Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Reagan administration signed an agreement with Soviet military leaders that helped reduce tensions between the superpowers, died yesterday in Bethesda, Md. He was 82.
The death, at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, was announced by the Navy, but no cause was given.
Admiral Crowe, who retired from the military in 1989 and later served as ambassador to Britain, met in Moscow in June 1989 with his counterpart, Gen. Mikhail A. Moiseyev, chief of the Soviet General Staff, and signed an agreement intended to avoid or contain accidental military encounters before they could escalate into major confrontations.
The agreement, covering areas like laser-weapons testing, radio jamming and accidental incursions of airspace, was credited as a tentative but important step toward the eventual thaw in the cold war. After the signing, General Moiseyev called it “a momentous occasion” in Soviet-American relations. Admiral Crowe agreed, saying the pact showed how far “the courage of our political leaders has brought us toward developing a more sustainable larger relationship.”
In his four years as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Crowe (rhymes with “now”) brought a deft diplomatic touch to a number of difficult situations.
Besides serving as President Ronald Reagan’s architect of military-to-military contacts with the Soviet Union, he had to balance interservice rivalries at a time when Congressional critics were citing wasteful duplication in weapons programs and calling for reduced military spending.
He was also in charge when the United States conducted bombing strikes in Libya in 1986 in retaliation for a terrorist bombing at a discothèque in West Berlin, and he oversaw American protection of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war.
Then, in August 1988, seven weeks after the Navy cruiser Vincennes shot down an Iran Air jetliner over the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 passengers, Admiral Crowe faced the delicate task of determining whether Navy personnel should be disciplined.
His report listed a series of errors aboard the Vincennes that contributed to the downing of the plane, including an erroneous conclusion that the airliner was descending and was issuing a signal identifying it as a military plane. While acknowledging the mistakes, the admiral said the ship’s captain would have fired in any event, given a lack of assurance that the plane was not hostile.
In 1987, as the Reagan administration was backing Nicaraguan rebels in their fight to overthrow a leftist government, Admiral Crowe criticized the rebels for what he described as political disunity and lack of military success, warning that the United States would stop supporting them.
William James Crowe Jr. was born in La Grange, Ky., on Jan. 2, 1925, and grew up in Oklahoma City. His father was a lawyer, and he once told an interviewer that, as a child watching his father’s predictable routine, he yearned for travel and change. He would achieve that in a wide variety of military assignments.
He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1946 and received a master’s degree in education from Stanford in 1956 and a Ph.D. in political science from Princeton in 1965.
Admiral Crowe is survived by his wife of 53 years, the former Shirley Grennell; two sons, James and William, and a daughter, Mary Russell.
Surprisingly, Admiral Crowe commanded only one ship during his career, the diesel submarine Trout, from 1960 to 1962. He was a senior adviser to the South Vietnamese Navy in the early 70s and was promoted to rear admiral in 1973. In 1980, Admiral Crowe was promoted to NATO commander in chief for Southern Europe. He next took over the United States Pacific Command.
In 1985, Reagan, while on the way to China, stopped in Hawaii and received a 90-minute briefing from Admiral Crowe on military affairs in the Far East. The president was so impressed that soon after he chose the admiral as the 11th Joint Chiefs chairman.
After four years as chairman, Admiral Crowe turned down the first President Bush’s offer to remain in the post. Then, in the presidential race of 1992, he endorsed Mr. Bush’s opponent, Bill Clinton, undercutting Republican criticism that Mr. Clinton’s objections to the Vietnam War would make him unacceptable to the military. Two years later, Mr. Clinton named Admiral Crowe ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, where he served until 1997.
At a hulking 6-foot-2, and with an Oklahoma drawl, Ambassador Crowe was noted for bringing humor to diplomatic encounters. In 1996, before a cluster of guests at the American Embassy, including former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, he wondered how Europeans could understand the United States.
“How do you explain Madonna? O. J. Simpson? Our fascination with guns?” he said, adding that it was impossible. “As Will Rogers put it, it’s like explaining the difference between a conservative Democrat and a moderate Republican.”
Former Chairman of Joint Chiefs Adm. William Crowe dies
WASHINGTON (AP) -- William Crowe, an Annapolis-trained submarine officer who rose to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and served as ambassador to Great Britain, has died at age 82.
The retired admiral died early Thursday at Bethesda Naval Hospital, the Navy announced. No cause of death was released immediately.
"We lost a true hero last night ... a distinguished naval officer, diplomat, leader, mentor (who) served both Presidents Reagan and Bush," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, said at a Pentagon press conference.
At age 44, he volunteered for duty in Vietnam. Years later, as only the third admiral to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Crowe presided over the military conflict with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, the U.S. Navy's protection of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war and a groundbreaking series of meetings with his Soviet counterpart as the Cold War thawed in the late 1980s.
With three advanced degrees, Crowe sometimes wondered if his academic bent might stymie his Navy career, but he moved from diesel submarines after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946 to chief of the Pacific Command in 1983. And the ability to see both sides of a question, which aroused suspicion among some Navy colleagues, propelled him into joint command jobs and caught the eye of presidents.
In the early 1960s, Crowe turned down a chance for assignment to nuclear submarines to study for a doctorate in politics and international affairs at Princeton. Angered by Crowe's decision, Adm. Hyman Rickover, the autocratic head of the nuclear Navy, turned against him.
For his part, Crowe said the studies transformed him. "As I studied political science at Princeton, I began to learn that things aren't black and white, they're usually gray," he said later.
Back in uniform, he angered a Pentagon superior by suggesting a policy change. "He called me in and said, `We didn't send you to graduate school to come back here with a lot of ideas on how to run the Navy. What we sent you to graduate school for is to come back here and help us perfect and articulate what we want better. But we're not interested in your original thinking."'
"I considered quitting right then," Crowe said later. "There has historically been a very strong anti-intellectual bias in the Navy."
President Reagan named him the 11th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1985. The year before, Reagan had stopped in Hawaii en route to China for a briefing from Crowe on the military situation in the Far East. As Crowe spoke for 90 minutes without notes, charts or maps, Reagan was reported to have whispered to his defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger: "If we're ever going to need a new chairman of the Joint Chiefs, here's our man."
Later, Crowe said he probably had more support from the Army and the Air Force than he did from the Navy when he became chairman.
Crowe turned down President George H.W. Bush's offer of a third two-year term and retired from the military in 1989.
In 1992, he endorsed Democrat Bill Clinton for the presidency instead of Bush. He said he was upset with Republican campaign attacks on Clinton for not serving in Vietnam.
Two years later, President Clinton appointed him ambassador to the Court of St. James's [Britain], where he served until 1997.
Born in La Grange, Ky, William J. Crowe Jr. grew up in Oklahoma City, Okla. In addition to his degree from the naval academy, he had a masters in personnel administration from Stanford University and a masters and doctorate in politics from Princeton University.
He is survived by his wife, Shirley, his daughter, Bambi, and his sons, Brent and Blake.
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