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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Chester Nimitz was from Kerrville

Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz with his sister, Dora Nimitz Reagan, in Kerrville, October 1945
Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz with his sister, Dora Nimitz Reagan, in Kerrville, October 1945
It might surprise some readers, but Kerrville can stake a very good claim as Admiral Chester W. Nimitz’s boyhood home.
Whenever one thinks of the admiral’s early beginnings, one generally thinks of Fredericksburg – Nimitz was born there, and they have the wonderful Nimitz Hotel on Main Street which now anchors the National Museum of the Pacific War.
According to Bob Bennett, “the future admiral was born at Fredericksburg on February 24, 1885, the son of Chester B. and Anna Henke Nimitz. Both parents descended from the sturdy German pioneers who came to Texas with Baron John O. Meusebach in 1846 and founded Fredericksburg.”
Here’s the part you might not have known: Anna, and her second husband William Nimitz (brother of her late husband) moved to Kerrville when young Chester was about 5. Chester attended Kerrville public schools, entering “the year the new building was completed and named in honor of Capt. Joseph A. Tivy.” His classmates in Kerrville included Charles Lockett, H. E. Williams, Arthur Mueller and L. A. Enderle, Mrs. R. A. Shelburne, Mrs. Aimee Garrett Schmerbeck and Miss Harriet Garrett.
Chester Nimitz at Annapolis
Chester Nimitz at
In 1901, several weeks before Nimitz was scheduled to graduate from Tivy, he received a congressional appointment to attend the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He graduated from Annapolis in 1905, seventh in his class.
From there he had a fantastic career with the navy, but he’s probably most famous for accepting the formal surrender of the Japanese aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay September 2, 1945, ending World War II.
So, from birth to about age 5, Nimitz lived in Fredericksburg; from age 5 until about 16, Nimitz lived in Kerrville. Fredericksburg might have been his birthplace, but one could argue Kerrville raised him, educated him, and helped prepare him for his place in history.
Kerrville even gave Chester Nimitz a nickname: "Cotton," for his light-colored hair.
Nimitz’s family came to Kerrville to run the St. Charles Hotel which was once on the corner of Water and Sidney Baker streets, where the former Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital used to stand. Today the corner is part of Peterson Plaza.
Nimitz’s story might have been different if there hadn’t been a “surplus of army cadets from Texas in 1901.”
Here is Nimitz’s own account of what happened:
Chester Nimitz and his family in Kerrville
Nimitz and his family in Kerrville
“I was born in Fredericksburg on February 24, 1885, and, after a few years sojourn at that place, moved to Kerrville, where I attended the public schools and from which place I secured my appointment to the naval academy. My choice of the naval academy was largely accidental because my aspirations had been toward West Point, primarily because the army was then well-represented in my part of Texas and very little was known of the navy. Lack of vacancies at West Point and impending competitive examinations for the naval academy appointment settled the matter for me. I was fortunate enough to get the appointment.”
During his midshipmen days, his “sea-going aspirations were very nearly obliterated by a Sunday excursion across the bay to Kent while in one of Capt. Burgis’ sailing boats. I got frightfully seasick and must confess to some chilling enthusiasm for the sea.”
An humble beginning for a man so honored by his country for his naval service. On December 4, 1944, by act of Congress, the grade of Fleet Admiral of the United States Navy was created. The following day Franklin Roosevelt nominated Nimitz to this position, which was approved by the Senate. Nimitz took the oath of that office on December 19, 1944.
After the war, Nimitz made official visits to Kerrville and Fredericksburg.
Nimitz Day parade, Kerrville, October 13, 1945
Nimitz Day parade, Kerrville,
October 13, 1945
15,000 people celebrated in Kerrville on October 13, 1945 when the community which raised him celebrated “Nimitz Homecoming Day.” During the celebration, Tivy High School presented him with the diploma he’d earned but never received when he left for Annapolis.
After the war, Nimitz served as Chief of Naval Operations, administered the plebiscite that would determine the fate of Jammu and Kashmir for the governments of India and Pakistan, and served as a regent of University of California from 1948-1956.
He died February 20, 1966, and is buried in California.
Kerrville remembered him as one of her own by naming an elementary school after him.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville wishes all moms a very Happy Mother's Day.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 12, 2018.

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