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Admiral Crowe Dies at 82


This morning we're remembering a military officer who won respect from Democrats and Republicans alike. Back in 1992, retired Admiral William Crowe endorsed Bill Clinton for president, despite questions about Clinton's lack of military service during Vietnam.

Years before that, his career was advanced when Crowe met a very different president, as NPR's defense correspondent Guy Raz reports.

GUY RAZ: In April 1984, President Ronald Reagan stopped off in Honolulu on his way to China. There he met the fairly obscure Admiral William Crowe. As legend has it, Reagan was so impressed by Crowe he told a colleague if we're ever going to need a new chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he's our man.

A year later, Crowe got the job and he launched a series of groundbreaking exchanges with his Soviet counterpart.

Admiral WILIAM CROWE (United States Navy): No American military leader wants war, and I suspect that that is true equally on the Soviet side.

RAZ: Crowe was a somewhat unlikely candidate to become chairman. He held three advanced degrees, and he once lamented what he called the anti-intellectual culture in the Navy. Indeed, he almost quit the Navy in the late 1960s when one of his superior officers accused him of engaging in original thinking. As chairman Crowe was widely respected, but his tenure was also marked by tragedy.

Unidentified Man: A message from Dubai air traffic control. An Iranian Airbus is presumed crashed.

RAZ: That day, July 3rd 1988, marked a low point in Crowe's career.

Adm. CROWE: We believe that the cruiser USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian airliner over the Straits of Hormuz. The U.S. government deeply regrets this incident.

RAZ: Later in his life, Crowe would speak about that day and about the tragic error that killed all 290 passengers. After his retirement in 1989, Crowe went on to teach at the Naval Academy. He died Thursday, age 82, at the Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Guy Raz, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Guy Raz is the host, co-creator, and editorial director of three NPR programs, including two of its most popular ones: TED Radio Hour and How I Built This. Both shows are heard by more than 14 million people each month around the world. He is also the creator and co-host of NPR's first-ever podcast for kids, Wow In The World.