• Exploring American History

Admiral Chester Nimitz’s reflections on Pearl Harbor

On Sunday, December 7th, 1941, Admiral Chester Nimitz was attending a concert in Washington, DC, when he was paged for a phone call. The caller was President Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR called to inform Nimitz he was now Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

Nimitz arrived in Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve. The emotional atmosphere was filled with despair, dejection and defeat. One could almost believe Japanese would soon become the spoken language of the United States.

The following day, Adm. Nimitz was given a boat tour in order to view the aftermath of destruction leveled on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Damaged battleships and other navy vessels now littered the waters throughout the harbor. As the tour boat returned to dock, the helmsman asked, “Well Admiral, what do you think after seeing all this destruction?

Admiral Nimitz’s reply shocked everyone within the sound of his voice. “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 responded, “What do mean by saying the Japanese made the three biggest mistakes an attack force ever made?”

Nimitz explained:

Mistake #1

The Japanese attack occurred on Sunday morning. Nine of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and sunk — we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.

Mistake #2

When the Japanese saw all those battleships lined in a row, they got so carried away sinking the ships, they never once bombed our dry docks nearby. 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, 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 back at sea in the time required to tow them to America. And I already have crews ashore anxious to man those ships.

[(Mistake 2.5) Though the Japanese temporarily crippled the Navy by attacking all those battleships — they failed to note the missing aircraft carriers, which thankfully were out to sea at the time. The oversight of the missing carriers allowed the ships to fulfill important roles for the Navy until the battleships were repaired.]

Mistake #3

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.

- — — — -

Born in Texas, Admiral Nimitz was raised in Fredericksburg and proved to be a true optimist. He could see a situation’s silver lining while everyone else reflected on the negative. President Roosevelt definitely chose the correct individual to handle the situation.

Admiral Nimitz proved the wisdom of our national motto:


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