and Admiral R. K. Turner, USN (Retired) upon their deaths be given grave sites adjoining those which have been reserved for


Mrs. Nimitz and me. This request is made because I firmly believe that our success in the Pacific during World War II was due in a very large measure to the splendid service rendered the Nation by these two officers, and it is fitting that they enjoy the same privilege granted to me in choosing their final resting place close to the Service personnel who died in the Pacific.65


The many distinguished seniors who were called upon to make appraisals of Richmond Kelly Turner had many kind things to say of his talents, but as he matured they most frequently mentioned his intelligence, his planning ability, his drive and his devotion to duty. During World War II, they mentioned his fighting spirit, the will to win, and his power of decision. His was the unusual combination of fighting spirit, operational acumen, and logistical long-headedness. This combination was a scarce commodity, even in a four-year war.

As one writer eulogized:

So with a far-from-desirable logistic situation, and with the expectation of strong resistance, perhaps even full [Japanese] naval strength, the audacity of the Guadalcanal operation was evidenced in a bold seizing of the initiative. The principal credit for this probably should go to Rear Admiral R. K. Turner, who was ever in the forefront in planning, directing, and carrying out an operation with skill, persistence, drive and great courage. He thoroughly understood the difficulty of the support problem and worked unceasingly with all concerned in logistics, as he did with troop and combat ship commanders. He not only could and did think in the large, he could also, when necessary, attend to small details such as procuring kegs of nails or bundles of steel landing mat. Reverses or confused action did not discourage him, but made him only the more persistent in having the action improved. His far-seeing knowledge of the preparation in logistics in his campaigns throughout the war further served to mark him as the greatest of all amphibious commanders.66

Richmond Kelly Turner was the only naval officer this scribe ever served with who knew all the details and all the broad picture, and never got them confused.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as having replied to the Missouri Committee of Seventy in 1864:

I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, . . .


I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me.

Admiral Turner was a great reader and may have read these words, or he may not have. But in any case he believed that the rarest gift that God bestows on any man is the capacity for decision. He knew that he had that gift, and he sought to exercise it for the good of his country and his Navy in a way which would still leave him a friend of himself.

And so with a final quote from a most distinguished shipmate of Kelly Turner's who lies not too far from him on the same hill overlooking the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, I bring this documented study to a close.

Bill Halsey was a Sailor's Admiral and Spruance, an Admiral's Admiral, but Kelly Turner was a Fighting Admiral.67


In Chapter VI, a quote from a letter to the Director of Naval History written by Admiral Turner in 1950, had the following opinion and advice:

I believe it would be an equally bad thing for the Navy to publish a similar controversial book, written from the point of view of the Navy alone. No one Service invented amphibious warfare. The Marines contributed much (patterned on Japanese methods) to its development in recent years. But so also did the Navy, including Naval Aviation. Furthermore, beginning in 1940, the Army contributed a great deal. We should not forget that the biggest operation of all--Normandy--was very largely a U.S. Army and British affair. The Marines had nothing to do with the European and African landings, and the U.S. Navy was not the controlling element.68

This book has attempted to provide the viewpoints of operational participants of the other Services, as well as of naval participants, on various issues where the viewpoints of the Services were markedly different; and the viewpoint of other naval individuals, as well as the Turner viewpoint, when these were markedly different.

It takes more than several people and many, many operational happenings to manufacture either a first-class victory or a major disaster in a World War.

Richmond Kelly Turner was one of the "more than several" people "who manufactured our Pacific Victory," after undergoing a "major disaster" at Savo Island.


Table of Contents  *  Previous Chapter (25) *  Next Chapter (Appendices)


1. Ballentine.

2. (a) SECNAV 6312 of 21 Mar. 1947; BUNAV PERS 325-MEP-6312 of 23 May 1947; (b) Died 12 February 1961, Monterey, California.

3. RKT to Mill L. Lucile Turner, letter, 27 Apr. 1947.

4. R.K. Turner, Memorial Day Address Delivered at Summit, New Jersey, 30 May 1946, p. 2.

5. Naval History Division, United States Naval Chronology, World War II, p. 30. [NOTE: Link is to 1999 revised edition.]

6. Captain H.D. Linscott, (SC), USN (Ret.) to GCD, letter, 6 May 1969.

7. Lieutenant Colonel Richard A. Gard, USMCR (Ret.) to GCD, letter, 20 May 1969.

8. Interview with Rear Admiral Draper L. Kauffman, USN, Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, 9 Dec. 1965. Hereafter Kauffman.

9. Mott.

10. Kinkaid.

11. Compton, 17 Jun. 1969.

12. Kauffman.

13. Leif Erickson, Pearl Harbor AP Story, San Francisco Examiner, 23 January 1944.

14. Admiral John Leslie Hall, USN (Ret.) to GCD, letter, 1 Nov. 1961. Hall relieved RKT as Head of Strategy Section, Naval War College.

15. Vandegrift, Once a Marine, p. 292.

16. Kauffman.

17. Hogaboom Interview, 15 Mar. 1967.

18. Charles W. Weaver, Ed., Evening Express, Portland, Me., to RKT, letter, 6 Nov. 1948.

19. Quoted in Robert Lee Sherrod, On to Westward War in the Central Pacific (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1945), p. 159.

20. CTF 67 to TF 67, 142000 Nov. 1942.

21. RKT to Mother, letter, Dec. 1909.

22. Mrs. RKT to Miss LLT, letter, 17 Oct. 1946.

23. RKT to Miss LLT, letter, 27 Apr. 1947.

24. Interview with Captain Ernest W. McKee, USN (Ret.), 13 Mar. 1964.

25. (a) Interview with Mrs. E.W. McKee, 13 Mar. 1964; (b) Lieutenant Commander George P.. Carr, (MC), died on 30 October 1932.

26. Bieri.

27. Mrs. RKT to Miss LLT, letter, 17 Oct. 1946.

28. Lieutenant Commander Harry K. Donavin, USNR (Ret.), to Rear Admiral Edward J. Foy, USN, Secretary, Class 1908, letter.

29. Interview with Captain Frank A. Andrews, USN, May 1962.

30. Smith, Coral and Brass, p. 109.

31. Vandegrift, Once a Marine, p. 119.

32. Rear Admiral Robert H. Rodgers, formerly Commanding Officer USS McCawley (APA-4), to GCD, letter, 20 Nov. 1965. Hereafter Rodgers.

33. G.B. Carter. (T.B. Brittain is now Vice Admiral, USN (Ret.).

34. The Evening Star, 13 Feb. 1961; Washington Post, 14 Feb. 1961.

35. Rear Admiral Adrian M. Hurst, USN (Ret.) to GCD, letter, 9 Jan. 1966.

36. Rodgers (Commander Underwater Demolition Teams, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet).

37. Stratton.

38. Lopresti.

39. Lieutenant Colonel R.D. Heinl, USMC, Director Naval Gunfire School, to RKT, letter, 4 Feb. 1952.

40. Turner.

41. Kauffman.

42. Hogaboom.

43. RKT to Lieutenant Colonel Cecil W. Shuyler, USMC, letter, 24 Feb. 1947.

44. RKT to Lieutenant Commander Jack Martin, USNR, letter, 25 Jul. 1946.

45. RKT to Admiral Allan E. Smith, letter, 8 Apr. 1946.

46. RKT to H. Tucker Gratz, letter, 26 Oct. 1953.

47. Mrs. HST to Miss LLT, letter, 2 Jan. 1942.

48. Interview with Fleet Admiral Nimitz, at New Canaan, Conn., 19 Oct. 1961.

49. Interview with Admiral Spruance, 6-7 Oct. 1961.

50. Rodgers.

51. RKT to Mother, letter, Kongkong, China, Dec. 1909.

52. RKT to RLG, letter, 8 Oct. 1942.

53. RKT to EDC, letter, 23 Dec. 1942.

54. Driscoll, Pacific Victgory, pp. 62-63.

55. (a) Bernard J. McQuaid; (b) Leif Erickson.

56. Kauffman.

57. Interview with Captain Charles W. Weaver, Jr., USNR, now publisher of the Nashua Telegraph, 5 Aug. 1964. Hereafter Weaver.

58. Turner.

59. RKT to HWH, letter, 28 Nov. 1948.

60. Turner.

61. Bieri. Captain Bieri, Assistant Plans Officer from February 1942. Hee took over the Plans Division when Rear Admiral Cooke fleet up to Deputy Chief of Staff to COMINCH in October 1943.

62. Interview with Dr. Mast Wolfson, Professional Building, Monterey, California, 7 Oct. 1961.

63. Colonel Warren T. Clear, USA (Ret.), to GCD, letter, 10 Nov. 1961.

64. Nimitz.

65. CWN/RRM/hn to CNP, Ser 3 of 13 Sep. 1952.

66. Carter, Beans, Bullets and Black Oil, p. 28.

67. Nimitz.

68. RKT to Chief of the Division of Naval Records and History, letter, 20 Nov. 1950.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation