updated 10/18/2007 4:03:22 PM ET 2007-10-18T20:03:22

William Crowe, an Annapolis-trained submarine officer who rose to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and served as ambassador to Great Britain, has died at age 82.

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The retired admiral died early Thursday at Bethesda Naval Hospital, the Navy announced. No cause of death was released immediately.

"We lost a true hero last night ... a distinguished naval officer, diplomat, leader, mentor (who) served both Presidents Reagan and Bush," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, said at a Pentagon press conference.

Vietnam, Mideast, Cold War veteran
At age 44, he volunteered for duty in Vietnam. Years later, as only the third admiral to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Crowe presided over the military conflict with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, the U.S. Navy's protection of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war and a groundbreaking series of meetings with his Soviet counterpart as the Cold War thawed in the late 1980s.

With three advanced degrees, Crowe sometimes wondered if his academic bent might stymie his Navy career, but he moved from diesel submarines after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946 to chief of the Pacific Command in 1983. And the ability to see both sides of a question, which aroused suspicion among some Navy colleagues, propelled him into joint command jobs and caught the eye of presidents.

In the early 1960s, Crowe turned down a chance for assignment to nuclear submarines to study for a doctorate in politics and international affairs at Princeton. Angered by Crowe's decision, Adm. Hyman Rickover, the autocratic head of the nuclear Navy, turned against him.

Gray matters
For his part, Crowe said the studies transformed him. "As I studied political science at Princeton, I began to learn that things aren't black and white, they're usually gray," he said later.

Back in uniform, he angered a Pentagon superior by suggesting a policy change. "He called me in and said, `We didn't send you to graduate school to come back here with a lot of ideas on how to run the Navy. What we sent you to graduate school for is to come back here and help us perfect and articulate what we want better. But we're not interested in your original thinking.'"

"I considered quitting right then," Crowe said later. "There has historically been a very strong anti-intellectual bias in the Navy."

President Reagan named him the 11th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1985. The year before, Reagan had stopped in Hawaii en route to China for a briefing from Crowe on the military situation in the Far East. As Crowe spoke for 90 minutes without notes, charts or maps, Reagan was reported to have whispered to his defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger: "If we're ever going to need a new chairman of the Joint Chiefs, here's our man."

Later, Crowe said he probably had more support from the Army and the Air Force than he did from the Navy when he became chairman.

Bush versus Clinton
Crowe turned down President George H.W. Bush's offer of a third two-year term and retired from the military in 1989.

In 1992, he endorsed Democrat Bill Clinton for the presidency instead of Bush. He said he was upset with Republican campaign attacks on Clinton for not serving in Vietnam.

Two years later, President Clinton appointed him ambassador to the Court of St. James's, where he served until 1997.

Born in La Grange, Ky, William J. Crowe Jr. grew up in Oklahoma City, Okla. In addition to his degree from the naval academy, he had a masters in personnel administration from Stanford University and a masters and doctorate in politics from Princeton University.

He is survived by his wife, Shirley, his daughter, Bambi, and his sons, Brent and Blake.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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