On the anniversary of the end of the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis, we learned of the recent passage of then CIA Director Admiral Stansfield Turner. Admiral Turner died at his home in Seattle on January 18th at the age of 94 after a long and successful life.
Admiral Turner was born in Highland Park, Illinois in 1923. His father, too, was an American success-story. Coming to our shores as an immigrant from England, the elder Turner amassed a small fortune in real-estate speculation. As a boy, Stansfield Turner showed that he too was destined for great things. After graduating with a distinguished record from Highland Park High School, he won admission to the prestigious University of Amherst during the fateful year of 1941.
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor only a few days after Turner's 18th birthday. Recognizing his future value to the armed services, the Navy recruiters advised him to stay in college and enroll in the N-ROTC. The advice reaped a huge benefit; in 1943, Turner was admitted to the US Naval Academy. Besides his academic achievements, he was also an outstanding athlete, playing for the Midshipmen football team as an offensive lineman. Six of his teammates later played for the NFL, including 1950's star Detroit Lions running-back, the late Bob Hoernschemeyer. The two players graduated the same year. Turner graduated 25th of a class of 860 which also included future President Carter.
This performance earned Turner a Rhodes Scholarship and he completed a Graduate Degree at Oxford while serving in the US Navy. An interesting commentary on what is possible: his father left England as an expatriate and the son returned with a scholarship and a military commission. He studied Philosophy and Economics.
In 1954, Turner went to Active Duty and was put in command of a mine-sweeper. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to staff officer on the destroyer the USS Morton. In 1961, he was given command of one of the Navy's early guided-missile cruisers, the USS Horne. It was there that he began to see that the future of warfare would rest upon technology.
This view was further reinforced after his promotion to Rear-Admiral and the command of a task force within the Mediterranean Fleet. This task force monitored the Soviet Fleet in the region---and gave Admiral Turner a taste of intelligence duties. He served there until 1972 when President Nixon promoted him to head the Naval War College. He remained in that post until President Ford promoted him to full Admiral and command of the Navy 2nd Fleet Atlantic in 1974. Ford later promoted him as NATO commander of all Southern Europe.
In November 1976, his classmate, Jimmy Carter was elected president and turned to Admiral Turner to reorganize the Central Intelligence Agency. In 1977, the CIA was suffering from the fallout of both Watergate and Vietnam. Turner completely overhauled the agency and set it on its future course of employing technological over human assets. This change has been in effect until this day---although not without some measure of controversy. Turner also consolidated intelligence agencies under the CIA aegis---another controversial move. By his own admission, the newly-revamped CIA's first real test failed when the Carter Administration was caught totally off-guard by the 1979 Iranian Revolution. However, he had several successes as well; but his most important legacy was probably crushing the leaks that were flowing from CIA like a sieve during 1970's.
After Carter left office, Turner went into private business and worked on the Board of the Monsanto Corporation and later the National Life Insurance Company. During the 1980's, with his political party out of power, Turner was attacked frequently by bitter and jealous enemies and published some books defending his decisions. Still active into 1990's, Turner became a Professor of Oceanography and Marine Sciences at the University of Rhode Island. In 2000, he survived a fatal plane crash that occurred under mysterious circumstances. His second wife---a Norwegian girl---was killed. In 2002, at the age of 79, he married for the third time to Marian Weiss of Seattle and is survived by her and a plethora of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Regardless of what one may think of Admiral Turner's politics, he led a truly full and distinguished life. Scholar, warrior, lover, athlete, author, and community leader: Stansfield Turner lived the kind of life that most of us dream of living. His life serves as a role-model for boys and an inspiration for us as well.