Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Winter reading

Back in November I commented on "Ike" a more recent biography of the Commanding General of the European Theater - WWII. Since then, I finished "Nimitz" also relatively recent (within the last five years) biography of the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Theater. Although General McArthur got most of the post-war press, this was the Navy's war...which includes the Marines of course. Both of these books were top-down looks at the war. There were some striking contrasts between the two books...not so much the two men. This post is about some observations I am making on my own.

It is interesting to me, for example, that both men tended not to seek the public's eye unlike some of their counterparts of the time. Eisenhower had the tougher time due to the fact that he had to satisfy the Brits through Churchill and his Commander in Chief, FDR. Ike also had to counterbalance the British generals and admirals as well as DeGaul and to a lesser extent, at first, Stalin. Ike also became President and Nimitz sought no further office, which is to say, to me at least, that Ike became good at juggling not only military personalities, but those on the world stage as well. Nimitz was sick of it by the end of The War. Ike became president of Columbia University then got called back in to head NATO. Nimitz became a regent of the University of California and turned down Truman's request to return to active duty to guide the Navy during the Defense Reorganization Act. Nimitz never made a cent off The War by speaking and writing. Ike wrote books and of course became a politician. Striking contrasts.

No one knows for sure, but the indications are pretty clear that Ike had a relationship with is "driver" who was British during his time in Europe and Mamie more or less knew it. She got all sorts of favored treatment including sworn in as an officer in the Womens Army Corps while they were together. Nimitz was, from all indications, true to his wife. It doesn't matter really...seventy years later, I guess, but when you see all the trappings of their high office it is interesting to see how the two reacted.

Another thing they had in common was, at least via their biographers, they both felt that there was no need to use the atomic bomb on Japan. Eisenhower knew nothing about it until it happened, supposedly, and felt it was not necessary. Nimitz, while staking out the strategy of capturing Japan's bases in the Pacific, he envisioned a naval blockade choking off supplies, principally fuel and food for this island nation. But the USAAF got wrapped up in strategic bombing and convinced the civilian leadership to bring the war to a halt with The Bomb. Nimitz furnished the base from which to launche the B-29 strikes, but had no say in the targets or types of weapons. USAAF General Curtis LeMay gets the credit (blame) for that.

The strategy in the Pacific resulted in the death to thousands of American soldiers, for which Nimitz was blamed and pined...as did Eisenhower over losing thousands. But the Nimitz strategy was designed to destroy the Japanese fleet and to do that, their advanced land bases had to be neutralized: Iwo Jima and Okinawa were both extremely costly in American lives and occurred in the last 9 months of the conflict. And more ships were lost in the end of The War, too, because of suicide bombers (kamakaze). Much about that was kept from the American public...but helped those in government decide to drop The Bomb.

I am currently reading an account of the destroyer force in the Pacific in the last year of the war. It is very "personal" to me because many of the ships that were involved in 1944 and 1945 were still around when I served in the early 1960s. In fact, I either saw or walked on several of the Essex class carriers...or knew old salts who served on them. I could list them, but it would be even more boring. We fueled destroyers in our company in the Med and their names show up on the book I am reading. Being the after-station fueling officer, I spent many hours on deck while those little greyhounds were along side getting fuel. We had lots of new ones, too, but some of the WWII types were still around after extensive modernization in the 1950s.

My mentor on our ship was in submarines during The War and while he did not talk about it frequently, he shared his views and stories with me on several occasions. He was a great influence on me. I could never have served in a submarine. I am too tall anyway, but they were a special breed...much like the pilots I served with and not at all like me.

When my brother-in-law, Bruce Williams, died last year, Phyllis bequeathed to me his CDs of Victory at Sea. Those have special meaning since that was recreational viewing when I was in OCS and the instructor did not have a "full" lesson plan. Several of them would show us Victory at Sea segments.

This all has little meaning to most of my readers, but it has always been a dream of mine to spend some time in the written and visual word of WWII and I am getting that chance this winter.

Oh yes, The Sullivans (above) was the first destroyer I toured while in Newport, RI. It was not FRAMED or modernized...still in WWII configuration. I was mothballed, and is now a museum...sorry, I forgot where. It was named after the five brothers (Sullivans) killed in 1942 in the sinking of one ship. After that, no more than two brothers could serve together.

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