The Admiral Nimitz Foundation has supported a world-class military museum complex from humble beginnings on Fredericksburg’s Main Street since 1971.
Growing Up in Fredericksburg
At the height of the Pacific War Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz commanded more than two million men and women, 5,000 ships and 20,000 planes, yet he came from humble and landlocked beginnings. He was born February 24, 1885 to a widowed mother and grew up in the small German community of Fredericksburg, Texas. Young Chester lived with his mother at Grandfather Nimitz's famous steamboat-shaped hotel, where he grew close to his grandfather. He regarded his grandfather as "the most important man" in his life.
The teen-aged Nimitz set his sites on an appointment to West Point, but was offered a chance for an education at Annapolis instead. He studied long hours between schoolwork and chores to prepare for the three-day Annapolis examination. His self-discipline paid off and he was accepted to Annapolis in 1901 at age 15. Nimitz’s class was graduated ahead of schedule on January 30, 1905, to help fill the need for junior officers in Theodore Roosevelt's expanding Navy. Chester graduated seventh in the class of 114.
Sent to the Philippines in 1906, 22-year-old Ensign Nimitz commanded the USS Decatur, an old destroyer, which he promptly ran aground. The future Fleet Admiral received a court-martial for "hazarding" a ship of the U.S. Navy. During his early career Chester Nimitz also received the Silver Life Saving Medal, for leaping overboard to rescue a seaman while commanding the USS SKIPJACK, one of the Navy's earliest submarines.
In 1913, Nimitz married Catherine Vance Freeman of Massachusetts and the Navy sent the newlyweds to Germany so Nimitz could study diesel engines. Back in the U.S. he used his new expertise to help supervise the building then engines for the Navy’s first diesel-powered ship, the Maumee.
During World War I, Nimitz served on the staff of the commander of submarines in the Atlantic, developing high regard for subs that stayed with him throughout his career.
world war II
Nimitz was in Washington DC serving as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation when the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt picked Nimitz from among 28 flag officers senior to him to relieve Admiral Kimmel at Pearl Harbor.
As Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, Admiral Nimitz proved to be the right man at the right time. He restored morale to a shattered Pacific Fleet by building an aggressive combat team and brilliantly, instinctively making the right moves in the Battle of Midway. To this day, Midway is considered the U.S. Navy’s greatest victory. In 1944, Nimitz was promoted to Fleet Admiral — he was one of only four during this time: William D. Leahy, Ernest J. King, William “Bull” Halsey, and Nimitz.
The atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced the Empire of Japan to admit defeat. On September 2, 1945, on board the battleship Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay, Fleet Admiral Nimitz signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on behalf of the United States. A few weeks later he relinquished his command at Pearl Harbor as he had accepted it, aboard a submarine. Appointed Chief of Naval Operations, he then began to demobilize all but a fraction of the most powerful Navy in history.
After the War
After the war Nimitz continued to be sought out and honored for his wartime service. He was decorated by 14 nations and became a goodwill ambassador of the United Nations. He also worked to restore goodwill with Japan by raising funds for the restoration of the Japanese memorial ship Mikasa and urging return of ancestral samurai swords. He believed in the importance of turning "swords into plowshares".
In the afterglow of World War II books written by officers involved in the war's battles and decisions fueled rivalries and controversies. Admiral Nimitz refused to take part in the literary autopsy of the war. He lived quietly in retirement and, as his son remarked, “maintained the Navy's image until his death."
Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz died at his home on Yerba Buena Island that was part of Treasure Island Naval Station in San Francisco Bay on February 20, 1966. He was survived by his widow and children, Chester Jr., Catherine, Mary and Nancy.
Decorations and Awards
From the United States
- Distinguished Service Medal awarded by Congress
- Distinguished Service Medal with two Gold Stars
- Army Distinguished Service Medal
- Silver Life Saving Medal
- Victory Medal with Escort Clasp and Star
- American Defense Service Medal
- Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
- World War II Victory Medal
- National Defense Service Medal
From Foreign Governments
- Britain - Order of Knight Grand Cross of the Bath
- Greece - Grand Cross of the Order of George I
- China - Order of the Grand Cordon of Pao Ting (Tripod) Special Class
- Guatemala - The Cross of Military Merit, First Class
- Great Britain - Pacific Star
- The Netherlands - Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords in the Degree of the Knight Grand Cross
- France - Grand Officer in the National Order of the Legion of Honor
- Cuba - Grand Cross of the Order of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes
- Argentina - Order of the Liberator
- Belgium - Grand Cross of the Order of the Liberator, Grand Cross Order of the Crown with Palm, Croix de Guerre with Palm
- Italy - Knight of the Grand Cross of the Military Order of Italy
- Philippines - Medal of Valor
- Ecuador - Star of Abdon Calderon (1st Class)