One of the more colorful visitors to Roosevelt Hall was Ernest J. King who in July of 1935 spent a weekend as the guest of Henry Latrobe Roosevelt, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. King was the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, and already known as one of the more outspoken officers in the U.S. Navy.
Just three years earlier he had attended the Naval War College, and in his thesis noted that America’s weakness was representative democracy:
“It is traditional and habitual for us to be inadequately prepared. This is the combined result of a number factors, the character of which is only indicated: democracy, which tends to make everyone believe that he knows it all; the preponderance (inherent in democracy) of people whose real interest is in their own welfare as individuals; the glorification of our own victories in war and the corresponding ignorance of our defeats (and disgraces) and of their basic causes; the inability of the average individual (the man in the street) to understand the cause and effect not only in foreign but domestic affairs, as well as his lack of interest in such matters. Added to these elements is the manner in which our representative (republican) form of government has developed as to put a premium on mediocrity and to emphasize the defects of the electorate already mentioned.”
In 1938, he underscored his opinion by staging a successful simulated naval air raid on Pearl Harbor, showing that the base was dangerously vulnerable to aerial attack. He wasn’t taken seriously.
As WWII approached, King was appointed as Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, and promoted to admiral in February 1941. On December 30, 1941, three weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he became Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet.
Following Japan’s defeat at the Battle of Midway, King advocated the invasion of Guadalcanal. The campaign was ultimately successful, and for the first time the Japanese lost ground. Throughout the war, King was widely respected for his ability, and heartily disliked. Historian John Ray Skates wrote, “Only British Field Marshal Montgomery may have had more enemies. King also loved parties and often drank to excess. Apparently, he reserved his charm for the wives of fellow naval officers.”
Franklin Roosevelt described him as a man who “shaves every morning with a blow torch.”
King’s view of press relations was simple. He said, “Don’t tell them anything. When it’s over, tell them who won.”
One of his daughters said, “He is the most even-tempered person in the United States Navy. He is always in a rage.”
One hopes that the beautiful vistas and calming influence of the lake made him an enjoyable guest during his 1935 visit to Skaneateles.
Above, U.S. Naval Commanders in the Marianas Campaign, South Pacific. L. to R.: Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance, commander, U.S. Fifth Fleet; Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations and Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Navy; Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.