Naval Interest: 10/9/2010 A guest blog from Vic Socotra
It is the anniversary of Nimitz Day this morning, sixty-eight years since the phalanx of motorcycles escorted Chest Nimitz down Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Fleet Admiral is one of the great leaders in American military history, but there are only two things in public service that remain dedicated to his memory. One is the lead ship of the USS Nimitz-class (CVN-68) supercarriers.
The other is the Nimitz Operational Intelligence Center at Suitland, Maryland, a fact which came as a great surprise to the Nimitz family. Some visionary people in the Center, dedicated to the all-source analysis methodology that cracked the Japanese Naval Codes and enabled the five minutes of triumph at the battle of Midway, which changed the world.
Nimitz Day at the Office of Naval Intelligence is intended to link the New Navy- the one that has been so transformed, to the one that won wars long ago.
There is a strand to the great conflict in the Pacific that we do not recall so well these days. By the beginning of 1945, Victory in Europe had become inevitable. Nine months later the Japanese threw in the towel, but planning was already well underway for the new world that was going to be born.
(Fleet Admiral Nimitz is joined by Admiral Forrest Sherman in the open car. on Pennsylvania Avenue in 1945. Sherman suggested Mac become part of the new cadre of professional intelligence officers after the war).
The original Nimitz Day was actually the opening shot in a prototypical Information Operations campaign that included “Victory at Sea,” and the public reminder that Ike and the Army had won the Crusade in Europe, but Navy Blue and Gold had won the War across the Pacific.
The Big Parade for Chester Nimitz was which was originally celebrated in 1945 as part of the post-war period that began before the war itself was over. There were briefings to FDR, the withered giant of a President, that went along the lines of: "Sir, if we continue the building program we could have a hundred aircraft carriers in the Pacific by 1947...."
Mac had a story about that- one of many, but this one was about the business executives who were sent forward in 1945 to tour the battle areas and begin the planning to dismantle the war machine, even as the planners labored on Operation OLYMPIC and others were moving pieces of the Wonder Weapons to see if they might work to actually end the thing.
One such businessman was stranded on Guam due to aircraft malfunction and became an inadvertent guest of Admiral Nimitz for the night. He was treated so kindly that he felt compelled to offer a gift to his host. Traveling light, he offered up the only thing he had: a pair of five-star devices intended for everyone's favorite Rock-star General, Douglas MacArthur.
They were Army style, with a metallic wreath around the lower portion of the pentagonal arrangement of stars. Although Doug’s date-of-rank would always be a day ahead of his, Chester Nimitz had Doug's stars.
The planning that was underway to shut down the war ran in parallel with the planning to ramp it up into full-scale invasion- but Mac remembers. I drove him out to Suitland yesterday for Nimitz Day at the Nimitz OPINTEL Center.
(Part of the 1,000-plane flyover on Nimitz Day. Other aircraft spelled out the rest of the Admiral’s name).
The Command has a "History and Heritage" program to engage the young people in what has been accomplished in the wide world with critical thinking, hard work, and what one of my favorite Directors of Naval Intelligence Admiral Bill Studeman called "deep penetration of the enemy" in the 1980s. Bill remembered the lessons of an earlier time, and so does Mac.
The Navy did that “deep penetration” it in the '20s and '30s by developing the immersion program that sent Naval Officers to Japan to study language, and incidently, culture. They were not sent to spy, but to understand the nature of the likely adversary.
Among them were Mac’s seniors at Station HYPO in Pearl, and on the staff of Chest Nimitz. That included Eddie Layton, Joe Rochefort and Tom Dyer. They were the ones who handed Nimitz the key to victory, if he was bold enough to turn it.
Five minutes that changed a world resulted, or at least it changed the word for a while. The bubbling crisis of a rising China versus an emboldened Japan adds to the interest and to the relevance of a Naval presence in the western Pacific.
Mac and I were waiting in the lobby of the fine Cold War building in Suitland, and the Admiral looked up and noticed a huge, dramatic oil painting hung in the upper reaches of the soaring atrium of an SBD Dauntless dive-bomber rolling out over a smoking Japanese aircraft carrier- the IJN Akagi.
He stared at it as the super squared-away Command Senior Chief ran to get him a bottled water to wait for the official unveiling of a portrait (from the 1960s, one of the last) of the Fleet Admiral he had served so well, so long ago.
The Marquee players at Nimitz Day 2012 were Mac, of course, the Last Man Standing, and Chester "Chet" Nimitz Lay, the grandson of the Fleet Admiral. He is a very nice man with courtly manner and a distinct resemblance to the phlegmatic Texan who had the courage to act.
The stories about the Nimitz Family flew in the CO’s office, where CAPT Pollard hosted us pending the start of the official ceremony. There was a picture on the wall of FDR, Nimitz and MacArthur. The Admiral was briefing the President in shades of gray.
Mac gestured at the historical image and commented, “The President and MacArthur came down to the mess afterward, the president in a wheelchair. That was the time I met the General. I met all the five star officers in person.”
Chet contributed family stories- where the various portraits of his grandfather were currently located, and the heroic busts. One of them was used to frighten the Nimitz grandkids who on sleep-overs were told that the one in the basement could come alive if they behaved badly. There were stories about the Nimitz girls and their children, and who was where and who had died.
At the ceremony itself, there was a marvelous slideshow about the original Nimitz Day and its significance in the pantheon of heroes of an institution that produced the first professional intelligence organization remaining in the U.S. Government: the Office of Naval Intelligence, in the Hoyer Foyer, the auditorium named for the Maryland Representative who hijacked the building project from the District and placed it just across the line from Washington proper. Though he had been redistricted out of Suitland, his portrait hangs in the hall without irony.
There was likewise no irony in the resurrection of Nimitz Day. As part of the scheme to shut down the largest war machine ever assembled, partisans of the Air Corps and Army were arguing about Service Consolidation. The A-bomb had made navies irrelevant, went the argument, and logically the Army should be in charge of a unified force.
Navy Secretary James Forrestal fought back. A little over a month after the formal signing of the instruments of surrender in Tokyo Bay, the Admiral was here in Washington. October 5th, 1945 was declared “Nimitz Day.” But it was not for the ego of one Five-star Admiral: he had little of that. It was a public celebration of the fact that his Fleet had beaten Japan, and that protection of the sea lines of communication were as relevant in the Atomic Age as it was in the time of Alfred Thayer Mahan.
A thousand aircraft flew down Pennsylvania Avenue. The Admiral himself, along with Mac’s mentor Admiral Forrest Sherman road in an open limousine past the Old post Office behind a flying V of DC police motorcycles. A procession of a dozen Medal of Honor recipients followed in jeeps. It was pretty amazing, and at least partially effective.
Forrestal would be eased up to become the first Secretary of Defense. Nimitz would be the next Chief of Naval Operations, and help set the stage for the Revolt of the Admirals as the bloodless struggle over the nature of Defense in the Atomic Age raged on.
It was a magical morning. I was pushing Mac's wheelchair, marveling that I had been in one myself just a few months ago. There was Texas BBQ under the canopy in the grove of trees behind the new wing of ONI.
Life is good. Happy Nimitz Day.
Copyright 2012 Vic Socotra