(CNN) — Former Defense Secretary Harold Brown, who served under President Jimmy Carter, and wore many hats as an educator and a nuclear physicist, has died. He was 91.
Brown played a crucial role in the Carter administration’s effort to end the Iranian hostage crisis, and described the botched 1980 rescue attempt as the biggest regret of his career.
“The failure to rescue the U.S. hostages still haunts me,” Brown wrote in his memoir “Star Spangled Security,” according to the RAND Corporation, a think tank where Brown served on the board of trustees for decades.
It announced his passing Saturday and detailed his life and career as a nuclear physicist, weapons designer, California Institute of Technology president, philanthropist and public servant.
Before he became the the 14th defense secretary, Brown served as the Air Force secretary under Lyndon Johnson during a period that included the US bombing of North Vietnam.
“Harold Brown understood, perhaps better than any defense secretary before him, the technological complexities and unprecedented dangers of modern warfare,” said Michael D. Rich, president and chief executive officer of the Santa Monica, California-based RAND Corporation. “He was also an educator and author who made tremendous contributions to the advancement of science and the security of the nation.”
In a statement, acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan shared his condolences and described Brown’s influence on military developments and nuclear weapons research.
“As Secretary of Defense, Dr. Brown’s steady leadership piloted our nation through a consequential segment of the Cold War,” Shanahan said. “His focus on deterrence through a strong nuclear triad facilitated long-term peace and stability in the United States and Europe.”
Shanahan said Brown provided advice to leaders from five presidential administrations.
Brown was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter, the nation’s highest civilian honor, and the Enrico Fermi Award for achievement in science and technology by President Bill Clinton.