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Wilfred J. McNeil died 1979


Posted By: Sharyl Ferrall
Date: 4/28/2006 at 07:06:22

Wilfred J. McNeil, 78, former assistant secretary of defense for fiscal operations and at one time a key figure in military decision-making at the Pentagon died of cardiac arrest Thursday at the Bethesda Naval Hospital.

He had been in charge of financial activities and the budget of the Defense Department from its establishment in 1947 until he resigned to join the Grace Steamship Line in New York in 1959.

Mr. McNeil was a special assistant to the first defense secretary, the late James V. Forrestal, and served as an assistant secretary under five subsequent defense secretaries.

As Pentagon comptroller, he had an intimate knowledge of this country's vast military machine and its complex weapons and policy questions. His influence became great.

Many of the defense secretaries leaned heavily on him because he often knew more than the ranking military chiefs. There were times when his red-penciling of some of the pet projects of Pentagon chiefs brought him criticism, but he had the respect of the powerful members of Congress and other high officials.

When he resigned for "personal reasons" in 1959, Mr. McNeil was lauded by the late Sen. Styles Bridges (R-N.H.) for his "careful handling of no less than 375 billion dollars over a 10-year period.

Others praised him for the untiring efforts he made to help save American taxpayers countless sums. He rarely used the government limousines and aircraft available to him, setting an example of economy for other officials.

Mr. McNeil became president of Grace Line and a director of its parent company, W. R. Grace and Co. in 1959. The company operated passenger and freight vessels between the United States and Latin America. He retired from those positions in 1967. The company was sold to Prudential Lines two year later.

At Grace Lines, Mr. McNeil was known as the "admiral," a title he retained until his death. It dated back to World War II, when he was rear admiral in the Naval Reserves on active duty as a budget officer in the Navy supply corps.

After the war, as a civilian, he was fiscal director of the Navy Department until his transfer to the Defense Department.

Mr. McNeil was born in Boone, Iowa. He served at the age of 16 in the U.S. Navy in World War I. He worked in the areas of banking and automobile merchandising before joining The Washington Post in 1934. He remained with the newspaper, becoming a circulation manager until 1941, when he went back on active duty with the Navy.

In addition to his positions with the Grace Line, Mr. McNeil also had been president of the Gulf and South American Steamship Co., director of the Fairchild Stratos Corp., and the American Merchant Marine Institute and a trustee of the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation and the Tax Foundation Inc.

He had received a number of honors including the Navy and Defense Department distinguished service awards and the James Forrestal Memorial Award of the National Security Industrial Association. He held the Legion of Merit.

Mr. McNeil had moved from New York City to Alexandria a month ago.

He is survived by his wife, the former Olga Harris, of the home; a daughter, Patricia Deane, of Springfield, Va.; a son, Evan, of San Jose, Calif.; a brother, Edgar, of Montezuma, Iowa, and 10 grandchildren.

Another son, Navy Cmdr. Wilfred J. Jr, was killed in 1959 when his jet crashed into the Mediterranean Sea while on a training flight.

-Washington Post, Washington D.C., Sept 1, 1979


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