James Vincent Forrestal (February 15, 1892 – May 22, 1949) was the last Cabinet-level United States Secretary of the Navy and the first United States Secretary of Defense.He came from a very strict middle class Irish Catholic family. He was a successful financier on Wall Street. He became Undersecretary of the Navy in 1940. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted him to take the lead in building up the Navy. He became Secretary of the Navy in May 1944, and the first Secretary of the newly created Defense Department in 1947. He was intensely hostile to the Soviet Union, fearing Communist expansion in Europe and the Middle East. He strongly opposed the creation of Israel because it would alienate Arab nations that were needed as allies.
Forrestal was a supporter of naval battle groups centered on aircraft carriers. He tried to weaken the proposed Department of Defense for the Navy’s benefit, but was hard pressed to run it in 1947-49 when Harry S. Truman named him Secretary of Defense. They were often at odds and Truman forced his resignation. His mental health was rapidly deteriorating and he underwent medical care for depression, and died after jumping from a sixteenth floor window of his hospital. Anti-communist and anti-Zionist writers ever since have claimed someone must have murdered him.
In 1954, the world’s first supercarrier was named USS Forrestal in his honor, as is the James V. Forrestal Building, which houses the headquarters of the United States Department of Energy. He is the namesake of the Forrestal Lecture Series at the United States Naval Academy and of the James Forrestal Campus of his alma mater Princeton University.