WASHINGTON — Some of the senior officers under whom Ross Perot served in the Navy judged him to be "emotionally maladjusted" and too immature to be a career naval officer after a 1955 incident in which he criticized the service and requested an early discharge, government documents show.
The assessments, contained in official letters to the chief of naval personnel commenting on Perot's request, included one in which Capt. G. H. Miller--then commander of the destroyer division that included the ship on which Perot was serving--said Perot was "emotionally maladjusted for a regular Navy career."
A second letter, sent to the secretary of the Navy and the chief of naval personnel by Rear Adm. J. C. Daniel, commander of destroyer forces in the Atlantic fleet, said the evidence he saw "indicates that (then-Lt. j.g.) Perot is too immature to be entrusted with the leadership responsibilities inherent in sea duty." Daniel recommended that Perot be transferred to a "purely administrative" assignment ashore.
Perot, the Texas billionaire who is an undeclared independent presidential candidate, has come under criticism for attempting to obtain an early discharge from the Navy after serving only 15 months of the four years active duty that was required of recent Naval Academy graduates shortly after the Korean War.
Critics have suggested that Perot's actions raise questions about his personality and character that may be important to assessing his fitness for the Oval Office.
At the same time, as is often true with Perot, qualities that some see as liabilities--in this case a tendency toward blunt outspokenness and unbending insistence on the correctness of his own values and opinions--are viewed by others as potential strengths for a President who must deal with the nation's present problems.
Perot declined through a spokeswoman to comment on The Times report. However, Navy officials said Wednesday that he complained vigorously to the Navy after learning that the documents had been examined by The Times. Officials said the Naval Investigative Service has begun an investigation to learn how the documents were disclosed.
Interviews with many of Perot's ex-shipmates, which formed the basis for an article published in The Times on June 4, suggested that Perot's request for an early discharge stemmed in large part from disillusionment with his second commanding officer. That officer's approach to command differed from that of the "textbook" captain whom the young Perot had admired during his first 15 months aboard the destroyer Sigourney.
At least one of Perot's senior officers attributed his difficulties with the new captain to a personality clash.
At the same time, letters Perot wrote in connection with his effort to leave the Navy early made clear that he felt a broader dissatisfaction with the service as well. In his official letter requesting discharge, he said:
"I made the decision to become a career naval officer based upon the high standards of devotion to duty, honor, leadership, self-reliance, religion and other officerlike qualities that were taught at the Naval Academy. I have not found these high standards to exist generally in the fleet, and in some instances I have observed complete deviation from these standards."
In a draft letter that he apparently later toned down, Perot wrote that he "found the Navy to be a fairly Godless organization" and that he did "not enjoy the prospect of . . . being subjected to drunken tales of moral emptiness, passing out penicillin pills and seeing promiscuity on the part of married men." He also complained about widespread profanity.
Miller said in one of his letters that Perot had told him "that he hoped to be a social worker when he was released from the Navy, where he would have an opportunity to work with young people."
Navy documents examined by The Times, including copies of the fitness reports filed by Perot's superiors every six months as required by Navy regulations and their letters commenting on his application for an early discharge, suggest that such statements--and the outspokenly critical attitude they reflect--may have influenced senior officers to form their harsh judgments of him. So did his repeated clashes with his second commanding officer.
Fitness reports submitted by Perot's first commanding officer on the Sigourney, Cmdr. Bernard A. Lienhard, describe him as an "outstanding" and exceptionally intelligent officer and recommended him for promotion from ensign to lieutenant (j.g.). Early reports were also positive from Lienhard's successor, Cmdr. Gerald J. Scott, who took over command of the Sigourney in late 1954 when Lienhard went on to a new assignment.
But Scott's reports on Perot's performance also confirmed that the 24-year-old officer clashed sharply with his commander almost from the start, and that their relationship worsened markedly after April, 1955, when Perot requested his early discharge.