October 4, 1950–September 16, 1951
When General George C. Marshall became President Harry S. Truman’s third Secretary of Defense in September 1950, there was only one man he considered for his deputy. That person was Robert Lovett, who had experience being Marshall’s alter ego. The duo had run the State Department as Secretary of State and Under Secretary of State respectively from January 1947 to January 1949. Lovett became the second Deputy Secretary of Defense on October 4, 1950.
Lovett was born on September 14, 1895, in Huntsville, Texas. He was in his junior year at Yale University when World War I erupted. He left school and enlisted in the Navy, becoming a pilot in 1916. He briefly flew with the British Naval Air Service on patrol and in combat missions, received a Navy Cross for setting up the first naval bombardment squadron, and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. He earned his bachelor’s degree in absentia from Yale in 1918 and briefly took graduate courses at Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School.
In 1921, he became a clerk at the National Bank of Commerce in New York, and by 1926, he was a full partner at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co, an investment banking firm. He first entered government service in 1940 as a special assistant to Secretary of War Henry Stimson. He met and impressed then-Army Chief of Staff George Marshall with his advocacy for American airpower. He became Assistant Secretary of War for Air in 1941 and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in September 1945 for his superior oversight of the Army Air Forces and for procuring large numbers of aircraft during the war. He briefly returned to Brown Brothers Harriman in late 1945, but General Marshall wanted him to serve as his Under Secretary of State. Marshall regarded him as a man with the “ability to take over the job … and also put into being the very important phase of the State Department’s interests in connection with communications and air in particular.” When Lovett’s tenure at Foggy Bottom was over, he again went back to Brown Brothers Harriman. In September 1950 he was summoned to Washington for a third time.
General Marshall agreed to serve as Secretary of Defense for only one year. He insisted that Lovett be appointed as his Deputy and expected Lovett to succeed him as Secretary of Defense. Marshall involved Lovett in preparing the Defense Department’s budget, made all the more difficult by the Korean War. Lovett became the first Deputy Secretary of Defense to debate with the Services over materiel and to testify before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on budgetary issues.
In September 1951, after the promised year of service, Secretary Marshall informed the President that he was stepping down. As expected, Lovett succeeded him to become the fourth Secretary of Defense. Lovett was the first of five Deputy Secretaries of Defense in history to become Secretary, and he served from September 17, 1951, to January 20, 1953. Over the course of the next three decades he participated on several presidential commissions and continued to work for Brown Brothers Harriman. He died in Locust Valley, New York on May 7, 1986, at the age of 91.