Eduardo Hidalgo, Secretary of the Navy and Hispanic American Advocate

eduardo hidalgo
Edward Hidalgo, Secretary of the Navy, 1979 (official USN portrait)

Published Oct 2, 2020 2:11 PM by Navy Live

[ByLt. Cmdr. Rolando Machado and MC1 Mark D. Faram]

On Nov. 1, 1943, the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) steamed out of Bremerton, Wash. She would not return to the United States for another 560 days as the ship fought her way across the Pacific.

Heading to sea for the first time was Lt. Eduardo Hidalgo, the ship’s combat intelligence officer, who was an integral leader of the Enterprise’s warfighting team. Enterprise would see action in the Gilbert Islands, conduct the first night bombing attack in the history of naval warfare, attack the Yokosuka air base in the Japanese mainland, and support the Marines at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

For his service on Enterprise, the young Hidalgo would be awarded the Bronze Star Medal.

After his incredible performance onboard Enterprise, Hidalgo joined the staff of Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal. He left active duty in 1946 in order to pursue other career ambitions. The Navy, however, would serve as a reoccurring theme in his life. He would return to the service as a civilian three times during a successful career as a lawyer and businessman. 

Born in Mexico City, Mexico on Oct. 12, 1912, to Egon and Domita Kunhardt Hidalgo, his family emigrated to New York when he was six years old. Like many immigrants, he was eager to adopt and assimilate the traditions of his new nation. He became a citizen and anglicized his name to Edward. 

Graduating from Holy Cross College in 1933 and Columbia Law School in 1936, he was working as a lawyer in New York when the United States entered World War II.  Taking action, like the response of many Americans after September 11, 2001, he eagerly volunteered to serve in our Navy.

Before his tour on Enterprise, the Navy first put his legal skills to work in the war effort in 1942, detailing him to the State Department. He was sent to Montevideo, Uruguay, as a legal advisor to the Emergency Advisory Committee for Political Defense. This committee organized the nations of the Americas in a year-long effort to develop Pan-American agreements to deny access to the Axis powers, their agents and sympathizers.

In 1946, after his time serving Secretary Forrestal, he became partner in the law firm of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle. From 1946 to 1948, he was in charge of the firm’s Mexico City office. In 1948, he helped form the Mexico City law firm of Barrera, Siqueiros & Torres Landa, where he remained as a senior partner until 1965. 

From 1965 to 1966, Hidalgo again entered public service as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy, Paul H. Nitze. From 1966 to 1972, he again practiced law at the firm of Cahill, Gordon & Reindel, in charge of their European office. In 1972, he returned to public service as special assistant for economic affairs to the director of the U.S. Information Agency, and in 1973 became the agency's general counsel and congressional liaison.

On April 25, 1977, he was appointed as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Manpower, Reserve Affairs and Logistics), serving in that job until Sept. 13, 1979, when President Jimmy Carter nominated Hidalgo to be Secretary of the Navy. Confirmed by the Senate on Oct. 19, he served in the job until Carter left office on Jan. 20, 1981. 

He left two notable, permanent marks on the service that have positively influenced generations of sailors.

First, in establishing the Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale Award for Inspirational Leadership, honoring Stockdale's exemplary leadership as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for nearly eight years. The Navy continues today in fortifying Stockdale’s legacy in recognizing the example of current naval leaders. 

The second major impact occurred soon after his departure from the Secretary’s office. Recognizing the need to develop an officer corps that reflects the face of the nation, he founded ANSO, the Association of Naval Services Officers, which acts as the Latino/Hispanic Leader Resource Group (LRG) for officers and enlisted in the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine.

Hidalgo died on Jan. 21, 1995, in Fairfax, Va. at age 82. He was the first and only Secretary of the Navy of Hispanic descent. A first-generation American with English as his second language, he proved that with commitment, selfless service, initiative, and lifelong learning, each sailor can make a lasting impact. 

Whether in the wardroom, court room, board room, or America’s war room, Honorable Hidalgo showed that naval leaders stand and deliver when given the opportunity, regardless of their background.

Lt. Cmdr. Rolando Machado and MC1 Mark D. Faram are with the Chief of Naval Personnel's Public Affairs office.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.