Rear Admiral Ernest J. King was chief of the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics when this photo of him and a Curtiss SOC Seagull was taken on June 8, 1936. King, who had earned his wings as a naval aviator in 1927, was preparing for a transfer to San Diego to take command of the Army airfield there amid rising tensions with Japan in the Pacific. “While other admirals have [a] floating flagship from which to direct maneuvers, Rear Admiral King will take to the air to direct his forces,” the photo’s caption noted.
The notably acerbic admiral went on to serve as chief of naval operations and commander in chief of the U.S. fleet during World War II. He didn’t get there by being nice. “Throughout the Second World War, the United States was blessed and cursed by the leadership of Admiral Ernest J. King,” wrote James B. Conroy in his recent book about the Casablanca conference, The Devils Will Get No Rest: FDR, Churchill, and the Plan that Won the War. “As a gifted naval strategist King had no peer in the world and no senior American officer was more despised. In 1942, Brigadier General Dwight D. Eisenhower shared a fantasy with his diary: ‘One thing that might help win the war is to get someone to shoot King.’”
No one did that. King died on June 25, 1956, after suffering a heart attack at the age of 77.