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Incoming Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. visits Stuttgart, Germany, in May, 1970.
Incoming Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. visits Stuttgart, Germany, in May, 1970. (Lloyd Borguss/Stars and Stripes)

STUTTGART — The Navy's next chief of naval operations, Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., took time out from acquainting himself with U.S. EUCOM Hq here this week to pay tribute to the Vietnamese navy and its part in the Cambodian operation.

"Most proficient," said the former (1968-70) commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam, and chief of the Naval Advisory Group of the Military Assistance Comd, Vietnam, of that country's naval contribution to the Cambodian venture.

Completing a long-way-home orientation tour of U.S. worldwide commands, the 49-year-old admiral with the firm jaw and friendly smile added that the Navy Vietnamization program has been "extremely effective."

He told a press conference at EUCOM Hq that in the last 20 months the Southeast Asian republic's navy has grown in strength "from 17,500 to nearly 40,000" personnel and that it has "taken over nearly 600 boats including the three main task forces for coastal surveillance and river and armored patrols."

The San Francisco native who will take over his new assignment on July 1 — becoming the youngest, at 49, ever to become CNO — praised the Vietnamese navy's "most proficient" Cambodian operation of "completely efficient command and control," hauling Vietnamese troops and evacuating refugees completely on its own, with no U.S. advisers.

"There were no casualties and groundings," pointed out the non-smoking, tall and trim (he went jogging immediately following the press conference), much-decorated battleship and destroyer veteran of World War II and Korea.

As a "tin can" alumnus, the engaging leader of the Navy's new youth movement — he shot up to No. 1 from being the 35th admiral in order of seniority — stressed that "every naval officer has a good appreciation of all elements" of the Navy — surface, air, and subsurface, adding with a smile, "I don't anticipate any problems with naval aviators." (The last three CNOs all had carrier backgrounds.)

But real problem areas — like personnel retention — have been occupying most of Zumwalt's attention on this East-to-West exploration that ends up this weekend at SHAPE before finally reaching Washington.

At each stop, including Naples and London naval headquarters here in Europe, he has been smoothly and successfully probing for personnel gripes at soundoff sessions with officers and enlisted men.

He emphasized, after such a give-and-take meeting here, that "a large number of programs has been approved or are in the process of being approved that will have, the impact of retaining for us the better and most highly trained personnel."

As to weapons systems, he added, "a vast number of improvements are in the mill."

Admitting that much depends upon the budget, Zumwalt nevertheless made it clear that, "under any budget level, we will continue to modernize."

"We must move with great vigor to keep pace with the Soviet threat," he declared.

Of the 6th Fleet, which he visited en route here, the admiral warned that, "although the carriers give us a tremendous edge," a "treacherous surprise attack" is still a danger against which the United States must guard.

He also said the Soviet naval presence in the Mediterranean is part of that country's "show-of-force strategy" — an art at which that nation is "a past master."

Zumwalt is the youngest U.S. naval officer ever to receive four stars in peacetime, breaking the record of his predecessor, Adm. Thomas H. Moorer. (Moorer steps up next to the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)

Zumwalt's rapid rise has been cited by the U.S. press as "recognition due a brilliant officer." His record also includes commanding the Navy's first guided missile destroyer, the Dewey.

"We always knew he was going to be CNO someday," remarked an admiring officer here, "but we never dreamed it would be this fast."

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