As the Lorain school district prepares to make its decision regarding the new name of Admiral King High School, it's as good a time as any to look back at Admiral Ernest J. King, the person. This excellent article, written by Jean Weaver, appeared in the Lorain Journal on July 18, 1959.
Admiral King Never Forgot His Home Town
He Held Navy's 2 Top Posts At Once
By Jean Weaver
The names of great people in Lorain's history are many, but the greatest of these is Admiral Ernest J. King.
He was the first man ever to hold the double job of commander-in-chief of the U.S. fleet and chief of naval operations, a task assigned to him by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II.
He has been described as the only man who could have fought an eight-front war while building a five-ocean navy.
He was a tough old sea dog and a strict disciplinarian who always had a warm smile for his old friends and acquaintances in his hometown, which he never forgot and which he visited often.
The twinkle in his eyes when he talked with fellow Lorainites belied his hard-bitten exterior, which prompted the men who served under him to privately call him "Old Eagle-Eye Ernie."
Admiral King was born Nov. 23, 1878, in a modest home at 113 Hamilton Ave., the son of a railroad mechanic.
Ernie himself almost became a railroad mechanic. It was in the summer of 1895 when the 17 year-old sophomore at Lorain High School found himself a little disgusted with the classroom and decided to start earning his own bread and butter.
His father, James King, with a sly wink got him a job in the boiler shop, heating rivets – the dirtiest, hottest and most exhausting job on the railroad.
By summer's end, Ernie went willingly back to the clean, restful comfort of his classroom desk. A star football player, and a brilliant student, he graduated in 1897, receiving his appointment to Annapolis the same year.
At the Naval Academy, from which he graduated with the class of 1901, King made his mark both as a student and a leader.
In his senior year he was appointed cadet lieutenant-commander of his class, which made him its leader for all official Academy functions. He ranked fourth statistically in his class.
The Spanish American War occurred during summer vacation of his plebe year and the Naval Academy boys rushed to sea to take part in it. King was aboard the cruiser San Francisco, which was blockading Havana harbor, on the night before the armistice was to be signed.
In football, King would have been called a triple threat man – and not because he fought for his country in three wars. He served aboard surface vessels. He commanded the submarine base at New London, Conn., and he learned much about undersea vessels that helped in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Then he transferred to naval aviation, going to Pensacola to qualify as a pilot despite the fact that he was 49 years old at the time and experts said he was too old to learn to fly. Not only did he learn how to fly, but he learned quickly and became an expert.
Subsequently he captained the Lexington, when it was queen of the aircraft carriers. He later became chief of the navy's Bureau of Aeronautics and inaugurated a program that made patrol bombers an essential naval arm.
During the First World War, King saw the first Battle of the Atlantic at close range. After the war he was head of the naval post-graduate school at Annapolis for two years before going to the submarine base at New London in 1923.
It was while commanding this base that he set a record by salvaging the submarine S-51 from 132 feet of water off Block Island, for which he received the Distinguished Service Medal. In 1927 he salvaged the S-4 off Princeton, Mass.
Following his service as chief of the aeronautics bureau, King served as commander of the base and subsequently assumed command of the aircraft scouting force, and later of the aircraft battle force, with the rank of vice admiral.
In August 1939, when the war clouds presaging the Second World War hovered over Europe, King was a member of the General Board of Washington. He became commander of the Atlantic Fleet with the rank of admiral on Feb. 1, 1941, and was appointed commander-in-chief of the U.S. Fleet Dec. 20, 1941, just 13 days after Pearl Harbor.
He assumed the double role of commander-in-chief of the U.S. Fleet and chief of naval operations on March 12, 1942.
The two jobs were combined by executive order and Admiral King was nominated by President Roosevelt for a four-year term.
When President Roosevelt summoned the Admiral to Washington and told him what was planned, the admiral spoke frankly.
"I'd rather be at sea," he stated, "but if that's the way it is, all you'll get from me is a cheerful 'Aye, aye, Sir'."
The President insisted that was the way it was. He wanted King as commander and as chief of operations because Admiral King knew intimately and at first hand the problems and capacities of all three branches of the fighting navy.
Admiral King established residence on his small flagship, the USS Dauntless, at the Washington Navy Yard on the Potomac River. He took over the most exacting, unspectacular, much-blame-and-little-glory job any American had to tackle.
The unhappy truth is that the navy was not ready for the big war of the seven seas. It was the admiral's task to prepare for that war while already fighting it.
Experts have said that the U.S. Navy was lucky to have had so varied an admiral as King, that it would have been difficult to find in any navy a high officer with such eminent qualification to command the operations at such a history-making period.
Throughout his long naval career, Admiral King frequently visited his old friends and former classmates in Lorain, many times slipping in and out of town with no one knowing about it except those he visited.
In 1942 he came as a special guest for a home front celebration and in 1945 he returned to help his hometown pay tribute to the men and women who helped bring victory and peace to the nation and the world.
At that Victory Day celebration on September 30, 1945, Admiral King spoke of the coming atomic age, urging that America not become stampeded.
"We are just on the fringe of the field of atomic energy," he said in one of several talks he made that day. "There is a vast unknown and unexplored territory. Our military methods may be due for great changes, but let us not scrap what we have until we know what we are going to get."
Admiral King's last public appearance in Lorain was in June, 1947, when he returned to celebrate with his classmates the 50th anniversary of their graduation from Lorain High School.
It was two months later after that visit that he was stricken with a brain hemorrhage which made him a semi-invalid. His health failed gradually and he died on June 25, 1956, in Portsmouth Naval hospital in Kittery, Me.
Fifty-nine Lorainites were among the thousands who paid final tribute to Admiral King, a great but modest man who never forgot his hometown, at Episcopal funeral services in Washington Cathedral, Washington, D.C. on June 29, 1956.
They were flown to Washington and back in two navy planes and they heard Ft. Rev. Angus Dunn, bishop of Washington, who officiated at the services, refer to their beloved admiral as a "staunch mariner who led us to a haven of peace."
They stood with hands over their hearts in salute as they watched the flag-draped casket bearing the body of Lorain's No.1 son move down Constitution Ave. toward the Capitol building on a shrouded caisson.
They remained standing silently as the casket was transferred from the caisson to a hearse which took it to Annapolis for burial in the Naval Academy Cemetery.
Accompanying the body in the final procession were the Admiral's widow, the former Martha Rankin Edgerton whom he married in 1905, and his six daughters and one son.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph courtesy of the National Archives