Originally, young Nimitz had hoped to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point and become an Army officer, but there were no appointments available. His congressman, James L. Slayden, told him that he had one appointment available for the Navy and that he would award it to the best qualified candidate. Nimitz felt that this was his only opportunity for further education and spent extra time studying to earn the appointment. He was appointed to the United States Naval Academy from Texas's 12th congressional district in 1901, and he graduated with distinction on January 30, 1905, seventh in a class of 114.
He joined the battleship Ohio (BB-12) at San Francisco, and cruised in her to the Far East. In September 1906, he was transferred to Baltimore (C-3); and, on 31 January 1907, after the two years at sea then required by law, he was commissioned as an Ensign. Remaining on Asiatic Station in 1907, he successively served in Panay, Decatur, and Denver.
While Nimitz was a 22-year-old ensign in the Philippines in command of the destroyer Decatur (DD-5), his ship ran aground on a mudbank. Nimitz was court-martialed and convicted of hazarding a Navy ship and received a letter of reprimand .
Nimitz returned to the United States in the USS Ranger when that vessel was converted to a school ship, and in January 1909 began instruction in the First Submarine Flotilla. In May of that year he was given command of the flotilla, with additional duty in command of Plunger, later renamed A-1. He commanded Snapper (later renamed C-5) when that submarine was commissioned on February 2, 1910, and on November 18, 1910 assumed command of Narwhal (later renamed D-1). In the latter command he had additional duty from October 10, 1911, as Commander 3rd Submarine Division Atlantic Torpedo Fleet. In November 1911 he was ordered to the Boston Navy Yard, to assist in fitting out Skipjack and assumed command of that submarine, which had been renamed E-1, at her commissioning on February 14, 1912. On March 20, 1912 he rescued Fireman Second Class W. J. Walsh, from drowning.
After commanding the Atlantic Submarine Flotilla from May 1912 to March 1913, he supervised the building of diesel engines for the tanker Maumee, under construction at the New London Ship and Engine Building Company, Groton, Connecticut.
Nimitz lost part of one finger in an accident with a diesel engine, only saving the rest of it—and his career—when the machine jammed against his Annapolis ring. . He also suffered a severe ear infection, becoming partially deaf. He compensated by becoming proficient at reading lips.
In June 1929 he took command of Submarine Division 20. In June 1931 he assumed command of Rigel and the destroyers out of commission at San Diego, California. In October 1933 he took command of Augusta and deployed to the Far East, where in December the Augusta became flagship of the Asiatic Fleet. In April 1935, he returned home for three years as Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, before becoming Commander, Cruiser Division 2, Battle Force. In September 1938 he took command of Battleship Division 1, Battle Force. On June 15, 1939 he was appointed Chief of the Bureau of Navigation.
Ten days after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 he was selected Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CinCPAC), with the rank of Admiral, effective from December 31. Assuming command at the most critical period of the war in the Pacific, Admiral Nimitz, despite the losses from the attack on Pearl Harbor and the shortage of ships, planes and supplies, successfully organized his forces to halt the Japanese advance.
On March 24, 1942, the newly-formed US-British Combined Chiefs of Staff issued a directive designating the Pacific theater an area of American strategic responsibility. Six days later the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) divided the theater into three areas: the Pacific Ocean Areas (POA), the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA, commanded by General Douglas MacArthur), and the South East Pacific Area. The JCS designated Nimitz as Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas CinCPOA, with operational control over all Allied units (air, land, and sea) in that area.
As rapidly as ships, men, and material became available, Nimitz shifted to the offensive and defeated the Japanese navy in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Battle of Midway, and in the Solomon Islands Campaign.
By Act of Congress, approved December 14, 1944, the grade of Fleet Admiral of the United States Navy — the highest grade in the Navy — was established and the next day President of the United States Franklin Roosevelt appointed Admiral Nimitz to that rank. Nimitz took the oath of that office on December 19, 1944.
In the final phases in the war in the Pacific, he attacked the Mariana Islands, inflicting a decisive defeat on the Japanese Fleet in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and capturing Saipan, Guam, and Tinian. His Fleet Forces isolated enemy-held bastions of the Central and Eastern Caroline Islands and secured in quick succession Peleliu, Angaur, and Ulithi. In the Philippines, his ships turned back powerful task forces of the Japanese Fleet, a historic victory in the multi-phased Battle for Leyte Gulf 24 to October 26, 1944. Fleet Admiral Nimitz culminated his long-range strategy by successful amphibious assaults on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. In addition, Nimitz also ordered the United States Army Air Forces to mine the Japanese ports and waterways by air with B-29 Superfortresses in a successful mission called Operation Starvation, which severely interrupted the Japanese logistics.
In January 1945, Nimitz moved the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet forward from Pearl Harbor to Guam for the remainder of the war. Mrs. Nimitz remained in the United States for the duration of the war, and she did not join her husband in Hawaii or Guam.
On September 2, 1945 Nimitz signed for the United States when Japan formally surrendered on board the Missouri in Tokyo Bay. On October 5, 1945, which had been officially designated as "Nimitz Day" in Washington, DC, Admiral Nimitz was personally presented a Gold Star in lieu of the third Distinguished Service Medal by the President of the United States "for exceptionally meritorious service as Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, from June 1944 to August 1945...."
Nimitz was known throughout World War II as the "Island Hopper" during the Pacific campaign.
On March 14, 1950, in United Nations Security Council Resolution 80 the governments of India and Pakistan both agreed that he should administer the plebiscite that would determine the fate of Jammu and Kashmir.
For the post-war trial of German Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz at the Nuremberg Trials, Admiral Nimitz furnished an affidavit in support of the practice of unrestricted submarine warfare, a practice that he himself had employed throughout the war in the Pacific. This evidence is widely credited as a reason why Dönitz was only sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment. After Dönitz was released, Admiral Nimitz went to visit Dönitz.
In San Francisco, he served in the mostly ceremonial post as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy in the Western Sea Frontier. After World War II, he worked to help restore goodwill with Japan by helping to raise funds for the restoration of the Japanese Imperial Navy battleship Mikasa, Admiral Heihachiro Togo's flagship at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. He was also suggested as a United Nations envoy to help mediate the Kashmir dispute, but due to the deterioration of relations between India and Pakistan, the mission did not take place.
Nimitz served as a regent of the University of California from 1948-1956, where he had formerly been a faculty member as a professor of Naval Science for the NROTC program. Nimitz was honored on 17 October 1964, by the University of California on Nimitz Day.
Nimitz and his wife had four children: Catherine Vance (b. 1914), Chester, Jr., (1915-2002), Anna (1919-2003), and Mary (1931-2006). Chester W. Nimitz, Jr., graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1936, and he served as a submariner in the Navy until his retirement in 1957, reaching the (post-retirement) rank of Rear Admiral; he served as chairman of PerkinElmer from 1969-1980. Anna Elizabeth ("Nancy") Nimitz was an expert on the Soviet economy at the RAND Corporation from 1952 until her retirement in the 1980s. Sister Mary Aquinas (Nimitz) became a sister in the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), working at Dominican University of California teaching biology for 16 years, academic dean for 11 years, acting president for 1 year, and vice president for institutional research for 13 years before becoming the university's Emergency Preparedness Coordinator. She held this job until her death February 27, 2006 when she lost her battle with cancer.
Nimitz suffered a stroke, complicated by pneumonia, in late 1965. In January 1966 he left the U.S. Naval Hospital (Oak Knoll) in Oakland to return home to his naval quarters. He died the evening of 20 February 1966. The place of death is Quarters One on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay. He was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California on 1966-02-24.
|Ensign||Lieutenant Junior Grade||Lieutenant||Lieutenant Commander||Commander||Captain|
|7 January 1907||never held||31 January 1910||29 August 1916||1 February 1918||2 June 1927|
|Rear Admiral (lower half)||Rear Admiral (upper half)||Vice Admiral||Admiral||Fleet Admiral|
|never held||23 June 1938||never held||31 December 1941||19 December 1944|
At the time of Nimitz's promotion to Rear Admiral, the United States Navy did not maintain a one-star rank. Nimitz was thus promoted directly from a Captain to a Two-Star Admiral. By Congressional Appointment, he skipped the rank of Vice Admiral and became a Four-Star Admiral in December 1941.
Nimitz also never held the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade, as he was appointed a full Lieutenant after three years of service as an Ensign. For administrative reasons, Nimitz's naval record states that he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade and Lieutenant on the same day.
|Navy Distinguished Service Medal with three gold stars|
|Army Distinguished Service Medal|
|Silver Lifesaving Medal|
|World War I Victory Medal with Escort Clasp and Navy Commendation Star|
|American Defense Service Medal|
|Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal|
|World War II Victory Medal|
|National Defense Service Medal|
Besides the honor of being on a United States postage stamp, the following institutions and locations have been named in honor of Nimitz: