A few months before World War II in the Pacific arrived at its sudden conclusion, one of the great and largely unrecognized heroes of Texas emerged suddenly from the island of Guam. The heroes who most deserve honor are often those who don’t look for it, whose actions speak more than their words.
Decorated in its tropical white attire on May 26, 1945, Fleet Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, commander of all allied naval forces approaching Japan, stood on British battleship deck H.M.S. George V who stopped in Guam after bombarding the Ryukyu Islands. In a few short sentences, Nimitz praised the British task force as “efficient” and “valuable.”
It seems simple, those words are high praise in the military. A small moment in the flow of history and Nimitz is worth remembering now.
World War II ended 75 years ago this year. With Memorial Day, we contemplate the fallen. We also cannot help but contemplate the great leaders of that era. Certainly not perfect, Nimitz is famous for several qualities: He is quiet, diligent and experienced, which causes all four – the ability to retrieve information, the decisive risk. Finally, he humbly empathizes with his sailors.
Why is this important now? Our “wartime” president who declared the enemy a virus transfixed by his own shadow and casually threw the term “warrior” at anyone who seemed to serve his political narrative, including regular Americans who came forward to reopen the country amid a global pandemic. Many governors, including Texas, have followed. But if you look up, Americans, at any time during the last months of this pandemic, you will see our flag fluttering in full, even though more than 90,000 people have died. The lack of empathy for fellow Americans was only redeemed on Thursday, when the president, responding to a written request by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders, ordered the flag to be hoisted at half-mast in the end.
Nimitz, one of the nation’s greatest naval commanders, was born February 24, 1885 in the most disliked places: landlocked Fredericksburg, Texas, some 200 miles from the sea. The only other record arrival in Fredericksburg that year was the new limestone prison. As a boy, Nimitz was a bright student, working in his family’s hotel, now a National Museum of the Pacific War, and wants to be an officer – in the U.S. Army, according to his modern biographer. He had seen several in the city one day and West Point became his wish.
But when the appointment time arrived, his congressman told him that the West Point slot was full. Nimitz can apply for another service academy: the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. Remembering the sailing stories that the immigrant grandparents had told him as a boy, Nimitz jumped at the opportunity. Accepted, he did not graduate from high school to enroll in the green campus on the banks of the South River, the magnificent Chesapeake Bay right around that point.
He graduated seventh in his class in 1905, the same year the US Army finally put down the last uprising in the U.S.-controlled Philippines. The appointment of his first junior officer was distinctive but filled with the romance of Asia and the broad Pacific waves; His first order almost ended in disaster when he landed a US warship. Panay in the herd in the Philippines. His subsequent military court found that the wrong graph was to blame. Passing through a number of submarines in the Atlantic, he was ordered to do his duty in 1913, only four years before America entered World War I.
Mid-career Nimitz did not seem attractive. The career of a great naval officer interspersed with steering assignments, heads full of technical problems and mastered a broad bureaucracy down to the details of personnel. Old, boring competencies are meaningful. In addition, Nimitz has a head for mathematics.
So, he headed to Groton, Conn., To build a diesel engine. Then he disappeared into the Navy bureaucracy, a staff officer during World War I who did not see fighting in the war, graduated from school and built a Navy ROTC. Some orders the California fleet under his belt later, the Navigation Bureau in Washington beckoned. But calm perseverance is paid: he has his star as a rear admiral. After Pearl Harbor was attacked, Nimitz headed to Hawaii as the new commander of the Pacific navy.
Married to a family, Nimitz is different from many fellow flag officers, some arrogant with royal ambitions, like George S. Patton in Europe or Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific. He honestly felt uncomfortable replacing the previous commander, humiliated and dismissed after the devastating Japanese surprise attack. After taking command, he refused to fire his predecessor staff. He shared his room with two other officers.
“In his personal moments he could not get rid of the depression that had weighed him down since his arrival,” E.B. Potter wrote in the 1976 seminal biography, “Nimitz. “He was disappointed because he could not do much to change the tide of war, and he suspected he had disappointed his sponsors.”
“I will be lucky to last six months,” Nimitz wrote to his wife, Catherine, returning to Washington in 1942. He needed to stop the unceasing progress of Japan in 1941 while buying time to get more ships, planes and people who joined the war.
“God gave me courage not to give up what was right,” he said, “even though I think the situation is hopeless.”
That Battle in the Coral Sea in the spring of 1942 stopped the Japanese invasion of Papua New Guinea, which would likely cause the loss of the Australian Allies. The Battle of Midway was a risk, of course, but Nimitz knew beforehand: intelligence indicated that Japan would attack. He caught them off guard, and his troops sent four Japanese carriers to the base; Nimitz change the balance of power in the Pacific. Nimitz got the fleet he needed in 1943 to put pressure on Japan again, and so did it through 1944 from the Marshall Islands.
It opens the door to Battle of the Philippine Sea where Japanese Admiral Soemu Toyoda said: “The fate of the empire lies in this one battle.” Toyoda lost a long battle with two aircraft carriers and 400 aircraft in total. The prediction is correct. Saipan and Guam followed, and then Tinian, where atomic-charged bombers were launched to Japan the following year.
In what is widely hailed as one of the largest naval battles ever to take place, the Battle of Leyte Bay from 23-26 October 1944, involving 200,000 people, Nimitz not only stopped Operation Sho-Go, the last attempt to stop the Allies from landing in the Philippines – he destroy the entire threat of the Japanese Imperial Navy offensive.
But throughout the war, Nimitz had thought about the possibility of defeat. He took the .45 pistol to his reach regularly for practice; and secretly thinking about his fears, trying to be quiet and focusing anxious thoughts.
Whether it’s with his staff at Pearl Harbor or visiting the fleet, he likes Texas-style barbecue for his sailors, having them play horse shoes, knock on beer, and tell silly silly jokes.
“In my opinion, we are blessed and lucky to have someone like this,” said retired general Michael Hagee, former commander of the US Marine Corps and CEO of the foundation that operates the National Museum of the Pacific War with Texas. Historical Commission. “He often said, ‘I did not win the war.’ He is not seeking recognition. “
“He is an intense person,” said Hagee, who grew up in Fredericksburg before his famous military career. “But he has empathy for people.”
Washington created a new rank for him: admiral of the fleet, the highest rank in the Navy. In Japan, which surrendered at Tokyo Harbor, in 1945, it bit its tongue to play the second violin in the pride of MacArthur which swelled. After retiring, he refused to authorize a warning for himself in 1962, said Hagee. The character is trimmed to support the cast in the film. He declined the offer of biography. His letters finally reached the Navy archives in Washington. He helped the Japanese raise money to return their iconic warship, Mikasa, the flagship ship at the Battle of Port Arthur in 1905 where they destroyed the Russian fleet.
Shyly, Potter asked him to remember the official biography. “You know where my letters are,” said the old admiral. And there he is. Nimitz died on February 20, 1966, entering retirement, at his home on the naval reservation of Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco.
He had not made it back to Texas long before that. He mainly flew across his hometown once and people found the plane; then he stopped and took part in the parade and was finally given his high school diploma. And native Texans never really recognized him.
Walk in the shady state yard The Capitol in Austin and you will find the hero of the revolution against Mexico and monuments to the Confederacy. But there is no statue of Nimitz. On the Texas State Battleship Historic Site on the Houston Ship Channel? No, even though U.S. Texas fought its last war in the Pacific Nimitz campaign, bombarding Iwo Jima, Ryukyus, and Okinawa.
It has long been delayed for the state to erect the Nimitz statue in the Capitol. Austin should only provide financial and marketing assistance to the National Museum of the Pacific War, too, without ties.
Nimitz is a hero and leader. And around this time, we can remember what great leaders and heroes really are.
Parker, author of “Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America,” is a columnist contributing to the Houston Chronicle.
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