Who are we?
Welcome aboard! We are the Fleet Admiral Nimitz Council of the Navy League of the United States. We are the only Navy League Council in the 50 states to be named after a former Naval officer and only the second such council in the world (the other being the Commodore Perry Council in Tokyo, Japan). We were chartered on 28 August 2008. We are located in Fredericksburg, Texas, the birthplace and boyhood home of future Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Fredericksburg is situated approximately 70 west of Austin and 70 miles northwest of San Antonio, in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. You might ask, “Why a Navy League Council in an inland, land-locked community some 200 miles from the Gulf of Mexico?” It is because of Fleet Admiral Nimitz and his legacy of Naval service that our council exists. Following in the footsteps of Nimitz, many young men and women from Fredericksburg have joined the Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. Seven young people from this community of just under 9,000 have graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and gone on to serve with distinction in the Navy and Marine Corps. One of those native sons, General Michael W. Hagee, USMC (Ret.), was the 33rd Commandant of the United States Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 14 January 2003 to 12 November 2006.
Our council is named in honor of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, one of only four men ever to hold the rank of Fleet Admiral in the United States Navy. He was born on 24 February 1885 in a small house just a block down Main Street from the world famous museum that bears his name. Nimitz’ father passed away before he was born and much of his early life was significantly influenced by his grandfather, Charles H. Nimitz, who had been a seaman in the German Merchant Marine. His grandfather taught him, “the sea—like life itself—is a stern taskmaster. The best way to get along with either is to learn all you can, then do your best and don’t worry—especially about the things over which you have no control.”
Young Nimitz aspired to become a surveyor until the summer of 1900 when the impressionable 15-year-old had the opportunity to observe Battery K, Third Field Artillery during their summer training just outside of Kerrville, Texas. He later said he was fascinated by the “spanking-new unforms of second lieutenants Cruikshank and Westervelt—both West Point graduates.” His ambitions changed and Nimitz applied to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in hopes of becoming an Army officer. But, there were no appointments available and his congressman, James L. Slayden told Nimitz that he only had one appointment left for the Naval Academy and that he would award it to the best qualified candidate. Nimitz later said, “Being a poor boy, I realized this might be my only chance of getting an education beyond high school, so I swallowed my disappointment and set my course for Annapolis instead of West Point.” With the help of his mother, stepfather and a devoted teacher named Miss Susan Moore, Nimitz put in grueling hours boning up on Algebra, geometry, history, geography and grammar. His extra work paid off in a big way when it came time for the three-day Annapolis exam. He was pitted against seven other hopefuls for the one appointment, and finished No. 1 on the test, thus beginning a long and honorable Navy career. After being appointed to the Naval Academy from Texas’ 12th congressional district in 1901, Nimitz graduated with distinction on 30 January 1095, seventh in a class of 114.
After serving two years at sea, then required by law, Nimitz was commissioned an Ensign, and at 22 he was given command of the USS Decatur, a beat-up old destroyer which had been out of commission for some time and he was ordered to move her 60 miles to Olangapo in just two days with no crew, no supplies, no water or coal, no supplies—not even any guns or torpedoes! He scrambled a crew and supplies together, working around the clock for two days, and finally got Decatur underway. Charts and surveys of Philippine waters were sketchy or non-existent in those days and on a dark night in Batangas Harbor, the Decatur ran aground on a mudbank. Nimitz later said, “Such a mistake could ruin a young naval officer—or, at the very least, keep him on shore the rest of his career.” He tried to back Decatur off the mudbank to no avail and, on that dark night, his grandfather’s advice came back to him, “Don’t worry about things over which you have no control.” “So,” Nimitz later said, “I set up a cot on deck and went to sleep!” Nimitz stood court-martial aboard the cruiser USS Denver, was convicted and his sentence was a letter of reprimand for “hazarding” a ship of the U.S Navy.
Following the Decatur incident, Nimitz was assigned to submarines, a new addition to the Navy’s fleet. Nimitz later called the early boats, “a cross between a Jules Verne fantasy and a humpbacked whale.” He was disappointed because he had requested assignment to battleships, the glamour vessels of the fleet, but, as he had when preparing for his Annapolis exams, he applied himself singularly to submarines. Thus, he became the Navy’s expert on submarines and diesel engine technology, experiences that would be extremely valuable to him between 1917 and 1945 when submarines were crucial to America’s defense in World War I and II. Along the way, Nimitz commanded the USS Plunger, USS Snapper, USS Narwhal and USS Skipjack.
During World War I, Nimitz was assigned to the staff of RADM Samuel S. Robinson, Commander, Submarine Force, Atlantic Fleet. Nimitz later said that initially, “We had almost as many problems in getting along with the British as we did fighting the Germans.” Nimitz quickly decided that the British would respond to good performance and friendliness on the part of the American sailors and he drilled this into the junior officers under his command. He said, “The ice was quickly broken and British-United States relationships improved immediately.” Nimitz noted that during the World War I days he began developing his theories of leadership: namely that leadership consists of picking good men and helping them to do their best for you. The attributes of loyalty, discipline and devotion to duty on the part of subordinates must be matched by patience, tolerance and understanding on the part of superiors. Nimitz noted that the Navy calls this type of leadership, “Loyalty up and loyalty down.”
In 1926, Nimitz was ordered to take charge of an experimental NROTC program at the University of California, Berkeley. The new idea was to make naval officers out of college youths, and many of Nimitz’ friends felt this would be a career-ending assignment for him. Instead, Nimitz spent three years at Berkeley producing a model that was duplicated in 52 other colleges and universities around the country. There are now NROTC programs in hundreds of schools nationwide, producing thousands of young naval officers.
On 17 December 1941, just 10 days after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Nimitz was selected, over 28 admirals senior to him, as the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CinCPac) and promoted to the rank of admiral. Assuming command at the most critical period of the war in the Pacific, Admiral Nimitz, despite the losses from the attack on Pearl Harbor and the shortage of ships, planes and supplies, successfully organized his forces to halt the Japanese advance. After a catastrophe such as Pearl Harbor, the Navy’s standard operating procedure would be to find a person or persons to blame and punish them. In contradiction, Nimitz came to Hawaii and decided to keep the staff intact. Nobody was transferred, nobody sent home in disgrace, nobody court-martialed. He later noted, “My instincts were right. By giving them a second chance, I restored the self-confidence of those CINCPAC officers. I’ve never known a harder-working, more dedicated staff, and to them must go much of the credit for the ultimate victory in the Pacific.”
By Act of Congress, approved 14 December 1944, the grade of Fleet Admiral of the United States Navy was established and the next day President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Chester Nimitz, Ernest King, and William Leahy to the new rank. Nimitz took the oath of office as a Fleet Admiral on 19 December 1944. (Note: William F. “Bull” Halsey was America’s fourth Fleet Admiral. He was promoted to the rank on 11 December 1945). On 2 September 1945, Nimitz signed Japan’s formal surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Nimitz was selected as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) on 26 November 1945.
Nimitz married Catherine Vance Freeman on 9 April 1913. They were married for 52 years and had four children: Catherine Vance, Chester, Jr., Anna and Mary. Chester, Jr. followed his father, graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1936, serving as a submariner throughout his career. The elder Nimitz passed away the evening of 20 February 1996, the last surviving Fleet Admiral. He was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.