NEWPORT, R.I. – Each year prior to commencement, U.S. Naval War College (NWC) hosts an awards ceremony recognizing the superior accomplishments achieved by their newest graduates. This year, in addition to the presence of Rear Adm. Jeffrey A. Harley, NWC’s president; J. William Middendorf, a former Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) and U.S. Ambassador, also attended the event. As a musician himself, Middendorf has a special connection to Navy Band Northeast. Each year at graduation, the band performs his original work, “The U.S. Naval War College March,” during the procession of graduates. The march is one of hundreds of original works the former naval officer has written for U.S. Navy ships and institutions.
Middendorf went to Harvard University in 1942 on a Reserve Officers’ Training Course (ROTC) scholarship and was called up for service during World War II.He served as a navigator and engineering officer in the Pacific Theater.After being honorably discharged in 1946 and finishing his degree at Harvard, he graduated with a Master of Business Administration degree from New York University and later opened his own investment banking firm in 1962. He was also an active member of Richard Nixon’s political campaign, which ultimately resulted in his appointment as a U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands until 1973. In 1974, Middendorf was appointed as the Secretary of the Navy, a title he held until 1977. Despite his expansive military, political, and professional accomplishments, Middendorf considers himself an artist first and foremost.
A current resident of Little Compton, Rhode Island, Middendorf is still an active member of his community. From 2002 - 2005, he volunteered by teaching art classes three days a week at the Bristol County House of Correction in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts. When asked about his interest in teaching the incarcerated population, Middendorf responded, “Those who take an art class are interested in upward mobility, and they have self-respect. Both of which are hard to come by here. They have a chance to see their work as a framed, finished piece. It develops a work ethic, and a goal.”
Despite the 60 percent backslider rate of most prisons, during these years of his art instruction, none of the art students who were released from prison returned.
At 93 years of age, Middendorf still continues to impart words of wisdom to those around him as if he were still instructing one of his art classes. “Never use an eraser. Leave the bad line on the paper and draw the good line next to it. Then you can see the difference. That’s how you learn to do it the right way.”