Edward Hidalgo: 1912-1995: U.S. Secretary of the Navy Biography
Edward Hidalgo was the first Hispanic to serve as U.S. Secretary of the Navy. He was named to the position in October of 1979 after a long and distinguished legal and naval career. Although his tenure as secretary was short (15 months), he nonetheless made significant contributions to the Navy Department. In particular, he advocated recruiting more Hispanics into the Navy and encouraging more Hispanics to consider a naval career.
Originally named Eduardo Hidalgo, he was born in Mexico City on October 12, 1912, to Egon and Domita Kunhardt Hidalgo. The family moved to New York in 1918 and a few years later young Hidalgo became a United States citizen and anglicized his name. He attended Holy Cross College in Washington, D.C., graduating with honors in 1933. From there he went to Columbia Law School, where he received a J.D. in 1936.
Hidalgo served as a law clerk in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York until 1937, when he became an associate at a New York law firm. Then America entered World War II where Hidalgo was introduced to the Navy, serving as a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1942 to 1946. In this capacity he held several positions. From 1942 to 1943 he served in Montevideo, Uruguay, as a legal advisor to the ambassador to the Emergency Advisory for Political Defense. For the remainder of the war he was assigned to the carrier Enterprise as an air combat intelligence officer. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his service.
When the war ended in 1945, Hidalgo was named to the Eberstadt Committee, a special group charged with providing recommendation for unifying the branches of the military. Before World War II there had been no formal unification; the various branches of the military operated independently. The success of the armed forces through close but informal coordination during the war convinced military and government leaders that a formal coordination was essential for military strength. As a lawyer with naval experience, Hidalgo was a natural addition to such a group. Hidalgo received a special commendation for his contribution to the Eberstadt Committee, and he finished out his service as a special assistant to Navy Secretary James V. Forrestal.
After he left the Navy, Hidalgo returned to the law, founding his own law firm in Mexico City in 1948. In 1958 he wrote a book, Legal Aspects of Foreign Investments, which was published in Mexico. He also received a Mexican civil law degree from the University of Mexico Law School in 1959. In 1965 Hidalgo returned to the navy, serving for a year as a special assistant to Navy Secretary Paul H. Nitze. He took up law again in 1966, practicing in the Paris offices of a New York firm for the next six years. Then, in 1972, he accepted a position as special assistant for economic affairs for the United States Information Agency (USIA). A year later he was named USIA's general counsel and congressional liaison.
In 1977 Hidalgo returned once again to the Navy, this time as assistant secretary. Two years later, in September of 1979, President Jimmy Carter nominated him to replace outgoing Secretary W. Graham Clayton, Jr. He was confirmed as secretary of the Navy in October of that same year.
One of Hidalgo's top priorities during his tenure as secretary was recruiting more Hispanics into the Navy. He felt that a naval career could provide young Hispanics with valuable education and experience that they could parlay into long-term service in the Navy, and also use to their advantage once they returned to civilian life. He was particularly interested in encouraging more Hispanic members of the Navy to apply for officer positions. (In 1976 there were only five Hispanic cadets enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy.) In December of 1980 Hidalgo convened the Hispanic Officer Recruitment Conference (HORC) to help identify ways to make naval careers more attractive to Hispanics. One result of HORC was the establishment of the Association of Naval Service Officers (ANSO). This group, created to enhance recognition and advancement of Hispanics in the Navy, provided encouragement and mentoring for young Hispanics who might want to get onto a career track as a naval officer. The efforts ultimately paid off; by 1986 there were 200 Hispanic naval cadets at the Academy. Under Hidalgo's direction, the Navy also created an advertising recruiting campaign aimed at Hispanics.
Hidalgo left his position in January of 1981 after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president. Less than a year later he took a consulting position with General Dynamics Corporation, a major contractor with the U.S. Navy. This raised some concerns because during his years in the Navy Department, Hidalgo had helped negotiate a settlement for General Dynamics. The company had filed an $843 million claim against the Navy for cost overruns on attack submarines because of costly design changes. The Navy ultimately settled with General Dynamics for $643 million. Hidalgo was called to testify before a Congressional committee in 1985. The committee determined that Hidalgo had done nothing improper in taking the General Dynamics job, since the division he worked for had nothing to do with the Navy.
In 1989 Hidalgo was named to the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism. From 1991 to 1993 he served as a consultant to the Mexican government on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In 1994 he was recognized by ANSO when a new Washington, D.C., chapter was established. In addition to his military awards from the U.S. Navy, Hidalgo was made an honorary knight of the Royal Order of Vasa by the Swedish government in 1963, and he received the Order of the Aztec Eagle from his native Mexico in 1980.
Hidalgo was married three times; his first two marriages ended in divorce. He had two daughters and two sons. A Washington resident in his later years, he died on January 21, 1995, in Fairfax, Virginia. According to the Navy News Service, at the time of his death, Navy Secretary John Dalton remembered Hidalgo as "a superb Secretary of the Navy … whose years of government service and love for the sea services never ended."
Sweetman, Jack, American Naval History: An Illustrated Chronology of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, 1775-Present, Naval Institute Press, 2002.
Hispanic Times, September 1994.
Miami Herald, May 6, 1984.
New York Times, January 23, 1995.
Navy News Service, www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/news/navnews/nns95/nns95004.txt (July 5, 2003).
Additional information for this profile was obtained from the Federal Register Division of the National Archives and Records Service and from the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Jimmy Carter, 1977, 1979, obtained from the Government Printing Office in Washington, D.C.
—George A. Milite
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