Texas’ best kept secret

July 22, 2014

Bob and I rarely leave town together. We recently took a weekend to wander to Fredericksburg…not for the peaches, the crafts, or the amenities, but to explore the National Museum of the Pacific War. Amazingly, this monument to those involved in the Pacific Theatre of World War II is not a federal facility; it is under the auspices of the Texas Historical Commission. Fredericksburg, as many know, was the birth place of Admiral Nimitz. When he retired, the people of the community wanted to honor him. When he finally acquiesced, he required that any tribute be to those he commanded, as much as to him. The final result is a museum complex so detailed that the ticket you purchase is good for 48 hours; to properly appreciate all aspects of it takes more than one day.
We started our explorations in the Nimitz Museum. This is that building in downtown Fredericksburg that vaguely resembles the bow of a ship. It started life as the Nimitz Hotel, run by the Admiral’s grandfather. It contains various memorabilia of the Nimitz family, including items from his service and retirement.
Behind the house is a unique garden. In the early 1900s, a young Midshipman Nimitz was part of Admiral Perry’s “Great White Fleet”. While in the Far East, he had the opportunity to meet a young man by the name of Togo, who would become his opposing number many years later. After the war, Nimitz made one of the first contributions to the preservation of Togo’s flagship as a cultural museum. In appreciation, the people of Japan build the Japanese Peace Garden behind the old hotel. It has an exact copy of Togo’s meditation study, and is dedicated to the concept of peace between nations.
Alongside the house and garden runs a courtyard, landscaped with grass, trees, and a fountain. Termed the “Memorial Courtyard”, it is dedicated to all those who served in the Pacific. The limestone walls are lined with plaques of various sizes donated in honor of or by individuals, regiments, and other groups. The walkway is made of bricks, again donated by and in honor of those who served. The centerpiece of the fountain is one of the propellers from the USS Essex.
Before entering the museum proper is the Plaza of the Presidents. Ten of our Presidents served in one place or another in the course of World War !!, from President Roosevelt who served as Commander in Chief to President George H. W. Bush. Each pole has a plaque with a statement of that individual with regard to their service.
From there you enter the museum proper. As has become common, you can take an audio “wand” (free) with you as you go through the complex. These will add another layer of information to what is printed with the displays. The map given you with the ticket is going to come in handy. The museum is laid out by years of the war, with side rooms of other issues. Without the map, it is likely that you will miss something of interest.
The displays start with information which dates to before our Civil War. As you wander through, there is a timeline which shows the exhibits. These are wonderfully helpful, as they link – through time – the events with which we are familiar, such as the assassination of President Lincoln, with the events being portrayed. For whatever reason, Western cultures were more interested in, and sympathetic to, China than to Japan. As China went through political upheaval as a result of the fall of the Ming Dynasty, aid was sent, and missionaries flooded in. The resultant unrest, often called the Boxer Rebellion, left China seriously unstable..
Meanwhile, Japan was becoming more nervous. Their very large neighbor was in shambles. For centuries, they had a relationship that was quite stable; the very instability not only seemed an invitation to annex territory but also seemed to cry out for China to unify against them. Japan, a very small island nation with limited resources, saw an opportunity.
Without assessing responsibility, or assigning guilt (which with hindsight is too easily done), the displays show the history of the region and how it developed. It quietly points out the escalation caused by the lack of understanding between the cultures. Eastern philosophy was (and still is) so very different from that of the Western nations. The clash was predictable.
The display dealing with Pearl Harbor has one of the “minisubs” intended to insure the demolition of the Pacific fleet. The audio and visual effects are startling. Throughout the museum are artifacts – from the size of a minisub or plane to the minute, a Bible, a chalice, and a platen. The human toll, civilian, military, Japanese, Allies, men and women, is shown through the written and recorded recollections of those who lived through it, through artifacts, and letters. The final room in the museum is dedicated to the truce. The years of war that were experienced by some of our citizens, that some of us learned from fathers, grandfathers, and teachers, are set forth in exquisite detail in one building.
A couple of blocks away is the final installation of the museum – the “Pacific Combat Zone” – an area accessible by guided tour. There you have the opportunity to see an Avenger, a PT Boat, tanks and – at times – a reenactment of the taking of a Pacific beach.
It amazed me that there were so few people there – in an air conditioned, pleasant building in mid-summer. There were plenty of people in town, but very few taking advantage of the amazing opportunity in front of them. Looking at the people that were going through with us, the ones that were getting even more from the displays were those who had their father or grandfather, the veteran, with them.
Take the time to go – to see – to learn. There are so many corollaries to our world today, and these are experiences none of us want to repeat!

Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to editor@sweetwaterreporter.com.

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