Sixty-eight years ago this Saturday, the most underhanded, deplorable act of modern warfare took place in what’s fondly known as ‘America’s Paradise.’ On Sunday, December 7, 1941, immediately after the infamous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, U. S. Navy Rear admiral Chester Nimitz was at home in Washington, DC listening to a concert on his radio. The Japanese attack had not yet been announced, and Nimitz had not yet been informed. President Franklin Roosevelt called and told him of the sneak attack and informed him that he was now the commander-in-chief of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet. The shameful attack was one of our nation’s most devastating calamities. During the ruthless, spineless strafing and bombardment of our unprepared and defenseless Hawaii installations, Pearl Harbor was battered and crushed under the air wings attacking from the formidable aircraft carriers of the nearby Japanese fleet. President Roosevelt said it was ‘a day that would live in infamy,’ a day that would be forever numbered in the annals of ‘the most cowardly acts of all wars.’
Admiral Nimitz quickly traveled to San Diego in civilian clothes and under an assumed named and carried his secret military documents hidden in his wife’s sewing bag. His military transport plane landed at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Day, 1941, and he soon said that he found such a spirit of hopeless despair and defeat that you would have thought the Japanese had already won the war. Nimitz was quickly given a tour of the harbor with its ruined fleet, and at its end he was asked what he thought of all the ruin and destruction. His thoughtful reply shocked everyone. He said, “The Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could ever make. It was that, or God was taking care of America.” The Admiral said the first of the three Japanese mistakes was attacking on a Sunday morning, because nine out of ten of the crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured out to sea by the Japanese and had been sunk out there, we would have lost thirty-eight thousand sailors instead of the thirty-eight hundred we did. Their second mistake was made when the Japanese saw all those beautiful battleships lined up in a row and got carried away repeatedly bombing them. Even in that ruthless success, the Japanese erred in leaving our dry docks, the place we repair our ships, untouched. If they had destroyed our Pearl Harbor dry docks, we would have had to tow every damaged ship back to San Diego to be repaired. As it was, our ships were in shallow water and could be towed to the Pearl dry docks by just a couple of tug boats. At those docks they were repaired in the same time it would have required just to tow them to California. The third mistake the Japanese made was in not destroying our precious fuel supplies. Every drop of our fuel in the Pacific was on top of the ground in storage tanks only five miles from Pearl Harbor. One, just one, single attack plane could have strafed those defenseless storage tanks and destroyed every drop of our fuel. Admiral Nimitz was a born optimist indeed, and any way you want to look at it, he was able to see a silver lining in a situation where everyone else only saw death, despair and defeatism. President Roosevelt had chosen the right man for the job.
Nimitz performed his duties well by organizing his forces to halt the Japanese advances despite having few useable planes, ships and supplies. God did grant him one great advantage to help him perform those duties: the United States had cracked the Japanese diplomatic code and we were able to read all their transmissions at our field communication offices in Hawaii. By Act of Congress, passed on December 14, 1944, the rank of fleet admiral, the highest rank in the Navy, was established and President Roosevelt immediately appointed Nimitz to Fleet Admiral of the Navy. He was awarded a Navy Distinguished Service medal with three gold stars (and even an Army Distinguished Service medal) during his long and illustrious naval career.