We Learned More From History at This Texas Museum Than Any Other
Visiting the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas this weekend was a rewarding learning experience.
My Grandfather, Bassett Arthur was a Navy Seabee during World War II. I’ve always had a fascination with the subject from listening to his stories. When he died in March 1996, among his belongings was an old pamphlet. I don’t know how true it is, but it’s worth reading:
Admiral Nimitz flew to Hawaii to assume command of the Pacific Fleet. He landed at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve, 1941. There was such a spirit of despair, dejection and defeat–you would have thought the Japanese had already won the war.
On Christmas Day, 1941, Adm. Nimitz was given a boat tour of the destruction wrought on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Big sunken battleships and navy vessels cluttered the waters every where you looked.
As the tour boat returned to dock, the young helmsman of the boat asked, “Well Admiral, what do you think after seeing all this destruction?”
Admiral Nimitz’s reply shocked everyone within the sound of his voice. Admiral Nimitz said, “The Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could ever make, or God was taking care of America. Which do you think it was?”
Shocked and surprised, the young helmsman asked, “What do mean by saying the Japanese made the three biggest mistakes an attack force ever made?” Nimitz explained:
Mistake number one: the Japanese attacked on Sunday morning. Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk–we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.
Mistake number two: when the Japanese saw all those battleships lined in a row, they got so carried away sinking those battleships, they never once bombed our dry docks opposite those ships.
If they had destroyed our dry docks, we would have had to tow every one of those ships to America to be repaired. As it is now, the ships are in shallow water and can be raised. One tug can pull them over to the dry docks, and we can have them repaired and at sea by the time we could have towed them to America. And I already have crews ashore anxious to man those ships.
Mistake number three: every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war is in top of the ground storage tanks five miles away over that hill. One attack plane could have strafed those tanks and destroyed our fuel supply. That’s why I say the Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could make or God was taking care of America.
It is still an inspiration as I reflect upon it. In jest, I might suggest that because Admiral Nimitz was a Texan, born and raised in Fredericksburg, Texas –he was a born optimist. But anyway you look at it–Admiral Nimitz was able to see a silver lining in a situation and circumstance where everyone else saw only despair and defeatism.
President Roosevelt had chosen the right man for the right job. We desperately needed a leader that could see silver linings in the midst of the clouds of dejection, despair and defeat.
There is a reason that our national motto is, IN GOD WE TRUST.
The Nimitz Museum
Just 16 years after the 1836 Battle of the Alamo in San Antonio (72 miles away), a German immigrant, Charles H. Nimitz, built a hotel.
For years, the Nimitz Hotel was the only establishment offering clean rooms and hot baths between San Antonio and El Paso. Over the years, the building also housed services such as a barber shop and a bus station. A group that would later become the Admiral Nimitz Foundation acquired the building and in 1971 opened it as the first building of what is now the National Museum of the Pacific War.
Every American should see it, especially since the hotel building museum has been modernized and updated this year.
Dodie and I learned about the sacrifices, bravery and patriotism of Americans and events leading up to, during and after the war more than ever before.
Although I have visited this museum a few times over the years (H-E-B Food/Drugs, my employer for decades, donated a former store building behind the Nimitz Hotel in the 1980s), the expansions and additional exhibits blew us away.
It was a fascinating and emotional experience and Smithsonian worthy.
Anyone who visits would be angered and ashamed of themselves for ever taking America for granted–let alone marching against our country, supporting fascism, communism or socialism.
You can’t walk out without a deepened appreciation for those who served here and abroad.
Field trips for high school and university students would be worthwhile. It would teach them more history, humility, inspiration than they could ever get in a semester.
When a son of Charles H. Nimitz died, he soon took his pregnant widowed daughter-in-law in to live at the hotel. She gave birth six months later to his grandson, Chester.
I first heard of Chester Nimitz from my Grandpa Arthur. He was proud to have served under him and credited Nimitz for saving us from Japan.
Others know him as the heralded pick by Franklin D. Roosevelt for Fleet Commander of the United States Navy in the Pacific ten days after the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
While the museum’s main building focuses on the larger story of the Pacific Theater, the Nimitz Gallery (the hotel) spotlights Admiral Nimitz and his ties to Fredericksburg.
When FDR appointed Nimitz to assume command of the Pacific, there was a critical shortage of ships, planes and supplies.
Nimitz inspired confidence in his staff and the sailors under his command which would bring about a halt to the Japanese dominance in the Pacific. The entire museum experience chronologically tells the personal and national stories of World War II.
The exhibits tell a complete story aided by incredible artifacts, weapons, and personal items from both American and Japanese individuals.
Several of our highlights were sections honoring the valuable sacrifices and contributions in materials production of citizens back home–mothers, sisters, aunts and loved ones of all races.
They helped rearm and resupply our military in the Pacific and European fronts. This enabled our Navy to begin inflicting serious losses on the Imperial Japanese Navy.
U.S. forces gained momentum and remained on the offensive, helping to hasten the end of the war.
We learned that Nimitz was unique from other top admirals and generals of the WWII era in his ability to manage crises with cool headedness.
For instance, unlike General George Patton, Nimitz was more like President Roosevelt, with a very compelling voice.
He appealed to peoples’ logic and sense of duty. He set the example and often let his actions compel others to aspire to his level of excellence.
Nimitz was resolute in his ability to find the positive even in the most horrific of situations, such as the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.
His ability to view the world from the eyes of others, allowed him to inspire through calmness and not fiery responses or pure force of will.
Nimitz rarely used his distinctive voice for self-promotion. He maintained humility while operating at the highest levels of military achievement and always gave credit to his people.
One inspiring section in the Nimitz section of the museum experience
are the depiction of key traits of the Admiral’s personality as it was reflected in his leadership style.
“Discover the human story of World War II in the Pacific in more than 55,000 square feet of exhibit space spread over three galleries located on six acres in the heart of Fredericksburg, Texas,” local literature promotes. “The National Museum of the Pacific War is the only museum in the continental U.S. solely dedicated to telling the story of WWII in the Pacific.”
“At the height of the Pacific War Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz commanded more than two million men and women, 5,000 ships and 20,000 planes, yet he came from humble and landlocked beginnings.”
Born February 24, 1885, he regarded his grandfather as “the most important man” in his life.
Serendipity, hard work and perseverance changed the course of world history. When he was a new young officer commanding a destroyer, he ran the ship aground, an offense that has ended many a promising officer’s career.
Nimitz underwent a court martial and was charged with neglect of duty. But he did not allow that experience to dampen his enthusiasm for the Navy or his dedication to it.
Before Pearl Harbor, FDR offered Nimitz the command of the Pacific Fleet. He respectfully declined, knowing there were a number of officers ahead of him in senority. He felt that accepting the assignment would foster resentment.
After the Pearl Harbor attack, President Roosevelt turned again to Nimitz to take on the difficult mission of rebuilding the fleet and prosecuting the war against Japan.
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