As of this writing, we are over seventy-three years removed from the end of World War II, but it is still the most significant event of the modern age. Those that fought for the allies quite literally saved the world, and it was my privilege to have grown up with some of those heroes and to have heard their stories first hand. In my family, the war was spoken of often and the significance of it was impressed to me at a young age, so it is little wonder that I have always been interested in the history of World War II and the great men who led us to victory. Men like Patton, McArthur, and Eisenhower played extremely important parts to be sure, but it was Admiral Chester Nimitz that was always my favorite. When I was eleven years old, my Grandpa Bob took me to the Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas, and from then on, I wanted to learn everything I could about the man.
Chester W. Nimitz was born on February 24, 1885. He grew up with his widowed mother and his paternal grandfather in the steam ship shaped hotel in Fredericksburg, Texas, that was owned by his grandfather. Chester was very devoted to his grandfather and considered him the greatest man he had ever known. The older man instilled a sense of discipline in young Chester and he worked equally hard at both his school work and household chores. Nimitz adhered to this sense of devotion to duty his whole life, and it was undoubtedly what helped him to succeed so completely at most everything he tried.
Nimitz wanted to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point but was offered a chance to attend Annapolis instead. He studied very hard for the
three-day entrance exam and his hard work paid off when in 1901, at the age of 15, he passed the exam and was accepted into the Naval Academy. His determination didn’t end with being accepted and he continued to be completely devoted to his studies, graduating seventh in a class of 114.
His career wasn’t without its blemishes though, in 1906 he ran the first ship under his command aground and was court-martialed for placing his ship and crew in danger unnecessarily. This was one of very few set-backs in an otherwise stellar career, and it was soon forgotten when he received a Silver life-saving medal for jumping overboard to save the life of a fellow sailor who had fallen from the deck of a submarine.
Early in his career, he was sent to Germany to study diesel engines and used his expertise to help design the Navy’s first diesel ship, The Maumee. During World War I, he served on the staff of the Commander of the U.S. submarine fleet and developed a passion for submarines that would stick with him for the rest of his service.
Nimitz was in Washington D.C. when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and he was handpicked by President Roosevelt from twenty-eight fleet admirals who were his senior, to take over command at Pearl Harbor. As Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, Admiral Nimitz almost singlehandedly restored the morale and sense of purpose to the Pacific Fleet, and his brilliant tactics at the Battle of Midway, as well as many other naval engagements, paved the way for the island-hopping campaign that eventually pushed the Japanese military all the way back to mainland Japan.
In 1944 Admiral Nimitz was promoted to Fleet Admiral, one of only four at the time, and he was the last Admiral to hold this rank in the United States Navy. After
the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Admiral Nimitz oversaw the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri.
After the War, Nimitz was decorated by more than fourteen countries and worked for the United Nations as a goodwill ambassador. While other military leaders penned books after the war, touting their own achievements and creating rivalries, Nimitz refused to participate, and instead enjoyed a life of quiet anonymity. Admiral Chester Nimitz died on February 20, 1966 and was survived by his wife and four children.
I have always been drawn to the unsung heroes, those that let their achievements speak for themselves without feeling the need to blow their own horn, and Chester Nimitz certainly fits that bill. If you would like to learn more about Admiral Chester Nimitz, there are many books written about him, but for a more in-depth history, I would strongly suggest a trip to the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas. It is one of the most amazing museums I’ve ever visited and not only tells the story of Chester Nimitz, but also gives the complete history of the war in the Pacific.
Thank you for joining me for another journey through Texas history. Now saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.
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