The Origin of the Museum
The Nimitz National Museum of the Pacific War was housed in a hotel which had been owned and operated by Admiral Chester Nimitz’ grandfather in the I 860’s. It is located on the main street of the modest town of Fredericksburg, TX which was founded by German immigrants as early as I 840. The hotel was converted into a museum which depicts the life of the Admiral from his days as a youngster to his maturation at the U.S. Naval Academy in the Class of 1906. It covers his career as one of the nation’s earliest submariners to his service as a Fleet Admiral and Commander in Chief Pacific from 30 December 1941 until the conclusion of the war. The original museum is modest in extent with written descriptors as it takes the visitor through the Admiral’s life, with but a single audio available at the touch of a button.
The Annual Symposia of Yore
The symposia originated in 1988 with a goal of presenting detailed information from those who were there on a broad spectra of World War II in the Pacific. Highlights of the 21 symposia include
- The Yamamoto Mission with P-38 pilots and the last remaining Zeropilot as participants;
- Submarine Operations in the Pacific War with the four living MOH winners and RADM Chester Nimitz Jr. on the panels;
- The Gathering Storm- reflections on the 50111 Anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack with 2,000 in the audience.
- Pacific D-Days
- The major sea battles, including Leyte Gulf, Midway and Guadalcanal, Philippine Sea, and Okinawa;
- Commencing in 2004, the topics covered the significant sea battles of the war, including Leyte Gulf, Coral Sea, Guadalcanal, and Midway.
As the years have rolled on, and fewer veterans of those gigantic encounters remain alive, the Museum sponsors have exerted extraordinary efforts to find panel participants with stories they can tell.
The 2009 Symposium
As noted above, this symposium entitled Siege and Bombardment, devoted one full day to the submarine campaign, and a second to the air bombardment. Submariners will note with interest that the announcement poster included the Japanese Flag and a bomb, but no torpedo, an omission the author was unable to unravel.
The opening segment included a welcome by the new Executive Director, Marine General Michael Hagee. This was followed by a poignant remembrance of the original Executive Director, submariner RADM Charles (Chuck) D. Grojean, USN (Ret) who died in late 2008, delivered by his son, Peter. The keynote address was an opportunity for Dr. Craig Symonds, American History Professor Emeritus at the Naval Academy, to describe the initial surprising Japanese success in gaining control of thousands upon thousands of miles of territory and ocean only to succumb to the Allied industrial might which ended Japan’s dreams after four full years.
Three panels, composed of officer and enlisted veterans, addressed Intelligence Gathering and Reconnaissance, the Elimination of Men o’ War and Transports and finally Submarine Personalities. The first and third panels were moderated by Carl LaVO, a newspaper editor in Bucks County, PA and noted submarine author who has written about Captain Slade Cutter and RADM Gene Fluckey. The second panel, moderated by Dr. Mark Parillo, an associate Professor of History at Kansas State University, reviewed the success the submarines had against both Japanese men ‘o war and merchant marine.
The panelists included the author who made 11 war patrols in DRUM, the last two as Commanding Officer; Captain Max Duncan, USN (Ret) who made four war patrols in BARB with Gene Fluckey, including the one in which Fluckey earned the Congressional Medal of Honor; and Commander John Alden who made three patrols as a Junior Officer in LAMPREY but later gained fame as the pre-eminent expert on U.S. submarine sinkings of Japanese warships and merchantmen in WWII. Through questions from the moderators, the panelists were able to describe from personal knowledge the failure of the Torpedo Mk 14 and its magnetic exploder, the challenge of evading certain depth charging after an attack, the thrill of tracking convoys to achieve optimum submerged firing position at dawn; and the success of WolfPacks, modeled after the German experience in the Atlantic.
The inclusion of two ex-enlisted personnel provided a vivid description of things little known such as the recommendation by Arthur DeLarios, the pharmacists Mate in HAMMERHEAD who recommended to his Commanding Officer that he not perform an appendectomy at sea. He knows he did the right thing after 50 years as a Doctor in Texas. Art Burry and Jack Tolliver made an interesting pair, as the former was a P-51 pilot shot down over the China Sea, He was rescued by a team headed by Jack Tolliver in TRUTTA who miraculously found him after six days (in and out of a raft) during a typhoon.
The panel on personalities gave Carl La VO an opportunity to explain why he chose Captain Slade Cutter and RADM Gene Fluckey as subjects of successful biographies. The leadership characteristics which both of these famed officers exhibited were a model for all to follow. Mike Rindskopf had a chance to praise LCDR Bob Rice, first CO of DRUM, for his quiet but firm leadership, his skilful tactical execution and his bravery in the face of severe depth charging early in the war.
The lengthy Q and A session which followed each panel presentation gave several veterans in the audience full opportunity to pose some complex and difficult questions. Perhaps the most telling comment heard at the conclusion of the day was “I did not know how much I did not know about submarines in WWII”.
The next symposium is scheduled for 18-19 September at the Museum. Its title is Termination of WWII with a Focus on Unconditional Surrender. Be assured that the Museum will call for participants who remember what it was like using untried new mine-locating sonar during entry into the Sea of Japan, or being amongst the 12 submarines at the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay.
The symposium may well be held in the newly enlarged Museum which was dedicated to President George H.W. Bush on 7 December 2009. Highlights include:
- Japanese midget submarine recovered off Bellows Field in Hawaii on 8 December 1941;
- Interactive kiosks and map tables describing numerous WWII actions;
- USS DENVER in action at the Battle of Leyte Gulf; A partial submarine mock-up with targets viewed through a periscope and a video depicting the rescue of President Bush off lwo Jima by FINBACK under the command of LCDR R.R. Williams.