William Halsey Jr. Biography

William “Bull” Halsey Jr., a renowned American Navy admiral, is remembered for his remarkable achievements during World War II. As one of only four US Navy officers to have received the prestigious five-star Fleet Admiral honor, Halsey’s contributions to the war effort were unparalleled. From his early days as part of the Great White Fleet to commanding the USS Saratoga as a naval aviator, Halsey’s leadership and strategic prowess were evident. During World War II, he played a pivotal role in the Battle for Guadalcanal and the campaign in the Solomon Islands, leading the Allies to victory. As Admiral Nimitz’s tactical commander during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Halsey was entrusted with the crucial task of annihilating the Japanese fleet. His leadership continued until the Japanese surrender at the conclusion of the Okinawa campaign. Even after retirement, Halsey remained active, serving as the president of the International Telecommunications Laboratories.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: William Frederick Halsey Jr., Bull Halsey
  • Died At Age: 76
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Frances Halsey
    • Father: William F. Halsey Sr.
    • Mother: Anne Masters Brewster
    • Children: III, Margaret Bradford, William Frederick Halsey, William Fredrick Halsey III
  • Born Country: United States
  • Military Leaders
  • American Men
  • Died on: August 16, 1959
  • Place of Death: Fishers Island, New York, United States
  • Cause of Death: Heart Attack
  • U.S. State: New Jersey
  • More Facts
  • Education: University Of Virginia, United States Naval Academy, Pingry School

Childhood, Early Life & Education

William Frederick Halsey Jr. was born on October 30, 1882, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, US, to US Navy Captain William F. Halsey, Sr and Anna Masters (Brewster). Halsey was of English descent.

Halsey initially attended the Pingry School. After failing to get an appointment to the United States Naval Academy for two years, Halsey joined the University of Virginia to study medicine. He had plans of joining the Navy as a physician later.

While at Virginia, he was part of the Delta Psi fraternity and the secretive Seven Society. After completing his first year, Halsey got a call from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. He joined the academy in 1900. While there, he lettered as a fullback in football. He graduated in February 1904.

Early Military Career

After his graduation, William Halsey Jr. spent some time in battleships. He sailed with the battleship USS Kansas while Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet circumnavigated the world between 1907 and 1909. Following his service on Missouri, Halsey worked on torpedo boats, such as the USS Du Pont in 1909. Halsey was promoted directly from ensign to full lieutenant.

Halsey also served on the USS Flusser, the USS Lamson, and the USS Jarvis. From 1912 to 1913, Halsey commanded the First Group of the Atlantic Fleet’s Torpedo Flotilla. In 1915, he joined the Executive Department of the Naval Academy and served for 2 years.

During World War I, Halsey commanded destroyers escorting convoys across the Atlantic, in an area that was regularly patrolled by German U-Boats. He commanded the USS Benham and the USS Shaw of the Queenstown Destroyer Force. Halsey’s service in World War I, including his command of USS Shaw in 1918, got him the Navy Cross. In 1920, he commanded the USS Wickes and Destroyer Division 15. He then served at the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, DC. In 1922, he traveled to Berlin as the US Embassy’s Naval Attaché. He later served at the US embassies in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. In 1927, he joined the battleship USS Wyoming as an Executive Officer. He then commanded the USS Reina Mercedes, stationed at the Naval Academy, for 3 years. From 1932 to 1934, he spent studying at the Naval War College. He then received aviation training in Pensacola, Florida. In 1934, at age 52, Halsey became a naval aviator. Following this, he mostly supported carrier warfare and commanded carrier divisions during the late 1930s and the early 1940s, earning several promotions. He commanded USS Saratoga but later went back to Pensacola as a commander.

World War II

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, William Halsey Jr.’s team was the only active battle group still surviving in the Pacific. As the US started rebuilding its fleet, Halsey commanded his troops in surprise attacks on the Japanese-occupied islands in the Marshalls and Gilberts, and on Wake Island. In April 1942, Halsey’s forces had reached close to Tokyo. Soon, Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle’s planes started bombing the Japanese capital, in what is now known as the Doolittle Raid. In October 1942, he was appointed as commander of the South Pacific area. In the next couple of months, he played a major role in the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands and the Battle of Guadalcanal. His military exploits got him promoted to admiral. From 1942 to mid-1944, Halsey was in-charge of the American campaign in the Solomon Islands. Halsey was appointed commander of the 3rd Fleet in June 1944 and led many successful air strikes. In October 1944, he was Admiral Nimitz’s tactical commander in the Battle of Leyte Gulf and was given the task of supporting US land operations and destroying the Japanese fleet. From May 28 to September 2, 1945, William Halsey Jr. led the US naval operations near Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands, in a campaign that ended with the surrender of the Japanese. Known for his motto Hit hard, hit fast, hit often, Halsey was awarded his fifth star (fleet admiral) in December 1945, when he was no longer on active duty. He retired from the forces on March 1, 1947.

Post-War Years

In 1951, Halsey began serving as the president of International Telecommunications Laboratories. He held the position till 1957.

Personal Life

During his stint at the University of Virginia, William Halsey Jr. met his future wife, Frances Cooke Grandy, or Fan. Frances was from Norfolk, Virginia. After returning from the Great White Fleet’s global circumnavigation and being promoted to full lieutenant, he married Frances on December 1, 1909, at Christ Church in Norfolk. Frances suffered from manic depression later, and the two lived apart. They had two children, their daughter, Margaret Bradford (born in October 1910) and William Frederick Halsey III (September 1915). Halsey was the great-uncle of Charles Oliver Hand, who later became a famous actor using the pseudonym Brett Halsey. Halsey was once referred to as Bull by the media, since he went into battle “like a bull in a china shop.” However, since he hated the nickname, his friends mostly called him Bill.

Death & Legacy

William Halsey Jr. died of a sudden heart attack on August 16, 1959, at age 76. At the time of his death, he was vacationing at Fishers Island Country Club, New York. He was initially kept at the Washington National Cathedral, before being buried in Arlington National Cemetery on August 20 that year. In 2011, he was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Several streets, ships, and buildings in the US have been named after Halsey, such as the Halsey Hall of the University of Virginia, the missile cruiser USS Halsey (CG-23), the Halsey Drive in Texas, and the Halsey Boulevard in California. He has also found mention in books and been portrayed in several films. Halsey was played by James Cagney in the 1959 docu-drama The Gallant Hours and by James Whitmore in the 1970 movie Tora! Tora! Tora! Halsey has been mentioned in Herman Wouk’s 1971 novel The Winds of War, too. Actor Robert Mitchum played Halsey in the 1976 movie Midway. Halsey was portrayed by Richard X. Slattery in the 1983 TV film The Winds of War and by Pat Hingle in the 1988 TV movie War and Remembrance.

Leave a Comment