A Texas museum’s request for funds dropped through my mailbox last week. Requests come all the time, but this one startled me.
The writer was Mike Hagee, director of the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas. Fredericksburg was settled by Texas Germans in the 1800s on U.S. Highway 290 west of Austin.
The Pacific War Museum is the heart of the Nimitz Museum. The Nimitz Museum honors Admiral of the Fleet Chester W. Nimitz, born in Fredericksburg in 1885.
The Museum is world class. On December 7, 2009 – 68 years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor — President George H. W. Bush opened the Bush Gallery, a compact new building that uses wartime objects and creative interactive exhibits to explain the Pacific war.
As one example of many, President George H. W. Bush himself volunteered, as a teenager, for service in World War II. At 18, President Bush became the youngest pilot in the Navy.
In 1944, the Japanese shot down his torpedo bomber near Iwo Jima. His two crewmen died, but a submarine rescued him from the sea – beating out a Japanese boat whose crew sought to capture him and kill him.
The museum shows the actual moving pictures of that historic rescue. These movies made it hard for me to understand why the electorate picked Bill Clinton, a draft dodger, to be President in 1992 and rejected George Bush, a war hero.
Admiral Nimitz commanded the island-hopping that finally defeated Japan in 1945.
The family owned another hotel 25 miles away in Kerrville. There the teen-aged Chester Nimitz worked as a desk clerk in Kerrville until he entered the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., in 1901.
The old Nimitz Hotel in Fredericksburg housed the Nimitz Museum. My father was a Naval officer in California and our family lived there. Having grown up during World War II, I thought all Americans knew of Admiral Nimitz, a hero on par with General Eisenhower. I was wrong.
It’s just as well. Today, the Navy might have blackballed Admiral Nimitz because of his grandfather. Admiral Nimitz’s grandfather was a Confederate officer.
TEXAS MINUTE, published in the Runnels County Register, reports:
“[Nimitz’s] father died just before he was born, and he was raised by his mother and paternal grandfather, Charles Nimitz. The elder Nimitz was a German immigrant and had been a sailor before he settled in Texas in the 1850s. He also had served as a captain in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He had a profound impact on the younger Nimitz.”
President Roosevelt named Admiral Nimitz commander-in-chief of the Pacific fleet in 1941 – immediately after the Japanese sneak attack had destroyed much of the fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
The Pacific War Museum has an unusually qualified director in Michael W. Hagee. General Hagee served as the 33rd Commandant of the Marine Corps from 2003 to 2006.
General Hagee retired from the Marine Corps in 2007 as a four-star general and and became director of the museum. He, too, is a native of Fredericksburg. (Four stars are the highest rank in the American military. There have been no five-star general officers since World War II.)
Like all leaders of non-profit organizations, General Hagee raises money each year to operate the museum. His letter said it takes $3 million a year to run the place.
The museum is well worth your time. You can spend a full day, if so inclined, with the exhibits and the many weapons and artifacts of the Pacific war. The museum also furnishes demonstrations of Japanese and American tactics, weapons, and equipment in an outdoor arena called the Pacific Combat Zone.
These four sentences in General Hagee’s letter were the the startling ones:
“Quite frankly, our work is more important than ever.
“That’s because most public schools no longer teach students about the Pacific War.
“Pearl Harbor – Iwo Jima – Bataan – Corregidor – Midway
“With each passing day, these names and places are at risk of being forgotten and many students can’t even find them on a map.”
I’ve followed the uproar about the teaching of Critical Race Theory in the public schools. But I had no idea any schools now ignore American wars. I know of no complaints about our the leaders who destroyed the Axis powers in the 1940s.
No one seems to want to tear down statues of General Eisenhower even though he kept a picture of Robert E. Lee on the wall of the Oval Office as President. Eisenhower considered Lee one of the four greatest Americans.
Perhaps time has made the world wars of the Twentieth Century boring for today’s students. The schools should reconsider: they are anything but boring. Consider a few facts:
World War II destroyed more human beings than any war in history – some 56 million people. The death toll includes more than 26 million Russians in the Soviet Union who died and more than 7 million Chinese, who endured eight years of vicious fighting by Japanese forces.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, some 416,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines of the United States died in World War II. Almost 200,000 American civilians also died. Thousands of families throughout the nation lost sons.
How can American schools fail to teach their charges about the most cataclysmic war in history? Or the First World War that preceded it and produced both Fascism and Communism in Europe.
But we live in strange times. Apparently, many school boards and teachers must have decided the worst war in history is not worth teaching.
Those of us with children and grandchildren should teach them this history if the schoools will not. Here is a short survey of General Hagee’s list. You will find much more online and in the histories.
This name recalls the Japanese attack on the U. S. Pacific Fleet on December 7, 1941. That attack immediately brought the United States into World War II. Congress declared war on the Japanese Empire the next day. Men lined up by the thousands to volunteer to fight for their country.
President Roosevelt said in his speech to Congress on December 8, 1941:
“YESTERDAY, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
“The United States was at peace with that Nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. . . It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago.”
That is why today we call Pearl Harbor “a sneak attack.” The United States observes Pearl Harbor Day on December 7 of every year.
According to the U.S. Government, the attack killed 2,403 American servicemen, together with 68 civilians. The Japanese destroyed or damaged 19 U.S. Navy ships, including eight battleships. The U. S. Government is still identifying remains of the American dead.
BATAAN and CORREGIDOR
On December 8, 1941, ten days after Pearl Harbor, Japan invaded the Philippine islands, then an American possession. Gen. Douglas MacArthur chose Bataan and Corregidor, near the capital of Manila, as defensive positions for the American and Philippine forces.
On February 22, 1942, President Roosevelt ordered General MacArthur to take ship to Australia.
Bataan and its American forces fell to the Japanese on April 9, 1942. Corregidor Island’s American forces fell on May 6, 1942.
Then the Japanese Army forced 10,000 American and 66,000 Filipino prisoners of war to march 66 miles to a train for their move to a prison camp. The Encyclopedia Britannica reports:
“Most of the prisoners . . . had to march the full 66 miles to the rail head; others joined along the way. The Japanese . . . considered surrender a base act and prisoners of war little more than chattel. . . The Japanese brutalized their captives during the march north to the trains that would take them to a prison camp. . . Those who dropped from exhaustion or sickness, fell behind, broke ranks to fetch water, or tried to escape were bayoneted, shot, or beheaded. Men who could not rise the next morning to continue were often buried alive or beaten to death with the shovels of the ditch diggers, other prisoners who were forced to carve out graves along the way.”
This war crime we call the Bataan Death March. Like Pearl Harbor, it has lived in infamy.
Of the 22,000 American soldiers at Bataan and Corregidor, only 15,000 lived to return to the United States at the end of the war.
Midway Island was a tiny American possession near Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. The Pearl Harbor attack had left the American fleet with three aircraft carriers to defend the Pacific in 1942.
Six months after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese moved in 1942 to seize Wake Island. The Japanese fleet included four heavy aircraft carriers, two light aircraft carriers, two seaplane carriers, seven battleships, 15 cruisers, 42 destroyers, 10 submarines, and various support and escort vessels.
The battle of Midway began June 3, 1942. Wave after wave of American planes attacked the Japanese fleet with litte result. Many of our pilots were shot down and killed.
But on June 4, planes from American carriers attacked the Japanese — at first to immense American losses. Then the final wave of carrier-based dive-bombers made it through the flak and the Japanese aircraft and sunk three of the four Japanese heavy carriers. A famous book about the battle by Walter Lord carries the title “Incredible Victory.”
Finally, an American pilot sank the fourth Japanese heavy carrier. This ended Japanese ambitions to control the Pacific. The American fleet dominated the Japanese fleet for the remainder of the war.
Nimitz’s forces then worked their way up the Pacific Ocean towards Japan island by island, from 1942 to 1945. At last the Navy and Marine Corps arrived at the first of the Japanese home islands, Iwo Jima. Iwo was heavily defended.
The battle for Iwo Jima lasted from February 9 to March 16, 1945. Some 6,800 Marines died taking the island. Some 19,200 were wounded.
About 18,500 Japanese died. Most Japanese defenders refused to surrender and were killed.
The President awarded 27 Medals of Honor for the battle of Iwo Jima.
The photograph of the flag-raising over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima taken by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press became the most famous picture of World War II. Five Marines and a Navy corpsman raised that flag. But three of the six flag-raisers were to die in combat on the island.
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Every American needs to learn these facts. Teach the next generation.