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President Consoles Widow And Children Of Admiral

President Clinton spent a tearful hour-and-a-half Saturday consoling the widow of Adm. Jeremy M. “Mike” Boorda and their four children in the family’s home at the Washington Navy Yard. The visit ended with Clinton and the family holding hands in prayer for Boorda, the Navy’s top officer, who shot himself to death outside the house on Thursday.

“It was a very personal and emotional visit,” said White House spokesman Brian Cullen. “As overwhelming as it was for the family, they were grateful he was there.”

Boorda, 56, the only person ever to rise from seaman to chief of naval operations, shot himself in the chest with a .38-caliber revolver after some reporters raised questions about whether he had improperly worn two Vietnam-era combat pins that adorned his uniform until last year.

In the wake of the tragedy, a dispute has erupted over whether Boorda in fact had the right to wear the tiny “V” pins. A Navy spokesman said Saturday that the service has not initiated a formal investigation into the matter, but that Navy officials were informally looking into the paperwork for Boorda’s awards.

Navy Secretary John H. Dalton said he was confident - if in fact Boorda made an error - that it was unintentional.

“Mike Boorda never intended to mislead anyone,” Dalton said in an appearance on NBC-TV. “I’m sure he intended to correct the mistake, if it was a mistake.” Dalton described Boorda as “an outstanding patriot and a tremendous leader.”

Boorda is to be buried today in a private ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, and a larger memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday at the Washington National Cathedral. Clinton is expected to attend that service.

The admiral’s wife, Bettie Boorda, gave the president a tour of the maritime paintings and antiques in the white-brick, Georgian-style townhouse built in 1804, and the memorabilia from the Boordas’ life together as a Navy couple over four decades.

Then they walked in a garden outside the home, and Clinton joined the four children and several grandchildren in the living room for a remembrance of the admiral. “Each one spoke in turn about memories of their father, and the president spoke about his experiences with the passing of parents,” Cullen said. Clinton’s mother, Virginia Kelley, died in 1994.

The Boorda’s children who took part are David, 38; Edward, 37; Anna, 36; and Robert, 35. Two of his children are naval officers.