World: The Man Who Was Larger Than Life

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At 13, Dickie joined the Royal Navy as a cadet at Osborne, a rigorous officer-training academy on the Isle of Wight. He was soon seared by an event that is thought to have directed the course of his life: as World War I broke out his father was hounded by anti-German hysteria and forced to resign as First Sea Lord. The tears that ran down the cadet's face, according to a biographer, instilled a burning ambition to rise in the military establishment and avenge Prince Louis' humiliation.

Emerging from the war as a dashing sublieutenant who had served at the Battle of Jutland, the young lord soon married a beautiful heiress named Edwina Ashley. By World War II he was a captain in command of a destroyer flotilla; the fearless skipper's own ship, H.M.S. Kelly, was mined off Newcastle, torpedoed off the German coast and finally sunk by German dive bombers off Crete. "Abandon ship or I'm going to sink you!" his admiral signaled when he refused to leave his bridge at one time. "Try it and I'll bloody well sink you!" Mountbatten replied. Mountbatten's later direction of the disastrous commando raid on Dieppe also contributed to a growing reputation for recklessness. Nonetheless, Winston Churchill himself hand-picked the flamboyant commander first as a strategic planner for the D-day invasion, and subsequently as Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia.

After the war, Mountbatten literally made history: as the last British Viceroy and first Governor-General on the Indian subcontinent, he oversaw the birth of self-government in the Empire's biggest possession, thus breaking ground for the postcolonial era. In 1955 he vindicated his father's name when Churchill appointed him First Sea Lord. Finally, during a six-year stint as chief of the Defense Staff, he built Britain's unified defense system, which he regarded as one of his major triumphs.

Retired in 1965, Mountbatten kept busy as a committeeman and good-will ambassador, but lived alone—his wife had died suddenly five years before during a charity tour in North Borneo and his two daughters had long since married. "I'd like really to just be buried in my home town of Romsey," he placidly told a BBC interviewer who was preparing a film obituary last year. "The only thing I hope, it'll be a happy occasion."

For the outraged mourners at this week's tributes for a national hero and the other 22 victims of the I.R.A. onslaught, that will not be the case.

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