Air force Gen. George S. Brown, a veteran of three wars and recently retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, died of cancer yesterday at the Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force base. He was 60.
As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Brown provoked an international controversy in 1974 by asserting that Jews "own, you know, the banks in this country, the newspapers."
After he had made those remarks at a forum at the Duke University Law School, he was called to the White House by then-president Ford and rebuked. The general also issued an apology.
At the time, Ford said Gen. Brown had made a mistake but was such a fine officer that the president intended to keep him on as the nation's ranking military officer.
Asked about his remarks at Duke, Gen. Brown told a Washington Post reporter at the time: "It just came out too damn poorly. It is going to be awfully easy to conclude for anyone who wants to that the chairman is anti-Semitic. That's just not true."
Two years later, Gen. Brown got in trouble again by declaring that Israel had become a burden militarily on the United States and by making deprecatory remarks about Britain and Iran.
Of Britain, he said: "It's pathetic now; it just wants to make you cry. They're no longer a world power. All they've got are generals, admirals and bands. They do things in great style... on the protocol side. But it makes you sick to see their forces."
On Iran: "Gosh, the (military) programs the shah has coming. It just makes you wonder whether he doesn't some day have visions of the Persian Empire."
Later, Gen. Brown said his remark about Israel referred to a partial depletion of U.S. military equipment stocks to resupply Israel after the 1973 Middle East war. He also praised the British for their gallantry and professionalism and said he had no reason to believe that the shah of Iran planned to do anything other than lead his country properly.
Gen. Brown survived the furor that followed his controversial remarks and stayed as chief of staff until last June 20 when he retired. He had contracted cancer of the prostate and was hospitalized intermittently until his death at 5:45 p.m. yesterday.
Gen. Brown's military career spanned a technological revolution in weaponry. He started his combat career by flying heavy bombers in the European theater in World War II and retired as a four-star general when the Cruise missile was replacing the manned bomber.
Born in Montclair, N.J., on Aug. 17, 1918, Gen. Brown graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1941. He entered what then was called the Army Air Corps and began a career in military aviation.
He flew B-24 Liberator bombers off the U.S. coast early in World War II and then flew bombing raids in Europe from bases in England and Libya.
He was decorated for leading the remnants of a battered bomber squadron back to its base in Libya after flying the first low-level raids against oil fields in Ploesti, Romania, in 1943.
A down-to-earth, smiling and friendly man, Gen. Brown moved quickly to command positions. He became head of the Air Force training command near the end of the war in 1945.
During the Korean War he was director of operations for the 5th Air Force and after the war headed pilot training at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona.
After duty in the Pentagon as military assistant to the secretary of defense from 1959-63, Gen. Brown was sent to Vietnam to command the 7th Air Force. He served in that top command position for the Vietnam theater from 1968-70 when he became commander of the Air Force systems command at Andrews.
He was promoted to Air Force chief of staff and served in that position from August 1973 until June 1974. During that period, the Air Force was trying to win approval for its proposed B-1 bomber.
In July 1974, he became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a principal adviser to the president on national military policy. He testified before Congress that he and the other joint chiefs favored putting the B-1 bomber into production.
In 1977, when President Carter decided to scrap the B-1 in favor of the Cruise missile, Gen. Brown was prasied by Defense Secretary Harold Brown for closing ranks behind that decision and helping to make the Cruise missle system a successful project.
Gen. Brown often said he was much happier in an airplane cockpit than behind a desk at the Pentagon. He once told a Senate committee that he would not have had to resort to wearing glasses had it not been for all the papers he had to read as a general stuck in the Pentagon.
His wife of 36 years, Alice, had visited the general at the hospital yesterday shortly before he died. Gen. Brown also is survived by two sons and a daughter.
Funeral arrangements had not been completed as of last night.