Admiral Mike Boorda: An Amazing Sailor Died 25 Years Ago

by HB Auld, Jr. and Harold Gerwien

The Navy lost an incredible leader and Sailor 25 years ago on May 16, 1996, when Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jeremy “Mike” Boorda took his own life. He will always be remembered as a “Sailor’s Sailor,” having risen from Seaman Recruit (E-1) to Admiral (O-10), the only Sailor ever to do so.

These remembrance photos posted on the anniversary of Admiral Boorda’s death were taken over the years by photojournalist and friend, Harold Gerwien. Harry’s essay below contains more on this amazing Sailor: Admiral Mike Boorda.

A Sailor’s Sailor

Harold Gerwein

In 1956 a 16-year-old high school dropout lied to a Navy recruiter about his age and joined the Navy. Thirty-nine years later he had risen to the highest rank and the highest office in the U.S. Navy: Four Star Admiral and Chief of Naval Operations. Seaman recruit to four-star Admiral and CNO had never been done till Admiral Mike Boorda came along.

He truly was a Sailor’s Sailor!

Our paths crossed several times before I retired and after. He visited Norfolk many times and as a photographer for the newspaper Soundings I was privileged to have covered those visits. He always remembered me and called me by my name. I felt real special.

He was always the guy with the warm smile and can-do-attitude. He was a man of his word.

He always carried a little green notebook; the Navy calls them Wheel house books! He would listen to sailors’ complaints or suggestions and write them down so as not to forget them.

For most of us, his suicide came as a complete shock. It has been 25-years. He has not been forgotten. Tens of thousands of sailors still remember Admiral Boorda.

Above are some photos I took over the years.

My favorite is the close-up and the warm smile.

At the commissioning of the USS Chief, Admiral Mike Boorda pauses with the side-boys as honors are rendered.

Two weeks prior to his death, I had a visit for an interview and photo session at his office in the Pentagon.

The last photo is on the flight deck of USS Saratoga, Mayport Florida, May 1987. My dear friend and shipmate, Jeff Doty took a photo of me at work with then, one-star Admiral Boorda and my boss Secretary of the Navy James H. Webb Jr. — Harold Gerwien, Photojournalist

I first met Admiral Boorda in person in the 1990s when I was working as a civilian at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.

Admiral Boorda made several trips out to Bethesda and on many occasions, we made arrangements for him to film segments there for Navy News This Week, a weekly Navy video news program. Watching him during those visits, I was amazed at how he routinely put all the Sailors around him at ease. He ALWAYS took the time to talk to any Sailor who had a question for him and he answered honestly and forthright every time.

I so admired and respected Admiral Mike Boorda. His like will not pass this way again, soon.

Rest your oars, Sir. We have the Watch!

God bless you, Sir! — HB Auld, Jr., Author