WASHINGTON – "And so I say one last time, my name is Shinseki and I am a soldier -- proud of it."
With those words, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki (search) on Wednesday bade farewell to an Army career that spanned five decades, from the jungles of Vietnam, where combat cost him part of a foot, to the halls of the Pentagon, where he fought bureaucratic wars until his final hours as chief of staff.
The White House has not nominated a Shinseki successor, but officials let it be known the day before his retevel representative from his office.
Shinseki alluded to the tensions, which some have attributed to a belief by Rumsfeld that Army leaders resisted a basic principle of democracy: that they must answer to civilian authority.
"We understand that leadership is not an exclusive function of the uniformed services," Shinseki said to an audience that included members of Congress and military officers from countries across the globe. "So when some suggest that we in the Army don't understand the importance of civilian control of the military, well, that's just not helpful -- and it isn't true.
"The Army has always understood the primacy of civilian control," he added. "In fact we are the ones who reinforce that principle with those other armies with whom we train all around the world. So to muddy the waters when important issues are at stake -- issues of life and death -- is a disservice to all those in and out of uniform who serve and lead so well."
Shinseki, a native of Hawaii, is the only officer of Japanese descent to rise to the top post in the Army. His career almost came to a tragic early end. On his second tour of duty in Vietnam, as a cavalry troop commander in 1970, he was wounded in action and lost part of a foot.
He was so severely hurt that doctors tried to get him to leave the service, according to Les Brownlee, the acting Army secretary who officiated at Shinseki's retirement ceremony.
"His love of soldiers -- soldiers who had carried him out of combat on their backs, twice -- and his love of our Army was so deep that he persevered," Brownlee said, with Shinseki in dress uniform at his side, looking across Fort Myer's green parade field toward Arlington National Cemetery (search).
Shinseki spent 11 months recuperating in a hospital in Hawaii, and it would be another decade before he returned to the field. In the intervening years he earned a master's degree in English at Duke University, taught English for two years at West Point, attended the Army Command and General Staff College (search) at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and was a staff officer in the Pentagon.
He went on to hold a variety of commands with Army units in Germany during the 1980s, and in 1994 he became commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. In 1997 he took command of U.S. Army Europe and headed the NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
George Joulwan, a retired four-star Army general who was the NATO supreme allied commander in Europe from 1993-97, said in an interview that Shinseki was an exemplary leader and should get some of the credit for the combat effectiveness the Army showed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"A lot of that has to do with Shinseki and those who preceded him," Joulwan said.
When he became Army chief of staff on June 22, 1999, Shinseki identified a major problem -- heavy forces that were too heavy and immobile, and light forces that were too light and vulnerable. He spent the next four years pushing an Army "transformation" -- coining a term that became the watchword of the Bush administration's Pentagon once Rumsfeld took office in 2001.
Rumsfeld seemed unconvinced by Shinseki's approach, and he killed one of the Army's prized projects, the Crusader artillery system. Shinseki also ran afoul of Rumsfeld by telling Congress he thought it would take several hundred thousand soldiers to keep the peace in postwar Iraq.
In April, Rumsfeld fired Army Secretary Thomas White (search), who had sided with Shinseki on the Crusader and Iraq.