Now Hear This: a Rear Admiral Goes Down with His Ashtray

UPDATED 06/17/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/17/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

The Surgeon General has warned that smoking is harmful to your health. Now comes an admiral to certify that it does nothing for your career either.

Thomas J. Cassidy Jr., 52, a two-star admiral who has been given the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross in his 33-year career, has been given the boot by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. Cassidy was relieved as commander of fighter and early warning aircraft for the Pacific fleet over the purchase of aircraft ashtrays costing $659 apiece.

The Defense Department didn't suggest there was anything in it for Cassidy. He doesn't even smoke. And he wasn't in command when the last ashtrays were purchased in February 1983. "I think they shot in the dark and got the wrong guy," Cassidy said from his home.

His removal came days after the Navy began an investigation into buying procedures at Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego, where the admiral is based, but before any wrongdoing had been proved. Also relieved were the base commander, Captain Gary Hakanson, and a supply officer, Commander Jerry Fronabarger. One angry Miramar pilot commented, "At least they gave Gary Dotson a trial before they put him in jail for rape."

This officer said that of all the men he had served under, Cassidy was the last he would accuse of sloppy management. "He makes even the fun things not fun," the pilot said.

Cassidy's office at Miramar is small, modestly furnished and usually has a line of nervous officers waiting outside. Visitors are warned that the admiral has no sense of humor, which is certainly true where his staff is concerned. He is not beloved, but he is admired, and the pilot says his removal has been "demoralizing."

Admirals are not customarily held responsible for ashtrays. Relieving one because a supply clerk overspends is like firing a baseball manager because a clubhouse attendant goes overboard on cold cuts. The action against Cassidy probably resulted from Weinberger's embarrassment over a series of outrageous Pentagon purchases—$640 toilet-seat covers come to mind. He was "furious" when Miramar was caught with smoking ashtrays.

Weinberger himself is not known for frugality where the military budget is concerned. He's always asking Congress to buy him new aircraft carriers whenever their ashtrays are full.

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