Californians and the Military
Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz
A Five Star Submariner
by Mark J. Denger
California Center for Military History
Although he rose to become one of four Admirals to reach the five-star Fleet Admiral rank, Chester W. Nimitz always considered himself a Submariner first.

Admiral Nimitiz assuming command of the Pacific Fleet aboard the USS GRAYLING

On the morning of December 31, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the deck of the submarine GRAYLING (SS-209), one of history's greatest fighting heroes in World War II, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, hoisted his four-star flag on the mast of the GRAYLING thereby assuming command of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

There is a sort of grim symbolism in the fact that Admiral Nimitz took command of the Pacific Fleet aboard a submarine. Though the new Commander-in-Chief was an old submariner, the choice was not just a matter of sentiment. The hard fact was that at this time the suitable surface combatant ships were on the bottom of the ocean floor or en route to the West Coast for repairs. Nimitz liked to say that he assumed command aboard a submarine because the Japanese attack had left no other sort of deck available at Pearl Harbor. Others say it was the fact that he wore the submariners' dolphins himself. Whatever the reason, Nimitz stated that "It was to the Submarine Force, that [he] looked to carry the load until our great industrial activity could produce the weapons we so sorely needed to carry the war to the enemy."

In World War II, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, as Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet (CinCPac), commanded some five thousand ships and two million men – amounting to more military power than had been wielded by all the commanders in all previous wars. Yet it was to the Submarine Force that he turned to take the war to the enemy's front door. This little-publicized, unremitting campaign of attrition by the "Dolphin Navy" was to sever Japan's logistics which in turn virtually starved Japan into submission.

American submarines were to be second to no other service branch in their contributions to victory. By war's end, this small elite volunteer force sank 214 Japanese Naval Vessels, about a third of all Japanese warships destroyed, and 1,113 confirmed Japanese merchant ships (with an additional 65 probable), over one-half of its merchant marine shipping, for a total of 5,631,117 tons. This highly successful campaign would elevate the Submarine Service to an important place in our Fleet. However, these successes did not come without a price. Fifty-two submarines and 3,505 submariners were lost –the highest percentage of losses of any other branch of the service.

Despite these losses, when the "Cease Fire" order was sent on August 15, a ring of submarines already surrounded Japan. Within two weeks, the submarines ARCHERFISH, CAVALLA, GATO, HADDO, HAKE, MUSKALLUNGE, PILOTFISH, RAZORBACK, RUNNER II, SEGUNDO, SEACAT, and TIGRONE were found inside Tokyo Bay along side the submarine tender PROTEUS to witness the Nimitz's historic signing of the surrender instrument aboard the battleship MISSOURI. The exploits of our World War II Submarine Force are a source of legend, pride, and legacy. Much of its success goes to one of its chief supporters –Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

Chester William Nimitz

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was born on February 24, 1885, in a tiny hotel of sun-dried brick in Fredericksburg, Texas, built by his grandfather, Charles Henry Nimitz. His grandfather was a master of the Texas "tall tale." Charles Henry's brief employment at sea as a mere boy grew in the telling until it was generally believed that he was a retired sea captain. Reflecting his love of the sea, the captain had equipped his hotel with a ship's bridge and pilot house from which he could scan the hills and prairies of Texas. As the business prospered so did the Nimitz hotel. He ultimately added a marquee shaped like the bow of a ship, eventually adding rooms, balconies, and a mast so that the hotel looked more like a ship than a hotel --often called the Steamboat Hotel. To his wide-eyed grandchildren Captain Charles Henry Nimitz spun yarns of such outlandish fascination that they, along with many of the town's folk, begged for more. But the young Chester W. Nimitz, however, dreamed of being a soldier, not a sailor.

Because his parents were poor, young Chester had little prospect of pursuing his education beyond that of high school, but these prospects changed by a chance encounter with two graduates from the U.S. Military Academy on leave. Inspired by these two gentlemen, the young Chester Nimitz applied to his Congressman for an appointment to West point. Informed that all appointments to the Military Academy had been filled, he was persuaded to take a competitive examination for the U.S. Naval Academy, although he had never so much as heard of the U.S. Naval Academy, much less Annapolis. Nevertheless, Chester Nimitz was accepted to the Academy when he was only 15 years old.

Chester Nimitz left high school to enter the Naval Academy – sworn in on September 7, 1901, as a new cadet – never actually completing high school, that is, not until after having retired from active duty as a Fleet Admiral.

At the Naval Academy, the young Nimitz excelled in mathematics and in physical exercise which quickly earned him the nicknamed of "Matty" because of his proficiency in sit-up exercises which was only second to that of Matty Strohm, the academy's physical instructor. He was a natural athlete and stroked the crew in his first class year. The Naval Academy's yearbook, "Lucky Bag", described him as a man "of cheerful yesterdays and confident tomorrows."

In 1905, at the age of 20, Chester W. Nimitz graduated seventh in his class of 114 and was ready to embark upon one of the most illustrious naval careers in history.

Upon graduation he was assigned to battleship OHIO (BB-12), then in San Francisco, and cruised to the Far East on her. He said later that he was not overly enthusiastic at his first experience with the sea. "I got frightfully sea-sick," said Nimitz, "and must confess to some chilling of enthusiasm for the sea." When the OHIO headed for the United States in mid September, Midshipman Nimitz was transferred to the cruiser BALTIMORE (C-3), which had fought with Dewey in the Battle of Manila Bay.

On January 31,1907, after the two years' sea duty then required by law, he was commissioned ensign, and took command of the gunboat PANAY (1) and the naval station at Polloc, Mindanao, where 22 marines were stationed. "I had one foot ashore and one at sea, so to speak," said Nimitz, "but I lived aboard the PANAY."

At the age of twenty-two, Ensign Nimitz assumed command of the destroyer DECATUR (DD-5) (2). Two years later, Chester Nimitz's naval career became endangered. Entering Batanas Harbor, south of Manila Bay, on the evening of July 7, 1908, young Ensign Nimitz ran the destroyer aground on a mud bank. In the investigation that followed, the young officer stood a court-martial for "culpable inefficiency in the performance of duty" and was convicted of "neglect of duty". Not a career advancing move. Yet, despite this set back, this obstacle he overcame. He had of course been relieved of command of the DECATUR and was ordered back to the United States. After serving on the gunboat RANGER, he was ordered to report for submarine instruction. It was in this branch of the service in which he would spend a large part of his early sea career.

On January 25, 1909, Nimitz reported for duty under instruction in the First Submarine Flotilla. His first submarine was PLUNGER [A-1] (SS-2) which he also commanded in the Atlantic. "In those days," said Nimitz, "they were a cross between a Jules Verne fantasy and a humpbacked whale." Now a lieutenant (junior grade), Nimitz was given command of the First Submarine Flotilla, in May 1909, with additional duty in command of the PLUNGER (SS-2). He was transferred to command of the submarine SNAPPER [C-5] (SS-16) when that submarine was commissioned on February 2, 1910, and on November 18, 1910 assumed command of the NARWHAL [D-1] (SS-17).

On October 10, 1911, he became Commander Third Submarine Division, Atlantic Torpedo Fleet. Now a lieutenant, Nimitz was ordered to the Navy Yard, Boston, Massachusetts, to oversee and assist in fitting out of the submarine SKIPJACK [E-1] (SS-24), which he was next to command – assuming command of that submarine at her commissioning on February 14, 1912. On March 20, 1912, Nimitz, while commanding the submarine E-1, was awarded the Silver Lifesaving Medal by the Treasury Department for his heroic action in saving Fireman second class W. J. Walsh, USN, from drowning. A strong tide was running and Walsh, who could not swim, was rapidly being swept away from his ship. Nimitz dove in the water and kept Walsh afloat until both were picked up by a small boat. In June of that year, a young Lieut. Chester W. Nimitz addressed the Naval War College on the subject of submarines – "Defensive and Offensive Tactics of Submarines." Even then, Nimitz foresaw the submarine as the unparalleled commerce-destroyer that it turned out to be during World War II. From May 1912 to March 1913 he served as Commander, Atlantic Submarine Flotilla.

In Early 1913, the Navy, impressed by the performance of the diesel engine in submarines, decided to power a few large ships on an experimental basis. In May 1913, the Navy ordered Nimitz, who had a reputation as the foremost diesel expert in a U.S. naval uniform, to duty in connection with the building of diesel engines in the tanker MAUMEE (AO-2), under construction at the New London Ship and Engine Building Company, Groton, Connecticut.
Lieutenant Nimitz was detached from that duty to study diesel engines, particularly the working drawings of diesels prepared at the diesel engine plants in Nuremburg, Germany, and Ghent, Belgium. Returning to the New York Navy Yard, where the MAUMEE was being now being completed. His task here was to supervise the construction and installation of two 2,600-horsepower diesel engines. By mid-1916 the MAUMEE's engines had been completed and installed. On October 23, 1916, the oiler was commissioned under command of Lieutenant Commander Henry C. Dinger, with Nimitz as her executive officer and engineer until August 4, 1917. (3)

Nimitz was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander in August 1917, at which time he reported as engineering aide to the Commander, Submarine Force, Atlantic Fleet, then the following February as chief of staff to Captain Samuel S. Robison, flagship the cruiser CHICAGO (CA-14). Capt. Robison's main duty was to get the U.S. Navy's infant submarine fleet ready to operate with the Allies. But, before the U.S. submarines could make any significant contribution toward victory, the war came to an end.

From 1918 to 1919, Nimitz served in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations with special duty as Senior Member, Board of Submarine Design. This assignment was followed by a year's duty as executive officer of the SOUTH CAROLINA (BB-26), which made two round trips to Europe bringing back returning American troops.

In June 1920, he was ordered to Pearl Harbor where he was in charge of building a submarine base, using salvaged World War I materials, commanding Submarine Division 14 and the tender CHICAGO. At the end of a year, the base was completed but Nimitz, now a commander, stayed on as that base's first commander. Seated in his new office, little did he know that twenty years later he would be back at the same spot as Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet.

In 1921, he was stationed briefly at Mare Island aboard the transport ARGONNE (AP-4). In the late spring of 1922, Commander Nimitz was ordered to the Naval War College. About the time Nimitz had completed his course of study, Admiral Samuel S. Robison (4) had been appointed Commander in Chief, Battle Fleet, the next-to-most-senior operational command in the Navy. Pulling a few strings, Robison caused Nimitz to receive orders to proceed to San Pedro and report for duty aboard the battleship CALIFORNIA, flagship of the Battle Fleet. On June 30, 1923, when Robison hoisted his flag on the California, relieving Admiral E. W. Eberle, Robison appointed Nimitz his aide, assistant chief of staff, and tactical officer.

His next assignment, Nimitz was one of six officers selected to establish the first units of the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps (NROTC) in American universities. Units were to be established at Harvard University, Yale University, Northwestern University, University of Washington, Georgia School of Technology, and the University of California. Commander Nimitz was ordered to organize the NROTC unit in the University of California Berkeley. (5)

Having advanced to the rank of captain, in June 1929, Nimitz was assigned as the commander of the Battle Fleet's Submarine Divisions as well as Commander, Submarine Division 20, based in San Diego, flagships the tenders ARGONNE (AS-10) and HOLLAND (AS-3). In late 1929, Nimitz received a letter from his Naval Academy classmate William R. Furlong, who was editing the 25th anniversary yearbook, Class of 1905, United States Naval Academy, to be published the following year. Nimitz responded with a brief summary of his Naval career, which ended with the following:

"In looking backward at various phases of my life, I find it difficult to pick out any activity as having been more attractive to me than any other. I have enjoyed every one of my assignments and I believe it has been so because of my making it a point to become as deeply immersed and as interested in each activity as it was possible for me to become. My life in the Navy has been very happy and I know of no other profession for which I would forsake my present one. My oldest daughter, Catherine Vance, at 16, is almost ready for college and my boy, Chester William, Jr., age 15, hopes to enter the Naval Academy in the spring of 1931. My third and last child is a daughter, Anna Elizabeth, age 10. My wife, my children, my profession as a naval officer, and good health combine to make me a happy man."

Not long after his words "my third and last child" appeared in print, a fourth child, Mary Manson Nimitz, was born (June 17, 1931).

In 1931 he went ashore and commanded the reserve destroyers at the base in San Diego with their tender RIGEL (AD-13). RIGEL served as living quarters fro the Nimitz family as well as flagship for Captain Nimitz. In 1933 he was assigned to his first large ship command, the heavy cruiser AUGUSTA (CA-31) which served mostly as flagship of the Asiatic Fleet.

Coming ashore again in 1935 he served three years as Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Navigation. For the most part, this job was a desk job and for him, a let down. In the spring of 1938 Captain Nimitz was selected for rear admiral and learned that he was going to receive another seagoing command. In the subsequent years he assumed command of Cruiser Division Two, flagship TRENTON (CL-11), flagship of the Asiatic Fleet with the Battle Force. Upon being promoted to Flag rank, he was appointed Commander of Battleship Division One, flagship ARIZONA (BB-39), and Task Force Seven then in San Pedro.

In the spring of 1939, Nimitz was disappointed when he received orders to return to the Navy Department as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation. Nimitz, at the outbreak of World War II, still Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, received word from Secretary of the Navy Knox on December 16, 1941, that he was to take command of the Pacific Fleet. Nimitz would write: "It is a great responsibility, and I will do my utmost to meet it."

Following the Pearl Harbor debacle, President Roosevelt had appointed Admiral Earnest J. King Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Fleet with Headquarters in Washington, D.C., Admiral Thomas C. Hart was placed in command of the Asiatic Fleet, and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, on the last day of December 1941, would become Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet.

As every submariner knows, Admirals King and Hart were also veterans of our undersea service. Thus, of the four top-ranking admirals of the Navy, three were prominent submarine officers. Admirals King and Nimitz, of course, went on to become Fleet Admiral during World War II.

Nimitz was instrumental in defeating the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway in June 1942 and in molding together the diverse administrative elements of the Pacific Fleet for the war against Japan. He brilliantly directed the limited offensive of 1942-1943 in the Solomons and the multi-faceted Central Pacific counteroffensive of 1943-1945. Promoted to the rank of Fleet Admiral in December 1944, he moved to advanced headquarters at Guam the following month.

To Nimitz fell the honor of signing the Japanese surrender documents on behalf of the United States aboard the battleship MISSOURI (BB-63) in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, and was detached two months later.

On October 5, 1945, which had been officially designated as "Nimitz Day" in Washington, D.C., Fleet Admiral Nimitz was presented a Gold Star in lieu of the third Distinguished Service Medal personally by the President of the United States, who cited him:

"For exceptionally meritorious service...from June 1944 to August 1945. Initiating the final phase in the battle for victory in the Pacific, (he) attacked the Marianas, invading Saipan, inflicting a decisive defeat in the Japanese Fleet in the First Battle of the Philippines and capturing Guam and Tinian. In vital continuing operations, his Fleet Force isolated the enemy-held bastions of the Central and Eastern Carolines and secured in quick succession Peleliu, Angaur and Ulithi.

With reconnaissance of the main beaches on Leyte effected, approach channels cleared and opposition neutralized in joint operations to reoccupy the Philippines, the challenge by powerful task forces of the Japanese Fleet resulted in a historic victory in the three-phased Battle for Leyte Gulf, October 24 to 26, 1944. Accelerating the intensity of aerial offensive by pressure exerted at every hostile strong point, Fleet Admiral Nimitz culminated long-range strategy by successful amphibious assault on Iwo Jima and Okinawa ... (and) finally placed representative forces of the United States Navy in the harbor of Tokyo for the formal capitulation of the Japanese Empire.... He demonstrated the highest qualities of a naval officer and rendered services of the greatest distinction to his country."

The Admiral's four-star flag that had been hoisted aboard the submarine GRAYLING (SS-209) at Pearl Harbor, on December 31, 1941, now a Fleet Admiral's five-star flag, was hauled down on November 24, 1945 aboard the submarine MENHADEN (SS-377), again at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The USS MENHADEN (right) fly Fleet Admiral Nimitiz's flag from its mast just prior to it being hauled down

There may have been no deck available at the time of his assuming command of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, but at the time of his relinquishment of his command, there could be no mistaking the concession to sentiment on the part of the U.S. Navy's greatest Fleet commander, for surely there were plenty of spacious surface decks than that of the submarine MENHADEN. Every submariner recognized the significance of the fact that his last official act of duty in that command was aboard a submarine. It was his salute to all of them for a job well done.

On November 26, 1945 his nomination as Chief of Naval Operations was confirmed by the Senate and on the morning of December 15, 1945, he relieved Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, USN, as Chief of Naval Operations. In time of peace, as he did in war, Fleet Admiral Nimitz surrounded himself with a all star team of helpers. But it was his own high-ranking personal aide, Eugene B. Fluckey, a World War II submarine ace and holder of the Medal of Honor, that he most relied upon during his term of office as Chief of Naval Operations.

In March 1946 the Naval Research Laboratory distributed a report recommending the construction of a nuclear-powered submarine. Nimitz had from the start favored the development of a nuclear-powered submarine, but was in no position to dispute the opinions of his own director of atomic defense --Rear Admiral William S. Parsons. Parsons insisted that the Navy should give first priority to naval weapons. Realizing the importance of submarine development, Nimitz tackled the problem from another angle. In September 1946, one of Nimitz's acts as Chief of Naval Operations was the appointment of a board of experienced submarine officers to study anti-submarine techniques and new submarine designs. In its final report, submitted in January 1947, the board urged the gradual replacement of existing submarines with the hydrogen-peroxide submarine and the design and development of "nuclear-power plants for eventual installation in submarines to give unlimited submergence at high speed."

However, Nimitz's tour as Chief of Naval Operations was now coming to an end. No one could predict what the attitude of the next Chief of Naval Operations would be and Nimitz's tour was to come to a close by the end of December 1947. So, by the fall of 1947, Captain Hyman G. Rickover prepared a memorandum that he hoped could persuade Admiral Nimitz to forward to Secretary of the Navy Sullivan "the strategic and tactical importance of a nuclear-powered submarine."

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, as one of his final acts as CNO, convinced by Rickover's arguments and the endorsement of the experts, approved the memorandum. As almost his last official act, he signed it and sent it to Secretary Sullivan, who, equally convinced, signed it and forwarded it to Secretary of Defense Forrestal, to Vannevar Bush, Chairman of the Research and Development Board, and to Admiral Cochrane, Chief of the Bureau of Ships. Though there were to be many more obstacles along the way, Rickover obtained the status and his project was given top priority based on the recommendations of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

Chester W. Nimitz, as a Fleet Admiral, was relieved as Chief of Naval Operations by Admiral Louis E. Denfeld, USN, on December 15, 1947. Six days later, the Nimitz family was back in California. On January 1, 1948, he reported in at the 12th Naval District headquarters in the Federal Building, where he found an office awaiting him as special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy in the Western Sea Frontier.

Nimitz soon began to display the restlessness of a man who, after a busy career involving important responsibilities, has nothing much to do. Tiring of the idle life in San Francisco, he and his wife moved from Yerba Buena Island to the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley.

During this period, Earl Warren, Governor of California, extended Nimitz an invitation to become a regent of the University of California. A post he would serve at for eight years. Admiral Nimitz took very serious his duties as regent of the University of California. He attended all the monthly meetings and immersed himself in the university's problems of finance, administration, and policy. The greatest joy, however, was when his son, Chester William, Jr., arrived in Berkeley to be executive officer of the University of California NROTC unit, which his father had founded in 1926.

In March of 1949, he was nominated as Plebiscite Administrator for Kashmir under the United Nations, but when that did not materialize he asked to be relieved and accepted an assignment as a roving goodwill ambassador of the United Nations, to explain to the public the major issues confronting the United Nations.

Thereafter, in a somewhat unofficial retirement, he took an active interest in San Francisco community affairs, in addition to his continued active participation in affairs of concern to the Navy and the country. He was an honorary vice president and later honorary president of the Naval Historical Foundation and was made an honorary member of the famous Bohemian Club.

He and Mrs. Nimitz, the former Miss Catherine Vance Freeman, took up residence at 728 Santa Barbara Road, Berkeley, California, until the Admiral suffered a grievous fall in 1963. That year, he and his wife moved from Berkeley to naval quarters on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. Three years later, in January 1966, he suffered a stroke. His recovery, however, was complicated by a series of smaller strokes and a severe bought of pneumonia, and he died on February 20, 1966 of congestive heart failure.

Although he was entitled to a state burial and burial in the National Cemetery in Arlington, he wanted neither, only a simple funeral. For a burial place he had chosen a vacant strip along one of the roads in the Golden Gate National Cemetery at San Bruno. He had arranged with admirals Spruance, Turner, and Lockwood that they and their wives should be buried there. Each admiral was to have a regulation headstone like the thousands of others in the cemetery. However, with a respected five star admiral, a burial could never be simple. Hundreds of friends, dignitaries, and fellow classmates from the Naval Academy at tended Chester Nimitz's burial and service.

He was buried on his 81st birthday with full military honors –a motorcade of over 100 vehicles, with police escort, delivered the casket. At his grave site, a fly-over of 70 navy jets, a 19-gun salute was fired, followed by 3 volleys, and the playing of Taps. He was laid to rest and is buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California, and lies next to his close friends Admiral Raymond Ames Spruance, Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner and fellow submariner, Vice Admiral Charles A. "Uncle Charlie" Lockwood (see article, below). On his headstone, he wanted something simple that would symbolize what he accomplished in life – the five stars of an old submariner.

During his naval career he received numerous awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal with two gold stars, Army Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Lifesaving Medal, Victory Medal with Escort Clasp, American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and National Defense Service Medal. Nimitz also received numerous decorations from foreign governments as well. Even the Congress conferred the permanent rank Fleet Admiral on all of the five-star officers. But among the many honors he received after the war was the naming after him of the US Navy's nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS NIMITZ (6). At the commissioning of the aircraft carrier NIMITZ, on May 3, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford made the following observations:

"...Professor E. B. Potter of the Naval Academy summed up Admiral Nimitz's qualities in simple words that well serve as a model for anyone who aspires to leadership in any kind of endeavor --and I quote from Professor Potter: ‘He surrounded himself with the ablest men he could find and sought their advice, but he made his own decisions. He was a keen strategist who never forgot that he was dealing with human beings, on both sides of the conflict. He was aggressive in war without hate, audacious while never failing to weigh the risks.'

President Gerald R. Ford

It has been said that "No naval officer in submarines was better qualified to wear the dolphins than Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, as it was a submariner who took hold at Pearl Harbor on that black New Year's Eve of 1941 and didn't let go until the job was done."

We are proud to salute one of America's greatest submariners –Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz –and one of California's greatest residents.

A Curious Compact Among Four Friends
By Lieutenant Colonel Norman S. Marshall
California Center for Military History

Four close friends, each being colleagues and co-workers before, during and after World War II, and each being a fellow Californian, rest together in the nearby Golden Gate National Cemetery at San Bruno, California.

The Golden Gate National Cemetery at San Bruno is located about two miles west of the San Francisco International Airport, and according to Admiral Richard Kelly Turner's biographer (7), Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz arranged for this final resting place well before his death in 1966.

This is how Fleet Admiral Nimitz related how it came about that Kelly Turner is buried in the Golden Gate National Cemetery:

As you well know, BUPERS buries people. When I was CHBUNAV, Helen Hess, who handled all the Bureau's arrangement of funerals, said to me:

Why don't people plan ahead in connection with their burial?"

When I came to retire in the 12th Naval District, I remembered her remark and looked around. I found the Presidio Burial Grounds filled. I went out to the golden Gate Cemetery at San Bruno, and the caretaker there said, ‘I have just the place for you, a high spot in the center of the cemetery.' I wrote to Admirals Spruance and Turner and asked them if they were interested in being buried at the apex of the war dead in the Golden Gate Cemetery. When Harriet Turner became very ill, Kelly wrote to me and said, ‘Is the offer still good?' I said it was and she was buried there and Kelly soon followed.

On 13 September 1952, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz wrote to the Chief of Naval Personnel:

While I fully understand and appreciate the decision of the Quartermaster General to make no grave site reservations in the Golden Gate National Cemetery for other officers, I earnestly request that Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, USN (Retired), and Admiral R. K. Turner, USN (Retired) upon their deaths be given grave sites adjoining those which have been reserved for Mrs. Nimitz and me. This request is made because I firmly believe that our success in the Pacific during World War II was due in a very large measure to the splendid service rendered the Nation by these two officers, and it is fitting that they enjoy the same privilege granted to me in choosing their final resting place close to the Service personnel who died in the Pacific."

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz (U.S. Naval Academy, 1905) had long worked with Admiral Raymond Spruance (U.S. Naval Academy, 1906) and made him the air boss at Midway. He was the pre-eminent carrier strategist of the Pacific. Turner (U.S. Naval Academy, 1906) won Nimitz' admiration for leading amphibious groups throughout the Pacific during the war and Charles Lockwood (U.S. Naval Academy, 1908) was a submariner, like Nimitz, and became Commander Submarine Force, Pacific (COMSUBPAC) in February 1943 which force crushed the Japanese Merchant Fleet.

Nimitz had enormous respect and appreciation for each of these men and wanted them all to be together. They had been friends and shipmates for forty years. Their wives had been supportive and friends also.

Thus, their grave sites perfectly aligned in the first row along the street bearing Nimitz's name –Nimitz Drive. This is a unique tribute to each of these Californians.


(1) Passed Midshipman John S. McCain (Grandfather of Senator John McCain), a class below Nimitz, also served aboard this 92 foot, 8 inch long ex-Spanish gunboat, PANAY.

(2) Among Nimitz's contemporaries destined for the highest ranks, Spruance had his first destroyer command at the age of 26; Halsey, at the age of 30; and King, at 36.

(3) After extensive sea trials and a shakedown cruise, on December 28, 1916, the MAUMEE, with a crew of 45, departed New York for Cuba where she supplied oil and fresh water to ships of all sizes. During this period, Germany, despite a pledge to the contrary, resumed unrestricted submarine warfare. In the next few weeks, her submarines sank several American merchant ships without warning. In response, the United States on April 6, 1917, declared war on Germany.

(4) Back in 1917, Nimitz had served under Robison as his engineering aide as Commander, Submarine Force, Atlantic Fleet.

(5) In 1926 he became the first Professor of Naval Science and Tactics for the Unit at the University of California at Berkley. Throughout the remainder of his life he retained a close association with the University.

(6) The keel of USS NIMITZ (CVN 68) was laid on June 22, 1968 at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Newport News, Virginia. It was destined to become the largest warship ever. The ship was commissioned May 3, 1975, at Pier 12, Naval Station Norfolk, Va. by the Honorable Gerald R. Ford, President of the United States. Principal guests included: the Honorable James R. Schlesinger, Secretary of Defense; the Honorable J. William Middendorf, II, Secretary of the Navy; Admiral James L. Holloway, III, Chief of Naval Operations and Mrs. James T. Nimitz-Lay, Ship's Sponsor.

(7) Dyer, George, The Amphibians Came to Conquer, Superintendent of Documents, U.S.G.P.O. (1997)

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Updated 8 February 2016