Forrestal, James

Forrestal, James (Vincent)

(1892–1949) cabinet officer; born in Matteawan (now Beacon), N.Y. After making a fortune as an investment banker, he became the undersecretary (1940) and then the secretary of the navy (1944). Although originally opposed to uniting the armed services into one department, he became the first secretary of defense (1947–49); he advocated hard-line anticommunist policies and strengthened the armed forces. Increasingly beset by interservice rivalries, questions of combat strength, and appropriations, he resigned in 1949; convinced that he had failed to protect his country, he took his life.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.