1985 50¢ Great Americans: Chester W. Nimitz
US #1869 was issued as part of the Great Americans Series.

Chester William Nimitz was born on February 24, 1885, in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Nimitz had early aspirations to join the Army, applying to West Point while still in high school. No spots were available, so he entered the Naval Academy instead. Excelling in mathematics and graduating with distinction (cumulative GPA of 3.75 or higher) in 1905, Nimitz joined the crew of the USS Ohio for service in the Far East. Two years later, he was given command of the USS Panay, the Decatur, and then the Denver.

1991 29¢ World War II: Japanese Bomb Pearl Harbor
US #2559i – Nimitz helped build a submarine base at Pearl Harbor in 1920.

After returning to the US, Nimitz began commanding submarines in 1909. After serving aboard the E-1, he was awarded the Silver Lifesaving Medal for rescuing one of his crewmen from drowning. He eventually became one of the nation’s leading authorities on submarines. After helping build a submarine base in Pearl Harbor in 1920, Nimitz attended the Naval War College. There, he studied the logistics of a possible Pacific Ocean war – knowledge that would prove quite useful two decades later.

1992 29¢ World War II: Yorktown Lost, US Wins at Midway
US #2697g – Admiral Nimitz ordered every available US flight deck to make its way to Midway. By June 3, 1942, he had three carriers and a total of 124 aircraft ready and waiting for battle. 

After the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Nimitz was placed in charge of the Pacific Fleet. Nimitz was given operational control over all Allied units – air, land, and sea – in the strategic Pacific Ocean Areas. He deployed ships and men as soon as they became available, quickly putting the US on the offensive. He quickly faced critical shortages of ships, planes, and supplies, though. Nimitz rebuilt the fleet’s strength and engaged in a patient strategy of “island hopping,” which bypassed small Japanese bases to focus on those more crucial. The plan saved time and lives, and ultimately assured the United States of victory.

1994 29¢ WWII: US Troops Clear Saipan Bunkers
US #2838g – Using submarine and air bases on Saipan, Nimitz was eventually able to launch the assaults on Iwo Jima and Okinawa that led to the inevitable defeat of Japan.

In this role, Nimitz was widely regarded for both his tactical skills and strong leadership. He’s been applauded for his ability to select strong officers and mold them into able leaders, like William F. Halsey Jr. and Raymond A. Spruance. It’s been said he had a “sense of inner balance and calm that steadied those around him.”

1994 29¢ WWII: Battle of Leyte Gulf
US #2838i – Nimitz helped plan the successful Battle of Leyte Gulf.
2019 55¢ USS Missouri
US #5392 – The Japanese surrender was signed aboard the USS Missouri.

In 1944, an act of Congress established the rank of fleet admiral, the highest grade in the United States Navy. The following day, President Roosevelt appointed Nimitz to the position. Under his leadership, the US defeated the Japanese in key battles including Coral Sea, Midway, and the Solomon Islands. Decisive victories included the Battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf, along with the capture of Saipan, Guam, and Tinian. Successful assaults on Iwo Jima and Okinawa helped bring the war to an end. Nimitz represented the US and signed the official documents when Japan formally surrendered.

After the war was over, Nimitz oversaw the Navy’s downsizing, helping to find the organization’s place in peacetime. He also worked to restore goodwill with Japan by fundraising to help rebuild the Japanese battleship, Mikasa. He went on to serve as regent of the University of California before his death on February 20, 1966. In 1972, his daughter Catherine Nimitz christened the USS Nimitz, an aircraft carrier and the lead ship of its class.

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17 Comments

    1. Once again a stamp-size history lesson that moves impressive content! Excellent in every way and appreciated by so many of us. Thank you.

  1. Good review and report. For those with interest, a visit to Fredericksburg, TX, West of Austin in the Hill Country, to visit to the Nimitz Museum is a must. Allow more time than you think to visit properly. In spring a bonus is to see the blue bonnets!

  2. Equally responsible for our victory in the Pacific during WWII, he seems less well-remembered than General Douglas MacArthur. So, this remembrance is very much in order, and I wish that more people would see it.

  3. I was a 20-year-old Ensign then serving in the Armed Guard on a merchant ship in Atlantic convoys, and after VE day on May 8, 1945, I was transferred to a a ship in the Eniwetok atoll in the Pacific as part of the armada Nimitz was putting together for the November 1945 invasion of Japan. Thanks to the atom bomb and VJ Day, I sailed home instead. Nimitz was key in the success of the Pacific campaign. Thanks for reminding us.

  4. Hundreds of thousands of commuters drive on the Nimitz Freeway in the East Bay (San Francisco Bay area) every day, and many probably don’t know who Chester Nimitz was. That’s too bad because he was a great Naval officer and a great American. He is less well known that McArthur because Nimitz was not a self-promoting chest pounder and did not pose for heroic photographs.

  5. One of the unsung heroes of WWII whose fame and importance have slipped away over time. One quibble that I have with the article is that I believe his successful island-hopping strategy involved by-passing the more stronger held Japanese islands to take lesser held ones further up the chain, thus cutting off the stronger ones from further reinforcement and re-supply.

  6. There is also a highway in Honolulu, Hawaii named after him. In the 1950’s, my parents used it to get to the airport.

  7. A true AMERICAN HERO. My grandfather was Seabee who went in with the first wave of Marines on Guadalcanal.

  8. Naval crews were very nervous when Nimitz was on board a submarine for its “shake down” cruise. He figuratively, made the sub fly under water. His maneuvers were the things of nightmares.

  9. Long ago I met a woman who grew up on Coronado Is. She knew both Halsey and Spruance.
    I asked why Halsey was called “Bull”. She said it was because he was so Bull-headed.
    When I asked about Spruance, she recounted a time while tending his yard garden in retirement. A passing Realtor, with money in mind, summoned him to her car. She hoped to get the elderly man to make likewise changes in other properties she might sell.
    His response was a lot like what he did to the Japanese at Midway.

    Halsey should have commanded at Midway, but he had a bad skin rash and couldn’t go, so his subordinate, Ray Spruance, went in his stead, and pulled off Nimitz’s plan perfectly.
    I also knew a woman from Maine who dated the son of General Jonathan Wainwright in her youth. Douglas MacArthur had left General Wainwright to take his place at Corrigador while he and his young wife and child fled to Austraila.
    MacArthur received the medal of Honor for doing so, but denied it to Wainwright.
    Nimitz proposed Wainwright for the Medal of Honor, which MacArthur opposed.

    Halsey, like Mac, was eager for distinction, and insisted he be awarded the one unfilled Fleet Admiral position — not Ray Spruance — because he was superior to Spruance. It was a sacrifice the Navy made to give Wainwright what he justly deserved — the Medal of Honor. In a sense, Nimitz achieved his goal of serving the Army as well as the Navy.

    During the war, Halsey removed his fleet from a post he was expected to defend while Marines were being resupplied at Guadacanal. It caused the Marines a great difficulty, but being Marines, they prevailed.

    Near the end of the war, Halsey led his fleet into the eye of a typhoon (“typhoon Halsey”) that killed 700 sailor and sank three destroyers because of his misjudgement.
    The story was told in both book and movie — the “Caine Mutiny”.

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