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Boorda Had Said He Wouldn’t Fall Into ‘Trap’ of Self Pity

May 17, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Navy struggled Friday to understand the suicide of Adm. Jeremy ``Mike″ Boorda, its top officer who had recently declared he would not ``fall into that trap″ of feeling sorry for himself in coping with criticism.

In a speech April 24 at the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis, Md., Boorda said he was addressing media criticisms head-on, not looking for the easy way out.

``If you fall into that trap and feel sorry for yourself because your problems are getting reported, then you don’t get better,″ Boorda said. ``I’m not going to fall into that trap.″ He also expressed concern about suicides in the Navy.

The Navy said a private funeral service would be held Sunday at Arlington National Cemetery. A memorial service will be held Tuesday at Washington National Cathedral, and President Clinton is expected to attend.

Boorda, 56, fatally shot himself in the chest with a .38-caliber pistol Thursday at his residence in the Washington Navy Yard.

The day after, many were asking, ``Why?″

People who knew him, none of whom would be quoted by name, said Boorda tended to personalize criticisms of the Navy _ a reflection of the intimate feelings he felt for an institution in which he spent his entire adult life. He was the only enlisted sailor ever to rise to be chief of naval operations.

While the Navy has encountered much criticism in recent years for its treatment of women, the soundness of its Naval Academy and other alleged weaknesses, Boorda’s suicide seemed tied to a controversy of a more personal nature.

At least one of two notes he left at his residence expressed distress over what he apparently feared would become a scandal over whether he had improperly worn two bronze pins on Vietnam-era decorations, according to sources familiar with the contents of the notes.

Boorda was to have met with Newsweek reporters at his Pentagon office at about the time he shot himself. After he was informed about the specifics of the inquiry, Boorda left his office, saying he was going home for lunch but would be back to see the reporters. Police said he shot himself at about 2 p.m.

Retired Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, former chief of naval operations, said Friday he routinely authorized the wearing of the combat ``V″ (for valor) pin even when it wasn’t specifically mentioned in citations. He told Washington television station WJLA that he may have authorized Boorda to wear the pins in conversations with him, and at any rate, believed Boorda ``was honestly of the view″ that he could.

President Clinton, traveling in St. Louis, ordered flags flown at half-staff at all federal buildings, military posts, naval stations, ships at sea, and U.S. diplomatic facilities overseas in respect for Boorda’s memory. The flags will remain at half-staff until the day of the admiral’s funeral.

Without mentioning the circumstances of Boorda’s death, Defense Secretary William Perry on Friday praised him as ``a sailor’s sailor″ concerned with everyone’s interest.

``Nobody had more pride in his sailors,″ Perry said. ``The hallmark of Mike’s remarkable Navy career was a heartfelt recognition that no ship, no battle group, is better than the people who sail with it.″

Indeed, concern with his sailors has been a common theme of the many tributes paid to Boorda since his death _ a concern that colleagues said extended to attention to details of fatalities, including suicides.

He specifically mentioned suicide in the ``State of the Navy″ speech he delivered at the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis, Md., on April 24.

In explaining what he called ``one-on-one leadership,″ Boorda said every sailor and midshipman should have one leader he or she can look to for guidance, who knows their interests and can be held responsible for his or her welfare. Thus, he said, Navy leaders should know when, for example, a sailor is a racist or has committed an act of sexual harassment. Likewise, he added:

``Can the sailor commit suicide and not have the leader know that he or she was in distress? No.″

In the same address, Boorda said that while he regretted the continuing media attention to Navy controversies, he was able to keep the problems in perspective.

``I’ve been in this uniform for over 40 years,″ Boorda said. ``I know its good parts, and I’m sorry to say I know all the parts I need to fix. I know nothing is as good as I think it is and nothing is as bad as it seems.″

People who worked with Boorda said his foremost concern was defending the integrity of the Navy and seeking to nourish moral values in the men and women he commanded. To have his own integrity impugned by accusations of wearing campaign pins he had not earned would further damage the reputation of the Navy, a blow Boorda perhaps felt he could spare the Navy by taking his own life, they suggested.

Boorda is widely credited with helping the Navy toward recovery from the 1991 Tailhook sexual assault scandal, but he was concerned by some recent criticisms, including a scathing letter to the editor of the Navy Times newspaper.

The letter’s writer, whose name was withheld by the newspaper, urged Boorda to resign, saying he had lost the respect of both officers and the enlisted.

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