Frederick H. Korth, 89, a Washington lawyer and Texas banker who served two years as secretary of the Navy during the Kennedy administration and earlier as assistant secretary of the Army in the Truman administration, died of lung cancer Sept. 14 at his home in El Paso.
Mr. Korth was named secretary of the Navy in 1961, succeeding John B. Connally, who quit to run for governor of Texas. He served until 1963, when he resigned abruptly after two years as the Navy's civilian chief. His stewardship included controversy over the awarding of a multibillion-dollar fighter aircraft contract to General Dynamics of Fort Worth and disagreement with then-Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara over a Navy proposal to build a nuclear-powered super aircraft carrier.
In testimony before the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy on his last day as Navy secretary, Mr. Korth urged Congress to insist that future Navy ships be nuclear-powered, criticizing "the shortsighted budgetary expedient of hamstringing our new ships with obsolete engines."
His congressional testimony came after a ruling by McNamara blocking construction of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that had been recommended by senior Navy admirals and approved by Congress.
After resigning as Navy secretary, Mr. Korth became a partner with his son in a Washington-based law firm, Korth and Korth. He retired from his law practice last December and moved back to Texas.
He was born in Yorktown, Tex., graduated from the University of Texas and received a law degree from George Washington University.
As a young man, he practiced law in Fort Worth, then during World War II served in the Air Transport Command of the Army Air Forces. After the war, he was a civilian deputy counselor to the Department of the Army. In 1952, he became assistant secretary of the Army for manpower reserves.
In 1953, Mr. Korth left federal service to return to Fort Worth, where he was president of Continental National Bank, and he was serving in that capacity when he was named secretary of the Navy.
As Navy secretary, Mr. Korth participated in a decision to award a contract for construction of TFX fighter aircraft to General Dynamics Corp. of Fort Worth, which had borrowed money from Continental National Bank during the period when Mr. Korth had served as president.
That resulted in requests on Capitol Hill that Mr. Korth be investigated for possible conflicts of interest. President John F. Kennedy later said at a news conference that any such suggestion was without substance, and a congressional committee found the suggestions groundless.
Mr. Korth's marriage to Vera Sansom Korth Conner ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife, Charlotte Korth of El Paso; two children from his first marriage, Fritz-Alan Korth of Washington and Nina Maria Cole of Fort Worth; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. A daughter from his first marriage, Verita Sansom Korth, died in 1969.