Z-grams & Q-tips

This post is my response to Jenny Matlock’s Alphabe-Thursday challenge for the letter “Z”.

The early 1970s were turbulent years for the U.S. and its military services. The Vietnam War was underway and millions of young men were drafted for service in the military. The draft meant that many servicemen were in the military only because they had to be, not because they had any particular desire or commitment to military service. Additionally, anti-war protesters were demanding an immediate end to the U.S.’s involvement in the war, and many people wondered what, if anything, the U.S. had accomplished during the war.

In mid-1970, against this unsettled backdrop, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., assumed the duties of Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and very quickly introduced a number of controversial changes to Navy policies. While these changes were intended to reduce racism and sexism in the Navy, many of the policies seemed to be a general relaxation of military standards allowing men, for example, to wear beards and longer sideburns and hair. His directives, which were generally popular with young officers and enlisted men, quickly became known as Z-grams.

Women had been serving in the U.S. Navy since 1942 under the official (and later unofficial) title of WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service). In the beginning WAVES held clerical-type positions, allowing more men to serve on ships, but they eventually assumed a wider variety of assignments both in the United States and abroad. Although the WAVES were an official part of the Navy, they also had their own director, a female officer who dealt with issues and policies for women in the Navy.

Image courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain Robin L. Quigley served as director of the WAVES between 1970 and 1972. Given the popularity of Admiral Zumwalt’s “Z-grams,” it was probably inevitable that any statement Captain Quigley issued became known as a “Q-tip.” Though I was in the WAVES between 1969 and 1979, I don’t remember a particularly impactful Q-tip, but I do have one enduring memory of her stewardship. There was a young woman in our barracks who repeatedly traveled without permission to visit her boyfriend and, as a result, was absent from both military and professional assignments. She was, of course, disciplined for her actions with restriction to barracks, reductions in rate (and pay), etc. At some point, she called into a talk show on a Washington, DC, radio station to complain about her situation. It didn’t take long for Captain Quigley to hear about the incident, and in less than 24 hours she arranged for the immediate discharge of the young woman.

14 thoughts on “Z-grams & Q-tips

  1. Admiral Zumwalts son was in the army and died from AO. Admiral Zumwalt died from Mesothelioma. Admiral Z was working on getting sailors on asbestos ships help when his own exposure to it killed him.

  2. What an absolutely fascinating post! This was wonderful!

    I loved the way this was written and the rivetting information you shared here.

    I’m sending this along to my Mom and sister to read as well.

    A seriously fantastic link for the letter Z.

    Hope to Z you again soon!


    • Thank you, Judie. My dad encouraged me to enlist in the military because there weren’t very many opportunities for 18-year-old girls in my little home town back in the late 1960s. I still think of it as the best single decision I ever made. One of the really amazing things about military life is that very young people (18, 19, etc.) are trained for and then expected to perform some very challenging and responsible jobs. Such was the case for me. Much of what I’ve done my entire adult life has its basis in my military training and experience. Heck, I still fold my underwear the way I was taught 40+ years ago!

  3. This was a wonderful post. I know about Admiral Zumwalt because he was trying to protect his own son and his comrades from the effects of the chemical Agent Orange and inadverently exposed them to this cancer causing chemical. His son later died from the effects of Agent Orange. His whole story is very tragic. Because I was a teen during the Vietnam era it is very close to my heart.

    • I’m not sure I was aware of Admiral Zumwalt’s personal connection with Agent Orange. I read about it when I was preparing this post. You’re absolutely right…it was a tragedy for him and his family.

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