AN IMPRESSION OF A
an exclusive interview with Fleet (Five-Star) Admiral Chester W.
Nimitz, USN, On August 22, 1964]
By QUINTIN L. DOROQUEZ
crossing for the first time the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge
will probably outright develop nagging fears that Yerba
Buena, the tiny-hill island serving as mid-support of the eight- and
one-fourth mile steel structure, might one day sink under the weight
stress of the longest bridge in the world. If others do not share
this thought, then my experience is rather an exception. But since
last August 22, my illusion has shifted from the steel giant
weighing 275,000 tons to a human giant scarcely weighing 165
lbs.—Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. For on that day I learned
through an exclusive interview that living there is the Fleet
Admiral—who, on account of his role in winning for his country the
Pacific War against Japan during the last world war, had earned for
himself a distinct place among the moguls of naval
The author at right interviewing Fleet
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz August 22, 1964. Taken in the Fleet
Admiral's Study in Quarter No. 1 at Yerba Buena Island,
adjoining Treasure Island, in the San Francisco Bay.
It was nine
o’clock in the morning. Visibility was low. The weather was quite
balmy as though winter was about to set in. The sight of heavy
sign in black, “Quarter No. 1”, added assurance to the presence of
two officers who, after seeing to it I was the right visitor getting
into the restricted area, escorted from the sentry the cab I was
riding in to make sure that I get into the right place. Quarter No.
1 was the address given me for the appointment.
hesitation, and mixed feeling, I pressed the button at the door.
Instantly it flung open. Another officer, clad snappily in his
service formal uniform, briskly stood by from the inside with ready
words, “Good morning—are you Mr. Doroquez?” I gave him the answer.
Then he ushered me into an elaborately appointed waiting room.
Before I could complete an inquiring look around, an elderly
feminine voice broke in approaching me from a flank door. We
exchanged greetings and niceties. Then she said, conducting me to
another room, “Come on. The Fleet Admiral is right there.” She was
Indeed the Fleet
Admiral was already in his study room, running down the morning
papers. He was in light-brown sports coat, contrary to what I had
always thought—that he is always in white official uniform (as I
could imagine him sitting side by side with President Franklin D.
Roosevelt, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, and Admiral
William D. Leahy at Pearl Harbor one day in July 1944) when
receiving a visitor. He wore no lenses as though not reading at
all. For, I in silence seemed to speak to myself, if indeed he was
reading, an old man of his age could hardly do it without thick
glasses. The sight of his silver-white hair and his wrinkled face
all added to my impression. But when he glanced at me, I could not
mistake his penetrating vision. These two contrasting impressions I
was able to settle later only with a direct question.
After a warm
handshake and brief informalities, he settled on his swivel
chair, asking me to take seat also.
opened the conversation, “a young man like you could be expected
this early only if paying a visit to a young lady—and I suppose
you are still a bachelor.”
I was only as
quick to nod and grin as I was slow to respond groping for words to
match his wit when he continued, “But coming to see an old man like
me must be something different.”
Of course he knew
I wouldn’t be there at
nine o’clock that morning had he not chosen the time to meet me,
in like manner as he knew the purpose of my visit. I previously
wrote him a letter explaining that I wanted to talk with him on the
subject of Leadership in conjunction with a paper I was
preparing for a graduate seminar course in Production Management.
began firing questions directly focused on my subject.
old Commander-in-Chief of the Central Pacific Fleet—the single
largest naval unit ever put together under one command in the course
of WWII—took a good look at the wall in front of his study desk. He
directed my attention in some ponderous way to the array of
portraits of leaders hung there, both civilian and military, to give
me a complete idea of the chain of command in the Central Pacific
Ocean Theater which was the area of responsibility of his Fleet. I
could see him more intimately. His blue eyes were quick, his
reflexes flashy, yet definitely modest in everyway. I marveled
about his humility in contrast to his achievements, his brilliant
record as a student at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis,
and his fame which to others could easily give rise to pomp and
“Here is a
man,” I could not hold it to myself alone, “without whom the
brilliant leap-frogging campaigns of his counterpart in the Army,
General Douglas MacArthur, would have been rendered next to
impossible, or probably without whom the history of the war in the
Pacific might have been written entirely differently."
conversation on Leadership lasted fifty minutes. The rest of
the eighty-minute interview was on subject of general interest.
He spoke of
leadership in dept to my delight and satisfaction. However, the
discussion is probably too technical for purposes of this article.
But by the same token, one thing of general significance was
certainly when he told me that he always set the example to his
men. And he did not “set the example to the extent of pretense and
bluff, where other leaders or commanders, in the name of authority
and leadership itself, hypocritically refuse to give way to their
human limitations.” Thus it was not uncommon that he would not only
hesitate to take but even seek advice from his subordinates.
all questions I had on Leadership, I backtracked to ask
questions about his sight. The Fleet Admiral told me that he reads
the newspapers and his favorite books without using any lenses. He
reached by his left hand a book entitled “Navy Manual on Sea Power”
and scanned the pages looking for what turned out to be footnotes.
Upon seeing one, he read the fine prints so fast that it
heightened my amazement. The prints were apparently of six-point
How do—or when
young, did—you take care of your eyes, Admiral?” I asked.
bounced gently to his chair after laying the book on his desk, “I
think it’s primarily due to my reading habit. Every since my
younger days I always make it a point when reading to have adequate
light. My diet, my regular exercise—in the form of playing tennis
and hiking when I was younger—must have also a significant role.
Today that I am already too old to play tennis, my exercise is
strolling around this island. This keeps me younger than my age, I
To a question I
asked why he prefers living at Yerba Buena to his fabulous home in
Berkeley, he replied that he and his wife “like it here better.” He
could smell the sea breeze and observe at close range “the boys”
train with the light cruisers in Treasure Island. Likewise, he
could watch from time to time jubilant young sailors returning home
with their aircraft carrier from tour of duties overseas.
Admiral—five-star, like a General of the Army—is not retired in view
of his rank. He is on active duty without assignment. And he has
an office maintained by the U.S. government in the federal building
at the corner of
and McAllister streets in San Francisco. But for all practical
purposes he can be regarded as retired. Nonetheless, in spirit he
is still an eager participant in the Fleet. He has become a part of
the Navy and the Navy has become a part of him. This is another
reason why he lives in the tiny island.
success, the Fleet Admiral does not believe that a given individual
is predestined to succeed simply because he was born with a silver
spoon in his mouth, in like manner that he does not subscribe to the
stereotyped notion that a leader is born—not made. He is of the
belief that determination and industry are the determining factors.
This, when augmented by a reasonable woman behind the man, can
securely make a man ride on the crest of success.
Of course the
Fleet Admiral must have in mind his own example. By birth he was
poor. He even had to work as a janitor and hotel clerk in order to
get through high school. His career is by any means a chance. As a
poor boy, he was utterly hopeless for a bright future. When the
first light of hope beckoned on him, it was of going to the US
Military Academy at West Point only to find himself later attending
the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. This was on account of the fact
that the congressman from his district in Texas, the only person
then who was in a position to give him the break, had only an
unfilled quota for the naval academy. But soon after he was
admitted to the academy, he proved his academic aptitude so that he
was graduated seventh in a class of 114. The man destined to become
first of his rank in naval history was in the making.
family—particularly his wife, the former Miss Catherine Vance
Freeman of Massachusetts—has significant role in making the Fleet
Admiral’s career a great success. Mrs. Nimitz had always stood by
the side of her husband to give him the necessary womanly
encouragement in time of great uncertainties, when even the career
of her husband was at stake. His four children, three girls and a
boy, who are all well-bred, gave Fleet Admiral Nimitz the first sign
of success. For, as he loves to say, “Success, like charity, begins
To my question
of what he considers his greatest achievement, he pointed out not
one. He emphasized that one achievement or the other has
contributed to the attainment of another. One success would not
have been made possible without the others.
Pacific War, the Fleet Admiral does not consider the Battle of the
Coral Sea a victory for the U.S. forces. He regards it a draw
stopping, however, the enemy advance to Australia. And that battle
likewise signaled what to come next—the Battle of Midway which was a
clear-cut American victory over the Japanese and “the turning point
of the war in the Pacific.”
Admiral says, however, that—considering the fact that the U.S. three
aircraft carriers had to face six Japanese aircraft carriers—Midway
was won by a combination of luck and the skill of the U.S. seamen
and aviators. Of course the canning of the immediate commander,
Admiral Raymond Spruance, under the Fleet Admiral’s command, was the
before the Japanese attacked, the U.S. Navy was able to ascertain
that the Japanese was going to invade Midway. The Fleet Admiral’s
headquarters in Hawaii were able to intercept the Japanese coded
messages on the impending attack. But his men were not certain of
the target. To pinpoint the target, Nimitz ordered a broadcast in
plain English that Midway was short of fresh water. Then the
Japanese in their in-fleet coded dispatches pointed out that their
coded target was short of fresh water. Fleet Admiral Nimitz said
that did the trick. He immediately instructed his commanders to
prepare on how to meet the enemy.
In complexity, as
well as in importance, he considers the Battle of Leyte Gulf without
parallel in the annals of naval history. Moreover, its loss by the
Japanese also cut off the
(now largely Indonesia) the flow of raw materials that Japan
to feed its war industry. Augmented by the A-Bomb, the effect of
the Battle of Leyte Gulf and the reconquest of the
Philippines by MacArthur left Japan no other alternative in the
later months but surrender.
I asked the Fleet
Admiral how he would compare General of the Army MacArthur to
General of the Army Eisenhower. Nimitz, referring to MacArthur,
said, “Super, super.” When I urged him to elaborate, he said, “Here
is how I can put it briefly: When you are a soldier and you are
under MacArthur, you fight for MacArthur. But when you are under
Eisenhower, you fight because you are a soldier. And,” speaking
with a grin, “when you are a sailor, you are either with the U.S.
Navy or with the ‘MacArthur’s Navy’ (a deriding reference at the
Pentagon to the Seventh Fleet in WWII which was MacArthur’s mainstay
in his leapfrogging campaigns in the Southwest Pacific for his
effort to return to the Philippines)."
juncture, the Fleet Admiral peered through a glass window. It was
obvious the sun was already out and iridescent from the overcast
morning. Only some scattered fog, still hanging over the
skyscrapers of San Francisco, seemed to challenge its glow. “Come
on, son,” he asked me fatherly, “let’s watch those tiny cute humming
together for some ten minutes at his glass-boxed patio. Outside was
a weather vane with a tiny replica of a Japanese submarine as
blade. Hung in the spire of the weather vane was a red bottle,
jutting toward which were twigs. “The weather vane,” the Fleet
Admiral pointed out, “is a gift from a surviving Japanese admiral from
the Battle of Leyte Gulf who came to visit and presented it to me
aging Fleet Admiral whispered to me, “one humming bird will alight
at the twig to sip the liquid sugar in the bottle. Then another
will come and take its turn also.” That curiosity added to my
suspense and marvel about the man. Love of nature is just another
facet of his life.
porch, there was also a mounted telescope. He then invited me
outside to view the San Francisco Bay through the instrument. We
stood together for a moment, he admiring lavishly the verdure of the
lawn and shrubberies around, with the flowery scent of the drying
mist carried by gently moving winds from Yerba Buena hillside vines
and pine trees adding to the pleasant morning. He went to the
telescope, I following him, and peering through it he trained it
around. He did not give any description of what could be seen,
pointing out, however, that on clear nights he loves scanning the
stars. Instead, he gave me the device to see for myself what might
be of interest to me.
I must admit
it was my first time to peer through that type of telescope. But
what fascinated me was not just the device itself. Neither alone
was the legendary panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay. What
delighted me the most was the thought through the lenses that from
time to time finds way around the vision of a man whose achievements
are no more manifest than the modern and varied structures east and
west of the tiny island. To the east, Oakland; to the west, San
Francisco. There might be, without him, the majestic and towering
Kaiser Center in Oakland or the reassuring monstrosity of an
aircraft carrier moored at the distant Alameda naval station or the
spectra of the Bay Bridge itself and the skyscrapers in downtown San
Francisco, viewed from here and afar. But chances are that, without
him, they might be there flying the “rising sun” or with the touch
and traces of Ginza.
The author with Fleet Admiral Chester W.
Nimitz in the Fleet Admiral's Study Library August 22, 1964.
Taken in the Fleet admiral's residence study, Quarter No. 1, at
Yerba Buena Island, adjoining Treasure Island, in the San
Fleet Admiral was peering through the telescope, the thought of
Napoleon suddenly came to my mind. Could Napoleon have been peering
around through a telescope at St. Helena? That was the inquiring
though I had. And sure Napoleon was even without a telescope. But
his sights, as against that of the modest-looking man before me,
were no real sight of his self-centered deeds. They were the real
sights of the boundless horizon of the South Atlantic, whereupon
abounded —as an intervening image to his crippling loneliness— the
visions of himself in Egypt, in Trafalgar, in Paris, in Belgium, in
Austria at the Battle of Austerlitz, in Russia at the Battle of
Borodino, etc., as master of those lands. But then those were no
less the illusions of a frustrated and doubly lonesome man.
I turned upon
my watch. I was still bewitched by the charisma of one of the
greatest naval commanders of all time. His fatherliness, his
sharp mind, his humility, his eagerness to impart his wisdom upon
young people like me—back dropped by the thought of his illustrious
career and remarkable achievements—all were blending in me into an
impression which now has taken the place of my delusion about the
imposing San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge: that a truly great man is
humble and without affectation. But my time was over. I
had to bid everybody goodbye, including and fondly so to the Fleet
note: The foregoing article was written as an offshoot of a more serious
paper the author wrote as a requirement of a graduate seminar course
in Production Management on the subject of Leadership. This article
was first published by The Manila Chronicle in two serials, October
27 and November 3, 1964, in conjunction with the 20th
anniversary of the Leyte Landing of General of the Army Douglas
MacArthur on October 20, 1944. The SamarNews.Com is
republishing the article in conjunction with the 60th
anniversary of the Leyte Landing.]