From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
Sixty-nine years ago today, Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz was honored twice with parades for his part in the Navy’s victory in the Pacific campaign and ending World War II. The first was held in Washington, D.C. The second, four days later on Oct. 9, 1945, was a ticker-tape parade in New York City.
Few things can upstage the Washington Monument among the landmarks at the National Mall. Yet on Oct. 5, 1945, USS Missouri managed to do just that. Or at least a wooden facsimile of the bow of the battleship on which World War II officially ended the month before, except this battleship had the Washington Monument as its backdrop.
It was all part of a celebration and parade honoring Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz. A parade from the Capitol to the wooden viewing stand featured Nimitz, wearing his dress blue uniform and a wide grin, riding in the back of an open-air limousine. More than 1,000 Navy aircraft from fighters to dive and torpedo bombers, filled the skies above, thrilling the thousands of people who packed the National Mall and the parade route. The crowd cheered upon the arrival of planes that spelled out N I M I T Z in block letters (thank goodness his name wasn’t Eisenhower).
Once Nimitz arrived at the viewing stand, it took nearly an hour for the hundreds and hundreds of military personnel, equipment and even Coast Guard sentry dogs to file past. The last truck to file by featured a sign “The Alpha and Omega of the Pacific War” and it carried a 1,600-pound bomb that had been dropped on USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor and a yellow-painted pagoda carrying the samurai sword that was surrendered by Japanese Imperial Navy Vice Adm. Denshichi Okochi onboard the Missouri.
The biggest cheer that day came not for Nimitz, but for the Navy and Marine veterans of the battles of Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Philippine Sea and Okinawa engagements.
And Nimitz wouldn’t have it any other way as he stood to address the thousands who packed the National Mall that Friday.
“I can accept none of these honors for myself as an individual. I can accept them, and I gratefully do accept them, in the name of all the Soldiers, Sailors and Marines who fought under my command in the Pacific….In my opinion, there has never been a finer body of determined patriots, even among those early Americans who fought under the great man whose monument rises here as a symbol of freedom throughout the world.”
Rather than reveling in the victory, though, Nimitz warned the “future for us all lies in a world” greatly altered with the use of atomic power.
“Perhaps it is not too much to predict that history will refer to this present period not as the ending of a great conflict but as the beginning of the great new atomic age,” he said, adding “scientists and technologists have already theorized atomic power will be harnessed and available for industrial and humanitarian uses.”
Nimitz told the crowd the introduction of atomic power gave new importance to seapower from the standpoint of America’s future welfare and safety.
“Our defense frontiers are no longer our own coastlines or the adjacent waters by which they are bounded,” he said. “Today our frontiers are the entire world.”
Earlier in the day, Nimitz spoke to both houses of Congress, pointing out that Japan — from the standpoint of troops and aircraft –was better off on V-J Day than she was when she initiated “national hari-kari with their treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor.”
Nimitz explained at the time of the surrender on Sept. 2, Japan had more than 2 million trained professional military personnel. In Japan’s “stolen empire to the south,” there were more than 3 million men for a total of more than 5 million, compared to only 3 million when the war began.
Japan began the war with approximately 5,300 planes, of which roughly 3,200 were combatant types, Nimitz told Congress. On the day the war ended, Japan’s air force had increased by approximately 100 percent to a total of 11,000 planes, of which approximately 6,000 were combatant types.
“So why then, did the enemy have no alternative but to surrender, and why sue for peace before the introduction of the atomic bomb and before the entry of Russia into the war?” Nimitz asked.
Because the Imperial Navy had ceased to exist. “Of a once great navy of this year, Japan had still afloat one battleship, damaged; four aircraft carriers, all damaged; two heavy cruisers, both damaged, and two light cruisers, one damaged. Not one of these ships had a crew aboard,” he explained.
Thirty-nine of Japan’s once large force of destroyers remained, but six were damaged and 10 were without crews. Only 51 enemy submarines survived, and 95 small patrol craft. In addition, there were a couple of minelayers, two old training cruisers and a submarine tender.
“By the middle of 1945, Japan might as well have scuttled this remnant of her navy for all the good it could do against our own powerful sea-air forces,” Nimitz said.
The United States also exacted a toll against Japan’s merchant ships, they counted themselves lucky if three out of five made it through from Singapore.
“Our enemy was forced to surrender because Japan…a maritime nation, dependent on food and materials from overseas, was stripped of her seapower,” Nimitz said. “On the other hand, we had the seapower that made it possible to capture – and hold – the bases within Japan’s system of inner defenses from which our Army’s very long range bombers and other aircraft operated.
“We had the seapower that made it possible to cut the enemy’s lines of overseas communications to ports on the Asiatic continent and in the Southwest Pacific, denying access to needed resources. His industry was strangling and his people were at the point of starvation.
“We had seapower that made it possible to protect our own lines of communication and move vast quantities of men, materials and munitions to our forward bases and also to the Russians.
“We had seapower to prevent an enemy effort to launch amphibious counter-attacks on our flanks or in the rear. We had seapower to cover and support every amphibious landing of the Pacific War. We had powerful carrier forces that had struck strategic and tactical targets in the innermost recesses of the empire. We had seized forward bases and built the air fields that made possible the wonderfully successful B-29 bombing and mining missions, and eventually the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“With our seapower making possible the use of all our other resources, we gave Japan the single choice of surrender or slow but certain death.”
Nimitz said no one service deserved praise above another for their country’s victory. “They were all brave men. There was no difference in the way they fought; and when they fell – whether they were dressed in Army khaki, Marine green or Navy blue – they all wore the same red badge of honor that is stained with the blood of free men who hold that liberty is dearer than life itself.”
Nimitz praised his late Commander-in-Chief, Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose “foresight and keen interest resulted in a rapid up-building of the Navy soon after he assumed” the presidency.
He also thanked Congress for providing “the tools, machines and weapons in such quantity and of such quality as has never before been known in the history of warfare.”
Nimitz then pointed out “the sad fact that we have never yet entered a war for which we were prepared. The science of warfare is constantly changing, but with the emphasis always on speed. In the name of all we Americans hold dear, I pray that no future war may ever again find us unprepared.”
As he told the throngs on the National Mall, Nimitz told Congress he stands before them “merely as the representative of the Soldiers, Sailors and the Marines who have won the victory in the Pacific. We have carried out the duty imposed upon us on Dec. 7, 1941. I am deeply moved by – and profoundly grateful for – the evidence I have seen today that Congress considers that duty to have been well and faithfully discharged.”
At a banquet that evening attended by top-ranking military and naval leaders in Washington, Nimitz continued his stumping for keeping a strong and professional navy with a push toward more technological advances.
“We should never forget that permanent attitude of willingness to defend our freedom will always stand as our greatest contribution to a continuing world peace.”
On Thursday, revisit Adm. Nimitz’ triumphant return to New York City and the ticker-tape parade he received there.
The information for this blog came from articles published in the New York Times Oct. 6, 1945, which included the complete texts of Nimitz’s speeches before Congress and the National Mall.