'Suicide' of US naval chief on eve of scandal

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The Independent Online
The top uniformed officer of the US Navy, 57-year-old Admiral Jeremy "Mike" Boorda, died yesterday in what seems to have been a suicide shooting at his Washington home. The incident may have been prompted by a magazine investigation into certain of his military awards.

Adm Boorda, Chief of Naval Operations since April 1994, was found critically wounded by a single gunshot wound to the chest. He was rushed to DC General Hospital at 2.25 pm local time, but was pronounced dead five minutes later. "The wound," said a hospital spokeswoman, "appeared to be self-inflicted," but local and military police were investigating the case. Two sealed notes were found at the scene by investigators who refused to reveal the contents.

The news hit Washington like a bombshell, as colleagues and officials sought an explanation. Speaking to reporters at the hospital, Navy Secretary John Dalton said he made held a planning meeting with Adm Boorda on Wednesday and found him "in excellent spirits".

Mr Dalton said the admiral was not under any visible pressure either at home or in his work, and he knew of no medical condition, or investigation in progress, which might have caused him to take his own life.

But at the time of his death Newsweek magazine was working on a story calling into question certain Vietnam decorations worn by Adm Boorda, notably two Naval medals bearing a "V" signifying valour in combat. His staff had arranged an appointment with Newsweek's Washington bureau chief, Evan Thomas, at 2.30pm at the Pentagon, half an hour after he apparently shot himself. "But we had not published a story and reached no conclusions," a Newsweek statement said last night.

Adm Boorda, married for more than 30 years with four children, had reached the summit of a career which had seen him rise from ordinary enlisted seaman or "Mustang" to occupy the Navy's most senior uniformed job. Unlike his pre decessors he was not a graduate of the elite Naval Academy.

President Clinton was apparently informed of the news almost immediately. During a discussion with business leaders, he was handed a note from an aide - presumably telling him about the shooting. As he read it, the President's shoulders slumped, and a grimace crossed his face. "His death is a great loss," Mr Clinton said.

Before being named Chief of Naval Operations, Adm Boorda had been in charge of American forces in southern Europe, and was commander-in-chief of allied forces in the region during the first two years of the Bosnian war. He took over as the Navy was struggling to recover from the Tailhook sexual harassment affair, and cope with budget cuts. Of late, Adm Boorda had been attacked by some former Navy officials for paying more attention to politicians than the service but there was no sign the criticism had any effect on a man described as gregarious and invariably cheerful.