Everything seemed to change after December 7, 1941—America ended its isolationism and entered WWII, men dropped everything to join the military, women sent their loved ones off to war and became the heads of their households, and even children found ways to contribute to the war effort. In the aftermath of damage to the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy also realized change: early battles confirmed that aircraft carriers were now the capital ships of the U.S. Navy.
The Japanese conceived the attack on Pearl Harbor to rid themselves of a significant obstacle to their goal of conquering all of Southeast Asia. The destruction to our Pacific Fleet was substantial—the Japanese sank four battleships, and four more ships were severely damaged. Ultimately, however, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plan to destroy our fleet failed for many reasons, including the U.S. Navy’s unexpected resilience and the fact that our fleet’s three aircraft carriers, the USS Enterprise (CV-6), USS Lexington (CV-2), and USS Saratoga (CV-3), were not present during the attack.
Task Force 8 (TF 8), formed around Enterprise with two heavy cruisers and nine destroyers, had ferried a dozen Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats to Wake Island. They were on their way back to Oahu on December 7th. At the same time, TF-12 consisting of Lexington, three cruisers and five destroyers, was ferrying Vought SB2U Vindicators to Midway Island when they were called back because of the attack. U.S.S. Saratoga had just reached NAS San Diego after an overhaul in the Bremerton, Washington Navy Yard.
Just weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz became the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC). Nimitz believed that the airpower provided by carriers would be the key to success in the Pacific War. The Battle of Midway, fought 80 years ago in June, proved this to be true.
Midway was the “proving ground” for the superiority of carrier aviation focus as a naval doctrine and brought Admiral Nimitz’s leadership to the forefront of the Pacific War. The airpower that our carriers provided defeated the Japanese; however, the trajectory of the battle was determined by Nimitz’s well-executed, tactical plan.
The National Museum of the Pacific War is located in land-locked Fredericksburg, Texas. Why? It is the hometown of Chester W. Nimitz, who reached the five-star rank of Fleet Admiral in December of 1944. In the late 1960s, the town of Fredericksburg asked Nimitz for his permission to create a museum in his honor. A humble man, he first declined. He later agreed to a museum, but only if the museum honored all of the men and women who served in WWII in the Pacific.
The National Museum of the Pacific War welcomes over 150,000 visitors annually and touches thousands of students on-site and through distance learning programs. Situated on six acres, it features three galleries with more than 55,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space.