Adm. Arleigh A. Burke, 94, one of the great fighting sailors of World War II who as chief of naval operations became a leading architect of the postwar Navy and was one of his service's most revered figures, died of pneumonia Jan. 1 at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

He gained fame in World War II as the tactical commander of Destroyer Squadron 23 in the Pacific. His flamboyant and brilliant tactics included leading his squadron into battle at "maximum speed" and gained him the nickname "31-Knot Burke." After the war, he became the only person to serve three terms as chief of naval operations -- a post he held from 1955 until retiring from active duty in 1961.

As chief of naval operations, he led the Navy into the age of jet aircraft, guided missiles and nuclear submarines. He ordered the development and deployment of the Polaris system on the first of the submarines to be armed with nuclear ballistic missiles. He also ensured that the Navy was equipped to fight peripheral wars with conventional weapons, a settled part of defense doctrine even today.

Upon retiring from active duty, Burke helped found the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University, an influential foreign and defense policy think-tank. He served as the center's director for 15 years.

The admiral once said, "I don't think it's very important that I be remembered. . . . The ideas I stood for should be remembered." Others disagreed with part of that statement.

"We will remember him as one of America's finest sailors and most capable military leaders," President Clinton said in a statement issued in Hilton Head, S.C., where he was attending a New Year's weekend gathering.

The current chief of naval operations, Adm. Mike Boorda, said, "Adm. Arleigh Burke defined what it means to be a naval officer; relentless in combat, resourceful in command, and revered by his crews. He was a sailor's sailor."

Navy Secretary John H. Dalton said that Burke would be "remembered as the very embodiment of honor, courage and commitment" and that "the nation has lost a true hero."

One measure of his service's and nation's regard for the dashing World War II destroyer leader came when the Navy named an entire new class of destroyers, the most powerful ever built, the Arleigh Burke class. There also is an Arleigh A. Burke Hall at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., and an annual Arleigh A. Burke competition for the best essay on leadership for which the U.S. Naval Institute offers a $1,000 prize.

In 1991, when the name ship of the Arleigh Burke class, USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), was commissioned, the old admiral was there. Perhaps characteristically, he coupled praise and admiration for the ship with a crusty challenge to its first crew: "This ship is built to fight. You'd better know how."

Burke's decorations included the Navy Cross, which is the highest decoration for heroism except for the Medal of Honor; three awards of the Distinguished Service Medal; the Silver Star; three awards of the Legion of Merit; and the Purple Heart.

Although funeral arrangements are incomplete, Burke's funeral promises to be the nation's largest and most impressive military funeral in at least 30 years, with more than 2,500 dignitaries and other mourners likely to attend. He will lie in state Thursday morning in the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis before services there at 11 a.m. The military ceremonies will include two 19-gun salutes and a jet flyover during the interment at the academy cemetery, and the entire crew of the USS Arleigh Burke will line the streets along the way.

He will be buried beneath a 4 1/2-foot black granite monument that, at his instruction, bears only four stars, an etching of the ship named after him and the words "Adm. Arleigh A. Burke, Sailor."

Burke, cheerful and plain-spoken, used to say his success was due to hard work and luck rather than native talent or intellect. In fact, he had several assignments that were nothing if not intellectually demanding, and he guided a number of influential studies on strategy and the role of the Navy. He also was extremely skillful in the politics of national security at the highest level.

He was attracted to the Navy because it was a place where, in his words, the rules were "strict, known and observed." He also believed that all military men share ideals of bravery and sacrifice. Thus, in the midst of the war, he honored a Japanese captain who had fought bravely against overwhelming odds and gone down with his ship.

As he rose to high command in the years after World War II, Burke had two related concerns -- the welfare of the Navy and what he regarded as the implacable necessity of defeating communism. His ideas about the latter were influenced to a large degree by his experience as a negotiator during stalemated Korean War truce talks.

In a lecture at Princeton University in 1962, he summarized his thoughts in these terms: "Between the free West and the communist movement, there can be no reconciliation, no real coexistence. The confrontation is absolute. . . . The defense of civilization is tantamount to the destruction of the communist movement throughout the world."

The grandson of a Swedish immigrant, Arleigh Albert Burke was born on a farm near Boulder, Colo., on Oct. 19, 1901. He was attracted to military life by National Guardsmen who were called out to quell a strike in a nearby mine and by acquaintances who enlisted for World War I service.

Because the flu epidemic of 1918 closed the Boulder high school, he never got a diploma. He studied privately and received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, entering as a midshipman on June 26, 1919. He graduated and was commissioned an ensign on June 7, 1923. He stood 70th in a class of 412.

For the next five years, he served aboard the battleship Arizona and specialized in gunnery. In 1931, he received a master's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan.

In 1939, he got his first command, the destroyer Mugford. The ship made high marks in engineering and communications competitions and an unprecedented perfect score in short-range gunnery.

When the United States entered World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Burke was stationed at the Naval Gun Factory in Washington. He immediately requested sea duty, but it was not until February 1943 that he got his wish. He began as commander of a destroyer division in the Solomon Islands in the Southwest Pacific.

The war he entered was one in which Marine Corps and Army units fought Japanese forces on remote and previously obscure strands of coral, swamp and jungle such as Guadalcanal. By day, U.S. air power ruled the skies and kept enemy ships at bay. But as night fell, the planes became nearly useless, and the Imperial Japanese Navy took to the narrow island seas in an effort to land reinforcements and bombard American installations.

The U.S. Navy sailed to meet them. The result was some of the hardest naval fighting of the war, and for nearly a year the Japanese got the best of it. The U.S. Navy had an advantage in radar. Having used it to locate a target, American ships, following prewar doctrine, would attack with gunfire, an extremely uncertain undertaking at night. Sometimes all it did was alert the enemy to danger.

The Japanese, on the other hand, placed great store on their Long Lance torpedoes. Typically they would respond to an American attack by launching a barrage of these underwater weapons, with deadly effect on U.S. ships ranged in a cumbersome line of battle.

Burke turned U.S. doctrine on its head. His idea was that destroyers, the slender, lightly armored greyhounds of the sea, would use the torpedo as their primary offensive weapon and rely on speed and maneuverability to carry out attacks. Gunfire would be reserved for mopping up.

On Oct. 22, 1943, having spent 10 months in command of destroyer divisions, he took over Destroyer Squadron 23, which came to be known as the Little Beavers. In the next four months, it fought 22 separate actions and was credited with destroying one Japanese cruiser, nine destroyers, one submarine, several smaller ships and 30 aircraft. The squadron was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.

A week after Burke took over, it participated in the battle of Empress Augusta Bay off Bougainville, in which Japanese ships tried to attack American forces who had made a landing. While gunfire from American cruisers distracted the enemy, the destroyers charged and launched torpedoes. Two Japanese ships were sunk, a third was badly damaged and the remainder fled. American losses were one destroyer damaged.

Burke was awarded the Navy Cross for his part in the battle.

But the best example of the future admiral's tactics occurred on the night of Nov. 25-26, 1943, when the five destroyers he was leading came upon five Japanese destroyers off Cape St. George. The Americans launched a surprise torpedo attack that sank two enemy ships in a few minutes, and a third was sent to the bottom as it tried to get away. U.S. ships suffered no damage at all.

In postwar studies at the Naval War College, the battle was described as an almost perfect surface action.

In March 1944, Burke was appointed chief of staff to Rear Adm. Marc A. Mitscher, commander of Fast Carrier Task Force 58. At Okinawa, two ships on which Burke was serving were hit by kamikaze suicide planes, and he was awarded the Silver Star for rescuing sailors trapped in a compartment by smoke and fire and helping to evacuate casualties.

As a staff officer, he helped plan some of the major operations in the war against Japan, including the battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf and the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

When the war ended, Burke began a series of Washington assignments. He became deeply involved in the debates surrounding the reorganization of the armed forces that began with the National Defense Act of 1947 that established the Defense Department. Navy leaders feared that their service was being subordinated to the Army and the Air Force and staged what became known as the revolt of the admirals.

In 1948, as part of this struggle, Burke produced an influential report on the Navy's strategic role over the next 10 years in which he argued that the Soviet Union's growing submarine force presented a menace that would have to be met. The next year, he directed a study that said the Navy should not be marginalized simply because the Air Force had the mission of delivering nuclear weapons against potential enemies.

His role in these interservice disputes nearly cost him the chance to be an admiral. His name was removed from the promotion list by Pentagon officials whom he had angered, and it was restored through the personal intervention with President Harry S. Truman of Forrest P. Sherman, the chief of naval operations. Burke's behavior at that time made him a hero in the Navy and added to his authority when he became its top uniformed officer.

During the Korean War, Burke commanded a cruiser division and spent six months as part of the U.S. delegation to the stalemated truce talks at Panmunjom. He was commander of the destroyer force of the Atlantic Fleet when he was named chief of naval operations.

In retirement, he testified against ratification of the nuclear test ban treaty in 1963 and supported Sen. Barry S. Goldwater, of Arizona, the Republican nominee in the 1964 presidential campaign. From 1962 to 1974, he was president of the National Capital Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He also was a director of several corporations.

In September 1973, he represented President Richard M. Nixon at the funeral of King Gustav VI Adolf of Sweden, and in 1974, he received the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President Gerald R. Ford.

Burke is survived by his wife, the former Roberta Gorsuch of Washington, D.C., whom he married on the afternoon of the day he graduated from the Naval Academy in 1923. They had no children. CAPTION: Adm. Arleigh A. Burke at home in Fairfax in 1989 with his wife, Roberta, whom he married on the day he graduated from the Naval Academy in 1923. CAPTION: Adm. Arleigh A. Burke is sworn in Aug. 17, 1955, for the first of his unprecedented three terms as chief of naval operations. CAPTION: Adm. Arleigh A. Burke was named chief of naval operations in 1955. er last July, when he shot 68 in first round to lead the U.S. Senior Open.