Admiral Chester Nimitz has always been a hero of mine. Maybe it’s because I spent a little time out on the West Coast; he is really popular in California – they even named a freeway after him. But, imagine my delight when I ran across a little book written by him about the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
In Nimitz' own words: “The attack on Pearl was in the early morning hours of Sunday, December 7th, 1941. Later that very day, I was attending a concert in Washington, D.C., when I was paged and told there was a phone call for me.”
When he answered the phone, it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the other end. He told Admiral Nimitz that he (Nimitz) would now be the Commander of the Pacific Fleet.
The Admiral flew to Hawaii and took command in a ceremony on the top deck of the submarine USS Grayling. The change of command ceremony would normally have taken place aboard a battleship, but every battleship in Pearl Harbor had been either sunk or damaged during the attack on Dec. 7.
There was such a spirit of despair, dejection and defeat that you would have thought the Japanese had already won the war.
Shortly after arriving, Admiral 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. Either that, 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 a 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.”
I'll never forget what I read in that little book. It is still an inspiration as I reflect upon it. Admiral Nimitz 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.
Reference: "Reflections on Pearl Harbor " by Admiral Chester Nimitz.
Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups.
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