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Happy Birthday Chester Nimitz!

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Today marks Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’s 127th birthday. Born in Fredericksburg, Texas, on 24 February 1885, Nimitz was greatly influenced by his grandfather, a retired merchant seaman. Knowing that his widowed mother could not afford college tuition, Nimitz decided upon a military career in the hope of receiving a free education from one of the service academies. His first choice was West Point, but there were no appointments available. So Nimitz accepted an appointment to Annapolis instead, entering the academy in 1901. It’s interesting to point out that, like Nimitz, Dwight Eisenhower had to accept his second choice for military training. He was too old to enter Annapolis, so he went to West Point instead. How different might World War II have been had the European Theater been commanded by General Nimitz and the Pacific Fleet by Admiral Eisenhower?

Nimitz graduated from Annapolis in January 1905, finishing 7th out of 114 cadets. While most people who knew him believed that Nimitz was destined for greatness, his naval career got off to a less than stellar start when, in 1908, the destroyer USS Decatur ran aground while under Ensign Nimitz’s command. Although Nimitz was court-martialed and found guilty of negligence, the fact that the Decatur wasn’t seriously damaged in the grounding resulted in Nimitz receiving a letter of reprimand, but nothing more serious. Nimitz then transferred to the newly formed submarine service, where he quickly proved himself as an efficient and capable organizer.

Officers and men of the USS Decatur. Ensign Nimitz is seated in the first row, just to the right of center (the number 2 on his right pant leg).


America’s entry into World War II found Lieutenant Commander Nimitz serving as the executive officer of the fleet oiler USS Maumee. He soon transferred back to the submarine service and quickly rose to be Chief of Staff of the US Atlantic Fleet’s submarine force. By the end of the war, Nimitz was working in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations. During the interwar years, Nimitz alternated between staff and command positions, culminating in his appointment as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation in 1939, though all the while he dreamt of commanding the US Pacific Fleet. His wish was soon to be granted, though not as he intended.

Ten days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Nimitz was appointed to command the Pacific Fleet over the heads of many higher ranking admirals. Reporting to Hawaii in January, Admiral Nimitz immediately set about repairing and expanding the fleet, while at the same time trying to organize a defense against the Japanese onslaught. The next four years would be immensely challenging for Nimitz, but his ability to keep a level head combined with his gifts as an organizer and leader made him the ideal leader for US forces in the Pacific. His leadership was rewarded in December 1944 with his promotion to Fleet Admiral, the third of only four US admirals ever to hold that rank.


Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

After participating in the Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay, Nimitz returned to the US in October 1945 to a thunderous victory parade. He relieved his wartime boss, Fleet Admiral Ernest King, as Chief of Naval Operations in December 1945 and served in that post for two years. He retired in 1947 and moved with his wife Catherine to Berkeley, California, where he became active in the community and tried to make up for time lost with his wife and four children. As his health began to decline, Nimitz moved to naval quarters in San Francisco Bay, where he died of complications from a stroke and pneumonia on 20 February 1966.

Related Post:  70th anniversary – Nimitz named Commander of US Pacific Fleet

This post by Curator Eric Rivet

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One Response to “Happy Birthday Chester Nimitz!”

MGM says:

Both Eisenhower and Nimitz were both born in Texas. How ironic that Admiral Nimitz was born in a part of Texas where there is no large body of water for hundreds of miles. Nimitz is a graduate of Kerrville Tivy High School in Kerrville, Texas. The area around Kerrville is known for its excellent deer hunting.

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