John William Middendorf was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on 22 September 1924. After serving as an engineering officer and navigator aboard LCS-53, Middendorf earned his bachelor’s degree in naval science from the College of the Holy Cross. He then earned his bachelor of arts degree from Harvard College in 1947 and a master’s degree from the Stern School of Business at New York University in 1954. Middendorf became an investment banker in the 1950s as a partner of Wood, Struthers and Company. In 1961, he and Austen Colgate founded Middendorf Colgate and Company, which became a prominent Wall Street firm. In 1969, he left his investment firm and accepted the role of U.S. Ambassador to The Netherlands, serving there until 1973. After he returned to the United States, he was named Under Secretary of the Navy, and on 8 April 1974, was appointed Secretary of the Navy for President Richard Nixon’s administration.
During his tenure as Secretary of the Navy, Middendorf was able to sponsor through Congress four new major Navy programs: Ohio-class submarines and the accompanying Trident missiles; the Aegis surface-launched missile system; the F/A-18 Hornet carrier-based attack aircraft; and the CH-53E, heavy-lift helicopter for the Marine Corps. He also is credited with creating the Marine Corps Marathon.
After he left the Office of the Secretary of the Navy, Middendorf returned to the private sector as president and chief executive officer of Financial General Bankshares (which he reorganized and renamed First American Bank). In 1980, he led the CIA transition team for incoming President Ronald Reagan’s administration, and was later named the U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States. He served on that post until 1984 when he accepted the appointment as U.S. Representative to the European Community (today known as the European Union), serving in that role until 1987.
The future USS J. William Middendorf (DDG-138), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, is named in his honor.