Zumwalt was born Nov. 29, 1920 in California and spent his childhood in the small community of Tulare. He originally planned to become a doctor, following in the footsteps of his mother and father, but in 1939 he was accepted into the United States Naval Academy.
In 1942, World War II swept across the Pacific. Bud was granted an early graduation and was assigned his first ship, USS Phelps (DD 360). Aboard his second ship, USS Robinson (DD 562), Zumwalt earned a Bronze Star with Valor for his actions during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
At the end of the war, Zumwalt was named prize captain of the Imperial Japanese gunboat Ataka and sailed into Japanese -occupied Shanghai, China to assist with the removal of the Japanese military. There, he was asked to a dinner at a Russian household where he met his would-be bride, Mouza Coutelais-du-Roche. Having only known her for about two weeks, Bud married Mouza Oct. 22, 1945.
After the war, Zumwalt served at a variety of commands, honing his expertise in surface warfare and eventually went to work for Undersecretary of Defense for Foreign Affairs, Paul Nitze,. Under Nitze, Zumwalt gained a broad understanding of naval strategy that he would eventually take with him to flag commands. As a vice admiral, he was promoted to commander of Naval Forces Vietnam.
Prior to Zumwalt's arrival, the riverine forces had not been fully effective in combatting the Viet Cong. Zumwalt combined all of the compartmentalized forces into Task Force 194 or "Operation Sealords." He also ordered the use of the chemical defoliant "Agent Orange," which dropped the American casualty rate, but years later would have adverse effects on the people exposed to it.
In the summer of 1970, Zumwalt was nominated by President Richard Nixon to become Chief of Naval Operations. He began his term by implementing "Project Sixty," a plan to drastically reduce excess ship capacity in the fleet within 60 days. Through the project, Zumwalt came up with what he called a "High-Low mix", keeping a higher number of smaller multi-platform ships in the fleet while reducing the numbers of large single-platform vessels.
Next, Zumwalt began issuing Z-Grams, personal messages and directives from the CNO sent directly to deckplate Sailors. Z-Grams ushered in many monumental changes in the fleet, such as benefits for minorities and women, relaxed grooming standards, and better quality of life for the average Sailor. Z-66 promoted equal opportunity in the Navy, pushing the Navy forward in a racially divided military.
"We were not trying to create a Navy in which any group, any segment was anything other than an integral part," said Cmdr. (Ret.) Bill Norman, Executive Director to Adm. Zumwalt's Advisory Committee on Race Relations and Minority Affairs. "He was trying to get across a message that regardless of how good our hardware and our systems are, we need people."
Following his term as CNO, Zumwalt retired from the Navy. His son, Lt. Elmo Zumwalt III, who had served under his father during the Vietnam War, was diagnosed with cancer and died. Zumwalt believed it to be related to the use of Agent Orange during the war.
"In wartime, a commander makes the least worst decision he can make and clearly based on what he was told by the chemical companies, that was the right decision," said Marine Lt. Col. (Ret.) James Zumwalt, Adm. Zumwalt's son. "The downside was we didn't learn until well after the war was over that the chemical companies had lied and unfortunately, the bitter irony for our family is that one of those who fell victim to that was my brother."
Through his retirement years, Zumwalt worked to get benefits for veterans affected by the defoliant and helped found the National Bone Marrow Registry. For his work, Bud was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1998.
Elmo Zumwalt passed away Jan. 2, 2000. His legacy lives on in the ship that bears his name, USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000). Mirroring the actions of her forbearer, the ship aims to change the Navy, both tactically and socially in regard to Sailors' quality of life. The Navy plans to christen Zumwalt, April 12, 2014.