Estate Sale Find: Chief of Naval Operations Vintage Photo Album

Years ago, my dad bought a photo album at an estate sale for $45. Little did he know, this unassuming book contained a window into the life and career of Louis E. Denfeld, a major figure in 20th century naval history. (Louis pictured above)

Since no one else is really interested in Denfeld I’ll add some backstory.  After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1912, he embarked on an illustrious naval career spanning both World Wars. During World War II, he served on the staff of Admiral Spruance and witnessed the historic Japanese surrender on Okinawa in 1945.

As Chief of Naval Operations from 1947-1949, Denfeld advocated for strengthening conventional naval forces, putting him at odds with Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson who prioritized nuclear weapons and bombers. Denfeld’s principled stands ultimately led to his forced resignation by President Truman in 1949.  Truman, you’ll remember if you had seen Oppenheimer, was pro-nuke.

Looking through the album, you get a glimpse of Denfeld’s travels around the west coast. I included some colorized photos and a few postcards.

While Denfeld could be straight-laced, he also had a lighter side. As a junior officer in WWI, he entertained his crew by shouting movie director instructions during submarine chases. At the Naval Academy, he kept a pet goat and snuck it aboard a training cruise.

After leaving the Navy, Denfeld held a grudge over the manner of his dismissal. He refused to sit for an official portrait as CNO. The vintage album my dad found captures Denfeld during happier days – traveling with his wife Louise.  I don’t have a context to nearly any of them. There are many more postcards I’ll add someday.


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