Former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger Dies at 88

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2006  - Caspar W. Weinberger, the nation's 15th secretary of defense, died today. He was 88.

Weinberger took office Jan. 21, 1981, and served until Nov. 23, 1987, making him the longest-serving defense secretary to date. He died at the Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor from pneumonia. The former secretary lived on Mount Desert Island, off the coast of Maine.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the men and women of DoD mourn Weinberger's passing. "Cap Weinberger was a friend. His extensive career in public service, his support for the men and women in uniform and his central role in helping to win the Cold War leave a lasting legacy," Rumsfeld said during a Pentagon news conference today. "He left the United States armed forces stronger, our country safer and the world more free."

During his tenure at defense, Weinberger served as the point man for President Ronald Reagan's unprecedented peacetime military buildup.

As secretary, Weinberger pushed modernization to make up for past funding deficiencies. The Reagan military buildup spent more than a trillion dollars and was instrumental in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Weinberger also pushed pay and benefit packages for servicemembers. Pay raises he helped engineer in the early 1980s went a long way in keeping mid-level servicemembers from leaving the military for better-paying civilian jobs.

The American military was active during Weinberger's time as defense secretary.

Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada in October 1983 was an answer to a bloody coup on the Caribbean island and the threat the new regime posed to American students at a medical college there. The regime, allied with Fidel Castro's Cuba, toppled following an air and seaborne assault by U.S. servicemembers.

Also that October was the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 Americans. Terrorist group Hezbollah claimed credit for the attack.

In April 1986, in response to Libyan terror attacks in Europe, the U.S. launched attacks on Tripoli and Benghazi in Libya. All aircraft returned home safely. The mission was a tremendous demonstration of American reach.

Weinberger also championed the so-called "Star Wars" missile defense program, the Air Force's B-1B bomber, and a "600-ship" Navy.

Weinberger was born in San Francisco on Aug. 18, 1917. He graduated from Harvard with a law degree in 1941 and entered the U.S. Army as a private. He received a commission and served with the 41st Infantry Division in the Pacific. At the end of the war, he served on the staff of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur as an intelligence officer.

After the war, Weinberger won election to the California State Assembly in 1952 and re-election in 1954 and 1956. In 1962, he became chairman of the California Republican Party in 1962.

At the federal level, Weinberger was the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission in January 1970 and served as the deputy and then director of the Office of Management and Budget, where he earned the nickname "Cap the Knife."

He also served as the secretary of health, education, and welfare from 1973 to 1975.

Weinberger opposed the Goldwater-Nichols DoD Reorganization Act of 1986 that strengthened the office of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and instituted the office of vice chairman. But once the president signed the act into law, he vigorously put it into place.

Weinberger served as executive editor of Forbes Magazine since 1993. The former secretary is survived by his wife, Jane, a son and a daughter.

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