Chief of Naval Operations


Arleigh A. Burke

Arleigh A. Burke

Class of 1923

  • Chief of Naval Operations, 1955-1961
  • Burke Scholar


Profile

Arleigh Albert Burke was born on a farm outside Boulder, Colorado in October 1901. Although unable to complete his high school education because the school was closed during the flu epidemic in 1917, he competed successfully for an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. Convinced that the inadequacies of his secondary education put him behind other Midshipmen in his class, Burke decided that he could only overcome this deficiency by working more diligently at his studies than the others. This plan paid great dividends, and he graduated in 1923 in the top sixth of his class. Taking this lesson strongly to heart, he remained a believer in the benefits of sustained hard work throughout his Navy career.

During the interwar years, Arleigh Burke honed his skills as a surface warfare officer, serving initially in the battleship USS Arizona, obtaining a postgraduate degree in ordnance engineering, and rising eventually to command a destroyer. It was in this formative period of his career that he learned the importance of the Navy adage "loyalty up, loyalty down"--if you expect loyalty from your people you must be loyal to them in return.

During World War II, Burke commanded Destroyer Squadron 23 (the "Little Beavers") during combat in the South Pacific. Developing successful tactics to overcome Japanese advantages in night surface operations, he earned fame as "31-knot" Burke during the 1943 battles of Empress Augusta Bay and Cape St. George. It was in this period that his belief in the importance of thorough training was validated--as he explained to his subordinates, in combat your outfit could expect to do only about as well as it had trained to do beforehand.

During Dwight Eisenhower's terms as President in the 1950s, Arleigh Burke served as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) for six years. While CNO he initiated efforts such as the submarine-launched Polaris ballistic missile program that tremendously strengthened the U.S. Navy's military capabilities.
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