Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox dies (4-28-44)

U.S. Navy Department (April 28, 1944)

Press Release

For Immediate Release
April 28, 1944

Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox dies

Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox died at his home, 4704 Linnean Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, today at 1:08 p.m. (EWT), following a continuation of a heart attack first suffered at Manchester, New Hampshire, Sunday April 23, 1944.

The death of Col. Knox was announced to all naval personnel and establishments, ashore and afloat, throughout the world, in a dispatch from Acting Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal. The dispatch said:

It is with profound regret that I announce to the Naval Service the death of the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable William Franklin Knox, which occurred in Washington, DC, at 1308 on April 28, 1944. The Navy has suffered a great loss. Frank Knox was born in Boston, Massachusetts, tended public schools in Grand Rapids and was graduated from Alma College with the degree of AB. On June 4, 1898, he enrolled in the First Regiment, U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, known in history as the Rough Riders. With that distinguished organization he participated in the actions of the Spanish-American War. After that war he entered the field of journalism and in 1903 became publisher of the SAULT STE. MARIE EVENING NEWS. In 1912 he established the MANCHESTER LEADER and later became publisher of the MANCHESTER UNION LEADER. During World War I he served in France as Major in the 303rd Ammunition Train of the 78th Division participating in the Saint-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offenses. After being transferred to the Field, Artillery Reserve he was promoted on October 15, 1923 to Lieutenant Colonel, Officers Reserve Staff Corps, and in July, 1937, to the rank of Colonel. Col. Knox’s outstanding career in journalism included successively the office of general manager of the Hearst newspapers, publisher of the Hearst Boston newspapers and since 1931 publisher of THE CHICAGO DAILY NEWS.

On July 11, 1940, Col. Knox took the oath of office as Secretary of the Navy. Throughout his entire career in public life, in journalism, in the armed services, and as Secretary of the Navy he has devoted himself unremittingly and without reserve to the best interests of his country and of the Naval Service. His active leadership during the current struggle has been an inspiration which will be sorely missed.

It is directed that Colors be displayed at half-mast on all ships and at all Navy Yards and stations until sunset on the date of interment and to the extent permitted by war operations special memorial services shall be conducted on an appropriate day as prescribed by the senior officer present. Because the nation is at war the firing of salutes and the wearing of mourning badges shall be dispensed with.

Information as to date of interment will be transmitted later.

Press Release

For Immediate Release
April 28, 1944

A Statement by Acting Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal

In the death of Secretary Knox, the nation has lost one of its great leaders, the Navy a devoted servant and all of us who worked with him a loyal friend. His career of public service is a finer tribute to his memory than any that words could express. It can be truly said that he expended himself in the service of his country.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 28, 1944)

Former ‘Rough Rider’ succumbs suddenly to heart ailment

Republican named to Cabinet in 1940

Frank Knox

Washington (UP) –
Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, a former soldier who helped build the U.S. Fleet into the greatest floating force the world has ever known, died today as the time of his country’s greatest battles approached. He was 70.

Mr. Knox, Boston-born Republican publisher serving in a Democratic administration, died of a heart malady which struck him Sunday in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he had gone to attend the funeral of a former business partner, J. A. Muehling.

On his return to Washington, his physician ordered him to bed at his home here. On Tuesday, he suffered another and worse heart attack.

Announced by Forrestal

The Secretary’s death occurred at 1:08 p.m. EWT. The announcement was made by Acting Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal.

In solemn tones, Mr. Forrestal made the announcement over the department’s loudspeaker system so that all employees might know. He said that “with regret” he had to tell them the news.

Mr. Knox’s death was also announced to all naval personnel establishments ashore and afloat all over the world in a dispatch signed by Mr. Forrestal.

Mr. Forrestal directed that the colors be displayed at half-mast on all ships and at all shore establishments of the Navy until sunset on the day of burial, which will be announced later.

Memorial services ordered

He also directed that, to the extent permitted by war operations, special memorial services be conducted on “an appropriate day.”

The dispatch said:

Because the nation is at war, the firing of salutes and the wearing of mourning badges shall be dispensed with.

The loudspeaker announcement carried the news to thousands of Navy employees in their offices and at lunch in Navy cafeterias over town.

At Mr. Knox’s bedside when he died were Mrs. Knox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Mrs. Ralph A. Bard, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury John L. Sullivan, Dr. Fred Bushmeyer (pastor of the Mount Pleasant Congregational Church), John F. O’Keefe (vice president of The Chicago Daily News) and Capt. Lyman S. Perry (aide to the Secretary).

At the time of Mr. Knox’s death, the Navy – already capable of assembling 1,000-plane assault forces against the Japanese – was steadily building up toward the climactic battles of the Pacific and the invasion of Western Europe.

Forrestal Acting Secretary

It was believed that the man Mr. Knox selected as his Under Secretary, Mr. Forrestal, would continue as Acting Secretary, at least until after the political conventions this summer.

President Roosevelt nominated Mr. Knox as Secretary of the Navy June 20, 1940, just before the Republican National Convention. At the same time that he named another Republican, Henry L. Stimson, as Secretary of War, Mr. Knox took office July 11, 1940.

The administration called the appointments a bid for national unity. Reaction was mixed, however, and some Republicans demanded that Mr. Knox – who had been defeated as GOP vice-presidential candidate in 1936 – be read out of the party. Nothing was ever done, however, toward that end.

Fleet expanded

Mr. Knox, who was president and publisher of The Chicago Daily News, entered the administration at a time when this country was preparing to become “the arsenal of democracy.” Under his direction, the Fleet was expanded as never before.

Then came the Pearl Harbor debacle, and it was Mr. Knox’s job to nurse the stricken Navy along until repairs and new construction could make it once again superior to the Japanese fleet.

This task was accomplished in an amazingly short time – as witness the battles of the Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal, and the gigantic carrier force attacks of Truk and Palau.

Until a few weeks before his death, Mr. Knox was a man of robust health, large of frame, friendly and dynamic. Then he suffered an attack of influenza from which he was recuperating when the final illness struck.

In his younger days, Mr. Knox was almost a swashbuckling figure. He rode with “Teddy” Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders” and when the United States entered World War I, he went overseas as a captain of cavalry, a commission he received in 1917.

In France, he commanded a section of the 78th Division’s Ammunition Train. His outfit fought through some of the bloodiest battles of that war, including Saint-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne.

Widow survives

Surviving Mr. Knox are his widow (the former Annie Reid) and his three sisters, Mrs. Herbert L. Fairfield of Dayton, Ohio, and Miami, Florida; Mrs. Fred Reed of Chicago, and Miss Elizabeth Knox of Grand Rapid, Michigan.

Mr. Forrestal’s dispatch to all Navy stations said that “the Navy has suffered a great loss.”

Mr. Forrestal said:

Throughout his entire career in public life, in journalism, in the armed services, and as Secretary of the Navy, he devoted himself unremittingly and without reserve to the best interests of his country and of the naval service. His active leadership during the current struggle was an inspiration which will be sorely missed.

First attack Sunday

The Navy said the first heart attack last Sunday was diagnosed as coronary occlusion. Nevertheless, Mr. Knox left Manchester for New York that evening.

That night, while in New York, he had what he thought was an attack of indigestion. He went on to Washington by train Monday, telling acquaintances he felt better.

But on Tuesday morning, about two hours after he arrived at his office in the Navy Department, he showed evidences of further illness. He returned to his home and suffered a more severe heart attack while going to bed Tuesday afternoon.

Preferred nickname

Mr. Knox was christened William Franklin, but he preferred his nickname, Frank, and used it for his official signatures.

As a disciple of Theodore Roosevelt, Mr. Knox was a firm advocate of a big Navy. When he became Secretary, the Fleet numbered only 344 combat ships.

Although various programs of expansion were underway at the time, Mr. Knox felt they were not enough and he fought vigorously for more and more fighting ships. This year, the fleet is scheduled to attain a strength of about 1,000 combat ships.

Mr. Knox’s friendliness was one of his outstanding characteristics. He was an inveterate joke-trader, but was not much of a partygoer.

Impatient with quibblers

He spoke frankly and was impatient with quibblers. He was the first to disclose the heavy U.S. losses at Tarawa and the first to reveal that our forces were not fully on the alert at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. He was one of the few Cabinet officers in Washington who met with the press as often as twice a week.

Mr. Knox was probably the most-traveled War Cabinet member of all time. He went to Pearl Harbor for a personal inspection immediately after the Japanese attack. He flew to South America, to North Africa and Italy, and to the South Pacific. He underwent bombing raids at Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo and watched the German retreat from Naples from a small naval craft within sight of the shores.

Born in Boston

A proponent of national preparedness, Mr. Knox was one of the most active supporters of the proposed trans-Arabian pipeline. He favored compulsory military training in peacetime and a National Service Act in wartime.

Born in Boston, on Jan. 1, 1874, the son of William Edwin Knox and Sarah Barnard Knox, he moved during his boyhood to Grand Rapids. He graduated from Alma College.

Mr. Knox was formerly city editor of The Grand Rapids Herald, and owner of The Sault Ste. Marie Journal and News-Record. Subsequently he became publisher of The Manchester Leader and Union.

Became Chicago publisher

In 1927, Mr. Knox was appointed general manager of the Hearst Newspapers and publisher of the Hearst Boston papers, the American and Daily Advertiser.

He resigned in December 1930, and in August 1931, became publisher of The Chicago Daily News.

After serving in the Spanish-American War, Mr. Knox became chairman of the Michigan Republican Committee and was vice chairman of Theodore Roosevelt’s Campaign Committee in 1912. He followed “TR” into the Progressive Party and was head of the Michigan delegation to the party’s Chicago convention in August 1912.

After “TR’s” defeat by the late Woodrow Wilson, Mr. Knox returned to the Republican Party and in 1936 sought the Vice Presidency as running mate to former Kansas Governor Alf M. Landon, the Republican candidate for President. He campaigned vigorously but, with Mr. Landon, was overwhelmingly defeated.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 29, 1944)

Roosevelt mourns death of Knox as ‘heavy loss’

President gives late Secretary major credit for expanding U.S. Fleet
By Merriman Smith, United Press staff writer

In the South with President Roosevelt –
President Roosevelt led his fellow Americans today in mourning the death of Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, to whom the Chief Executive assigned major credit for building the U.S. Navy into the mightiest seagoing force the world has yet seen.

Breaking the long silence from his vacation retreat in the South, the President issued a statement to “a nation at war” to term the death of his 70-year-old Cabinet officer as a “heavy loss, and to me especially who had come to lean on him increasingly.”

Reviews association

Mr. Roosevelt, tanned and well on the road to recovery from his series of recent illnesses, reviewed his almost four years of official association with Mr. Knox at an informal news conference with three press association reporters who accompanied him to this as yet undisclosed retreat.

There was no indication whether the President would be able to return to Washington in time to attend the last rites for the man who, although of different political affiliations, took over the role of Secretary of the Navy July 11, 1940.

The President told reporters that he had watched with amazement the terrific pace that Mr. Knox had maintained during the war to guide the expansion of the Navy to its present unprecedented strength.

Can’t mitigate loss

He recalled how Mr. Knox, after the Jap attack on Pearl Harbor, asked for permission to go to Hawaii immediately to learn first-hand the details of the destruction wrought to the Pacific Fleet.

For a man who was then 67, Mr. Roosevelt said, that was a great thing to do.

The President revealed that VAdm. Ross T. McIntire, his personal physician, had been in Washington to consult with other specialists on Mr. Knox’s illness and had returned yesterday when it became clear that nothing more could be done for the Secretary.

Mr. Roosevelt said that while nothing could mitigate the loss of Mr. Knox, the nation could count itself fortunate that his death had not occurred earlier when the country could less have afforded the loss of the great champion of naval strength.

To newspapermen who have followed Mr. Roosevelt’s activities for years, the President looked in better condition than he had in months, showing no signs of the bronchial ailment which had troubled him persistently during the winter and early spring. He said he felt much better.

His presence at this resort was announced by the White House April 11, but no detailed accounts of the trip will be made public until the President returns to the White House.

Wanted more information

Seated in a comfortable armchair, cigarettes in hand, Mr. Roosevelt said he had been much impressed by Mr. Knox’s desire to make the personal trip to Pearl Harbor. Mr. Knox, he said, wanted more information, and wanted it faster, than it could have been provided in Washington.

The President revealed that it was at Mr. Knox’s suggestion that he named Associate Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts to head the Pearl Harbor investigating board. The Chief Executive said Mr. Knox had expressed a desire that the inquiry be conducted not by experts but by common sense people who had the confidence of the country.

Mr. Roosevelt said he had sent a note of condolence to Mrs. Knox and that he planned to address a message to the naval forces in a day or two.

Several listed for naval post

Knox third to die while in office

Washington (UP) –
The Navy carried on today under the leadership of Acting Secretary James V. Forrestal while the capital speculated over President Roosevelt’s plans for a successor to the post left vacant by the death of Secretary Frank Knox.

Mr. Knox, who died yesterday of a heart malady, will be buried with full military honors Monday afternoon in Arlington National Cemetery, surrounded by the graves of many of his former comrades in arms. His duties as Secretary of the Navy fell on the slender shoulders of Mr. Forrestal, his soft-spoken but tough Under Secretary.

Flags at half-mast

Funeral services will be held at 2:00 p.m. at the Mount Pleasant Congregational Church.

Dr. Fred S. Buschmeyer will officiate, assisted by Chaplain S. W. Salisbury of the Navy. At Arlington, RAdm. Louis E. Denfeld, assistant chief of the Navy Bureau of Personnel, will be the escort commander.

Flags were at half-mast on all ships and naval shore establishments but all hands in the Navy’s fighting force were pledged by their commander-in-chief, Adm. Ernest J. King, to perform “what would surely have been his [Knox’s] last order – ‘Carry on’.”

Third to die in office

Mr. Knox was the third Secretary of the Navy to die in office. The first was Thomas W. Gilmer who was killed Feb. 28, 1844 – nine days after he took office – while witnessing a trial of guns aboard the naval vessel Princeton. The second was Claude A. Swanson, who took office on March 4, 1933, and died at Rapidan. Virginia, July 7, 1939.

Between expressions of regret over Mr. Knox’s death, there was wide speculation over his successor in the Cabinet. The general belief was that Mr. Forrestal would continue as Acting Secretary, at least through the national political conventions.

But among the names heard, besides Mr. Forrestal’s, were those of Adm. William D. Leahy, (Chief of Staff to the President), LtCdr. Harold E. Stassen (former Governor of Minnesota now on naval duty in the Pacific) and Wendell L. Willkie.

Others mentioned

Cdr. Stassen has already declared himself available for the Republican presidential nomination.

Speculation over a successor also touched upon the names of Charles Edison (who succeeded the late Claude Swanson as Navy Secretary in 1939 and then resigned to serve as Governor of New Jersey), Chairman Carl Vinson (D-TX) of the House Naval Affairs Committee and Rep. Lyndon Johnson (D-TX).

Some quarters feel that the President may not appoint a successor to Mr. Knox until the national political picture is cleared by the conventions.

Roosevelt pays tribute

At his vacation retreat in the South, Mr. Roosevelt issued a statement of regret at the death of his Cabinet officer and later met with a select group of reporters to pay tribute to him. There was nothing in his remarks, however, to indicate his future plans.

Mr. Forrestal, as Under Secretary, concerned himself largely with production problems but he is familiar with other aspects of the Navy’s administration.

Only a few months ago, he made an extensive tour of the Pacific battle areas to get a first-hand picture of the Navy at war. He also worked closely with Mr. Knox on many projects in which the Secretary was interested. Mr. Forrestal supplied much of the driving power for the top-speed naval construction program.

Friends for 30 years

A friend of President Roosevelt for almost 30 years, Mr. Forrestal was born 52 years ago in Beacon, New York, less than 25 miles from Hyde Park.

In two respects, Mr. Forrestal’s career paralleled Mr. Knox’s. He began his career as a newspaper reporter and he served in the last war. After a year at Dartmouth, he went to Princeton, working his way through.

Then, after a few years as clerk, and as a cigarette salesman, in 1915 he became a Wall Street bond salesman for the banking firm of William A. Read & Co., later Dillon, Read & Co. He served in the naval air arm during World War I and then returned to Dillon, Read & Co., and by 1938 had became president of the firm.

Served as defense aide

Mr. Forrestal first served in the present administration as liaison man for the President on matters affecting the national defense program. He had held that job for two months when the President named him to the newly-created office of Under Secretary of the Navy.

When the United States entered the war, the President made Mr. Forrestal a part of his “Inner War Cabinet.”

Three executors to guide paper

Chicago, Illinois (UP) –
Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox was understood to have provided in his will for three executors to hold the controlling interest in The Chicago Daily News, his associates said today.

Mr. Knox, as publisher-owner of the majority stock, was said to have named as executors his wife Annie, Laird Bell (his personal attorney) and Holman D. Pettibone (president of the Chicago Title & Trust Company).

Knox praised by Alf Landon

Topeka, Kansas (UP) –
Alf M. Landon, Republican nominee for President and running mate of Frank Knox in the 1936 election, said today that the Navy Secretary’s “public deeds were always inspired by a sense of lofty patriotism.”

Mr. Landon said:

The country lost a good citizen and a great patriot when Frank Knox died.

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Editorial: Secretary Knox

The building, training, manning and disposal of the world’s greatest navy in a period of approximately two years was one of history’s most amazing accomplishments, and for it, Secretary Knox deserved much of the credit.

His untimely death came at a time when the mightiest aggregation of force in naval history was swinging into decisive action.

The nation will mourn that it was not given him to see the outcome of the efforts in which he undoubtedly sacrificed health and strength and for which he literally died in action.


British mourn sudden death of naval chief

Lauded as man who created two-ocean fleet
By William H. Stoneman

London, England –
High figures in British public life and the entire British press joined today in paying their respects to the late Frank Knox, whose sudden death was first announced to the British public over the radio at 9:00 p.m. (3:00 p.m. ET) last night.

Every newspaper in the realm reported the news in extensive front-page stories and paid tribute to the late Navy Secretary and publisher as “the man who gave America its two-ocean fleet.”

All joined in recalling his clearsighted attitude toward Hitler, Mussolini and Japan long before the United States entered the war; his energetic efforts to obtain full aid for Britain and his unrelenting efforts to speed up construction of the U.S. Fleet after he had joined the Roosevelt Cabinet.

Memorial services set

Few public figures, British or American, have received such united tributes from the British press upon their passing.

Arrangements have been made by Adm. Harold R. Stark, U.S. naval commander in the European Theater, for a memorial service Monday at St. Mark’s Church. Representatives of the British and U.S. Armed Forces, the British government and Mr. Knox’s many personal friends now in London will be present.

One of the most striking tributes paid and one which Mr. Knox would have appreciated most deeply was that of A. V. Alexander, First Lord of the Admiralty, whom Mr. Knox met when he visited London last winter.

‘Heavy loss suffered’

He said:

The Allied cause has suffered a very heavy loss in the unexpected passing of Col. Frank Knox. Both before and after Pearl Harbor, he proved himself to be a great friend to those who were fighting for the cause of freedom.

From the moment when the President included him in his administration, Col. Knox worked with might and main for the great American Navy and had a great share in the building up of that strength which is exercising such an influence along the road to victory.

We have constantly maintained a clear understanding and complete cooperation. His name will be treasured by all the friends of the American Navy and we in Britain feel that we have lost a personal friend. His example of devoted service will continue to inspire us to the end of the road.

Sends sympathy

Immediately upon receiving news of Mr. Knox’s death, the following signal was sent by Mr. Alexander to the Navy Department in Washington:

Greatly distressed at news of unexpected death of Col. Knox. I was looking forward to seeing him next month. On behalf of Board of Admiralty and the whole of the Royal Navy, I send our sympathy with U.S. Navy and Navy Department in their great loss.

Adm. Stark, a good friend of long standing, expressed his regret in the following statement:

Not only has the Navy lost its greatest Secretary and a great fighting heart, but also Britain has lost one of her staunchest friends overseas. The Navy will feel very keenly his passing because of his great understanding and sympathy with naval personnel and their problems, as well as the country’s naval needs.

Lauded by Winant

Another tribute came from U.S. Ambassador John G. Winant, once his stout opponent in New Hampshire politics and later, after they had both become deeply concerned in winning the war, his friend.

The Ambassador said:

The many friends that Frank Knox had in Great Britain deeply feel his loss. We who knew him at home shall miss a brave soldier and a great Secretary of the Navy.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 30, 1944)

Knox funeral to place him in hero’s rank

Full military honors to be accorded

Washington (UP) – (April 29)
Final arrangements were completed today for the funeral of Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, who will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery Monday with the honors accorded a man who died fighting for his country. Mr. Knox died yesterday of a heart ailment at the age of 70.

Four battalions of Marines, bluejackets, Coast Guardsmen and women members of the naval services will form the escort. Honorary pallbearers will include top-ranking civilian and naval officials of the Navy Department.

Services at church

Services will be held at 2:00 p.m. Monday ET in the Mount Pleasant Congregational Church, where Secretary and Mrs. Knox were regular attendants. Rev. Fred A. Buschmeyer, pastor of the church, who lived in the same neighborhood as the Secretary’s family in Manchester, New Hampshire, will officiate. Navy Chaplain S. W. Salisbury will assist.

The pallbearers will be four bluejackets, two Marines and two Coast Guardsmen.

A Guard of Honor consisting of two bluejackets and two Marines will be mounted at Gawler’s Funeral Home, less than two blocks from the White House, until the body is taken to the church.

Army to take part

After the church services, the hearse will bear the casket to the corner of 15th Street and Constitution Avenue – two blocks from the office where Mr. Knox had served since 1940. There the casket will be transferred to a horse-drawn caisson furnished by the Army. A Navy band will lead the escort.

Just preceding the caisson, Marine Warrant Officer William A. Pierce will carry the late Secretary’s personal flag.

At about 3:00 p.m., the escort will start moving toward Memorial Bridge to cross the Potomac to Arlington.

Bugler to sound taps

The committal service at the grave will be conducted by Chaplain Salisbury, a bluejacket detachment will fire the volley and a Navy bugler will sound taps for the man who served his nation twice on foreign battlefields in the uniform of the Army.

Memorial services will also be held at 2:00 p.m. Monday outside the Navy Building and at the Navy Annex in Arlington, Virginia.

At 2:45 p.m. Monday, the Navy Department will close – except for skeleton staffs – for the remainder of the day.

The honorary pallbearers will include: Acting Secretary James Forrestal, Adm. Ernest J. King (Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Fleet), VAdm. Russel R. Waesche (Coast Guard commandant), Lt. Gen. A. A. Vandegrift (Marine commandant).

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Editorial: ‘Life up to the hilt’

Theodore Roosevelt often said a man should “live life up to the hilt.”

Frank Knox, who followed TR up San Juan Hill, and followed him in politics from then on, was never short in observing that maxim.

As a youth he was poor – in language popular in recent years he could almost be said to have been underprivileged. But Frank Know was not a fellow to waste time sympathizing with himself. By working hard and making good on his opportunities he achieved wealth and influence. A small-town newspaperman, he became general manager of a chain of metropolitan dailies, and crowned his business and professional career by becoming owner and shirtsleeve publisher of the great Chicago Daily News.

He was a Bull Moose leader, a Republican nominee for Vice President, but gained his only public office – and that a high one – as an appointee under a Democratic administration. And he took time off from journalism and politics to be a combat soldier in two wars and Secretary of the Navy in a third.

A stout partisan in peacetime – there was no more vigorous critic of the New Deal in the balmy ‘30s – he forgot politics when war clouds gathered.

It must have been a source of great satisfaction to Frank Knox that, at the age of 70, he could take an active and important part in this war. One of his last acts was to urge on business and labor leaders the need of compulsory service in war industries to provide for the impending Battle of Europe. Another was to attend the funeral of a former business partner – and there he was stricken.

Frank Knox’s life was rich in rewards. It was a “life up to the hilt.”

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