Monday, January 12, 2015

A (Blustery) Day at the Museum

So, There I was......* A blustery** Winter Friday in the Hill Country of Texas, the day before a Winter Storm is set to drop freezing rain and Ice and I'm Free!  No Work, no School, no Company and Mrs Juvat has relieved me from Honey-Do taskings.  Free at Last!  

What's the Plan of the Day?  I've been meaning to visit the National Museum of the Pacific War for quite a while.  I'd visited it when we'd first moved to the area, but they had completed a massive renovation and I hadn't been back.  Today was the day.

This is not the Main Entrance, but at 33 degrees and 25K+ Winds, I was going the shortest distance possible. Right center distant is the Fairweather of a Submarine, and the foreground center left is a stylized bow "surfacing" through foliage.  During the spring it really does look like sea water.
To our copyright troll: Bite Me! They're all my photos.

Ponied up my $10 admittance fee ($4 off for veterans) which gains me access to all three parts of the Museum.  This one, the Nimitz Museum, which was his families hotel and details his career and local history, and the Pacific Combat Zone where they hold live re-enactments and seminars.  Today I was content with being inside.

The first section of the museum dealt with the historical situations that led up to the start of the war, and while I was stationed in or focused at the Pacific for most of my career, I still learned a few things. WWII in the Pacific was inevitable long before December 7, 1941 or even 1937.  The Museum did an excellent job in explaining that.

One of the aspects of the exhibits that makes this Museum somewhat unique is their focus on ordinary individuals.  To be sure, it is called the Nimitz museum and there are the requisite exhibits about the stars, but since the Museum came into operation, they've had an on-going outreach program to WWII veterans.  If a veteran came into the Museum, first they didn't pay anything (they'd paid that long before).  Second, a historian would come and interview him about their experiences, where they had been, with what unit(s), what time frame, that kind of data.  Once they had gotten that data, the historian would start asking him about his stories and recorded them.  So, in every section of the Museum, there would be a station with pictures and push buttons that when pushed would have an actual participant's description of what they were doing at that point in time.  Given the relentless nature of time, most of these vignettes were from very low ranking officers and enlisted.  That, to me, made them even more impressive.

This one was in the section for Midway
I've managed to make it through the pre-war exhibits and the doors open into Pearl Harbor.  The room is extra dark to simulate pre-dawn and underwater.
They don't allow flash photography and I'm still figuring out my phone.  This is one of the Japanese Mini-Subs from the attack

I had seen one of these at the Arizona Memorial, but this one seemed more real.  It was pretty cool. Proceed further into this exhibit and got another example of how this Museum is different than most War Museums I've visited.

The top picture is the young Sailor's Posthumous Purple Heart and the Telegram is the notification to his parents.  The Ensign had been commissioned the previous summer and was on his first assignment.  Both were on Arizona.
Hatch from USS Arizona

When you visit the Arizona Memorial you know all those names on the wall at the Memorial were real people.  However, this exhibit somehow made the losses much more real to me.

Pressing through the to the next exhibit room, I turn a corner and I'm nose to wingtip with one of my favorite stories from the war.

The room is made up to be the deck of the Hornet, and the B-25 is quite literally right in your face.  Playing on screens is the familiar footage of the mission. But, again, they added a personal touch. Yamamoto's uniform. 

I've always been conflicted in thinking about the Raid and Yamamoto. Was the limited damage worth the risk to Carrier Forces?  Yamamoto was a brilliant tactician and strategist, almost clairvoyant in predicting outcome and timetable.  Followed his orders even knowing he'd ultimately fail. I did not realize that he'd tried to resign after the Doolittle Raid for failing to protect the Homeland.  That made me realize that perhaps the Raid was a proper use of military assets after all.

Next stop was the Midway exhibit.  Again, monitors playing the familiar films from the battle.  A lot of hardware to look at to include:

But the exhibit that caught my eye was this one.

This was the gear, Ensign George Gay was wearing when he and the rest of Torpedo 8 were shot down at the start of Admiral Nagumo's "Hero to Zero" Moment on 4 June 1942.  Ensign Gay was the sole survivor being picked up by a PBY a couple of days after the battle ended.

Around the corner were Guadalcanal and Buna exhibits.  Knew quite a bit about Guadalcanal, so I spent more time on the Buna part.  Below is a picture of a M-3 Stuart tank.  I was positive I took a picture from the front also, but ...

Directly above the main gun, you can see a TV Monitor, on it is an older Australian Gentleman detailing his experiences in Buna while riding in THIS tank.  Essentially, he came head to head with one of these 3 inch cannons.

You can see the damage just below the main gun on the right side of the tank.  To hear him talk about the incident was, well there seemed to be a bit of dust in the air around me.

I came upon another part of the exhibit and immediately thought of Old NFO for some reason

The Tarawa exhibit was next.  This next exhibit demonstrated an old saw that I've always stood by "I'd rather be lucky than good"

They guy in the picture is landing on Red Beach One on Tarawa and takes a machine gun round through his helmet (next to the photo).  All he gets is a scratch.  Someone yells at him to put his helmet on, he does and keeps it on for the rest of the battle.  The photo is post war, so lucky is better.  The gun but behind the helmet is a BAR.  I took a picture of that for Murph, but...still trying to figure out the camera thing.

So, I got a picture of these instead

Took this picture again for Old NFO, then stepped forward to look at it closer.  You definitely want to enlarge it.  It's signed by the three surviving Marines in Rosenthal's picture. Ira Hayes, John Bradley and Rene Gagnon.

I then came upon this letter (which you may have to blow up to read). It's the Captain of the USS Minneapolis reading the riot act to his crew.  Here is the wikipedia description of their record under his command, so I guess it must have worked

There was one other exhibit that interested in and that was the immediate post war activities.  

According to the graphic on the day the Bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan had 5.6 million troops deployed in the Pacific.  The Allies couldn't leave them in place, so they had to bring them home.  Regrettably, I had been in the Museum almost 5 hours and they were closing.  I guess I've got to go back.

*SJC (So much Easier!)
**Yesterday's High was 34.2 Today it's 63.  Gotta love Texas, but not its weather.


  1. Yes, I need to get down there and check out that museum. Looks absolutely awesome.

    Rhode Island sees those kind of temperature swings from time to time.

    Growing up in Vermont, one got used to the cold after a few days. Here? Too much variation to get used to any one temperature.

    Then again, winters in Little Rhody are a lot less, shall we say "intense" than in Vermont.

    One last thing: their Wildcat is in pretty sad shape. Any back story on that?

    1. Not directly in the exhibit. It was obviously representing the Japanese attacks on the Airfield at Midway, but whether it was actually there, I don't know. I do have a friend that works at the Museum who might know. I'll check.

  2. I've never been in the Nimitz Museum, but next time I'm in the Hill Country I want to stop and see it.

    1. It's well worth your time, and hey, it's on Main Street in Fredericksburg! What's not to like?

  3. I envy you. I've had the museum on my To Do list for years and I just haven't been able to get back to Texas. By the way, George Gay was a Texan, if you had not known that he would have told you.

    1. I actually did know that and his exhibit at the museum kinda led me to agree with you. While he was the lone survivor from the Torpedo 8 Devastator attack, there was a detachment of TBM Avengers from Torpedo 8 on Midway Island. They didn't fare much better as all but one were shot down in a similar attack. The two crewman that made it back to Midway used to joke about being the "other" sole survivors.

    2. George Gay went on to a career with the airlines. TWA, I think.

  4. Most cool. Thanks for the thought--I loves me some BAR but they're all out of my price range these days. The jeep rocks, and I'd love to know the story behind the condition of the tank and the Wildcat and their "preserved, not restored" status. How'd they get to look like they did? Where's the tank's tracks and why are it's road wheels rotted off? That Wildcat looks like it spent some time underwater after a hard landing. Any more info?

    And that B-25...looks good for an afternoon take-off. I'd love to have one of those, too.

    Thanks for the cool post to start the day off right.

    1. I'm going to inquire about the Wildcat, but the Tank was the actual tank the Aussie was driving when hit by the 3 inch round. I'm kicking myself for not taking the front view picture. There's a large hole where the driver sat. He obviously was killed instantaneously. The other crew members had to exit the tank through the hole as all other exits were jammed. The tank sat on Buna beach until recovered. The Museum acquired it and semi restored it. Evidently the Aussie tank commander visited the museum one day and.....
      There were a lot of weapons there, and I thought I'd be able to remember their nomenclature. Not so much.
      You need to come on down sometime, I went after lunch on Friday and didn't think I spent as much time on each exhibit as I'd like and still ran out of time. Admission price gets you a ticket to all 3 museums for a 48 hour period, so you can really get up close and personal.

    2. I went to 5th and 6th grade in Fort Riley. In the library of that school I remember one of the books they had for the casual reader, of the desert war fighting with Matildas and Shermans. Nobody spared the kids in those days. 45 years later, I remember how to extract the crew from a cremated Sherman tank.

      It looks like a wonderful museum. Sadly, while Texas was a once a month visit for me, it is no longer since she has moved elsewhere and nothing at all remotely interesting ever happened where she lives now.

    3. I can see how information like that could stay with you, primarily in the form of nightmares. I got to see my first tank up close and personal at Ft Riley while I was at Army Command and Staff. They're a lot larger than they look from my usual vantage point.

  5. This. This is why I love hanging out at Pearl Harbor, and the new museums there. Same sorts of things, although I must say the available-on-demand interviews with WWII vets at each exhibit is something Pearl should do.

    Thanks for this post, juvat. I wasn't aware of this museum, until now. Hmm.

    1. Unfortunately, it's probably too late for Pearl to start. This has been going on for quite a while and I was looking into volunteering there as my "for pay' job winds down. My contact there says they don't have many WWII vets coming in anymore.

  6. Super post Juvat. Obviously a day well spent! Thanks for sharing.

    The back stories on those famous guys are fascinating. Every one of the non-famous guys has an equally fascinating back story. Most of them are lost forever, but a lot of museums and libraries have done an amazing job documenting them. What those guys did makes my paltry contributions pale in comparison. As the saying goes, I wouldn't make a pimple on the backside of a real sailor.

    1. Yeah, there was a lot of introspection going on. A lot of asking myself " Would I have done as well?" I'll most likely never know and a part of me adds "Thankfully" to that statement. I get the same thoughts over at Proof Positive's site in his Medal of Honor section. I'm continuously amazed at how normal they seem. Hollywood has bred a thought pattern that Heroes are Arnold Swartzenegger or John Wayne when in reality, they're normal folks like you and I who stood up when they were supposed to and did their jobs to the best of their ability regardless of the cost.

  7. Thanks for the pics, and I've got to get down there and see that! I lost relatives on the Arizona, so yeah, I DO have a vested interest... I had heard there were 'some' posters signed, I didn't know they actually had one there!

    1. Let me know when you're in the area. I'd like to get your take on the exhibits.

  8. There are similar displays at the Army Museum at Fort DeRussy in Honolulu.
    Thanks for the tour.

    1. Been through that museum also, very interesting (and a nice setting).


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