I didn’t mean to be at the computer so late this evening. But if I hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have seen this story.
It’s a simple story (even if every one of us knows that no one’s story is really simple). It’s a sailor’s story. A vet’s story. If you’ve ever served in uniform, you can imagine being there.
It starts in uncompromising fashion:
After signing my Pop, EM2 Bud Cloud (circa Pearl Harbor) up for hospice care, the consolation prize I’d given him (for agreeing it was OK to die) was a trip to “visit the Navy in San Diego.”
It wends its way to this point:
They piped him ashore. CMDCM Grgetich leaned in and quietly told me how significant that honor was and who it’s usually reserved for as we headed towards the gangplank. Hearing “Electrician’s Mate Second Class William Bud Cloud, Pearl Harbor Survivor, departing” announced over the 1MC was surreal.
And the rest is just as good. Read, as they say, the whole thing.
Without realizing it, my mind had been looking for the right context all day for something a Facebook friend had posted earlier. It’s from a book about Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who commanded the U.S. Pacific Fleet throughout the Pacific campaign in World War II. As a USS Nimitz (CVN-68) sailor and sometime student of World War II, I of course have had a special interest in Admiral Nimitz. But I hadn’t read about this little event after Pearl Harbor until today:
Sunday, December 7th, 1941–Admiral Chester Nimitz was attending a concert in Washington D.C. He was paged and told there was a phone call for him. When he answered the phone, it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the phone. He told Admiral Nimitz that he (Nimitz) would now be the Commander of the Pacific Fleet.
Admiral Nimitz flew to Hawaii to assume command of the Pacific Fleet. He landed at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve, 1941.
There was such a spirit of despair, dejection and defeat–you would have thought the Japanese had already won the war.
On Christmas Day, 1941, Adm. Nimitz was given a boat tour of the destruction wrought on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Big sunken battleships and navy vessels cluttered the waters everywhere you looked.
As the tour boat returned to dock, the young helmsman of the boat asked, “Well Admiral, what do you think after seeing all this destruction?” Admiral Nimitz’s reply shocked everyone within the sound of his voice.
Admiral Nimitz said, “The Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could ever make, or God was taking care of America. Which do you think it was?”
Shocked and surprised, the young helmsman asked, “What do mean by saying the Japanese made the three biggest mistakes an attack force ever made?” Nimitz explained:
Mistake number one: the Japanese attacked on Sunday morning.
Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk–we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.
Mistake number two: when the Japanese saw all those battleships lined in a row, they got so carried away sinking those battleships, they never once bombed our dry docks opposite those ships. If they had destroyed our dry docks, we would have had to tow every one of those ships to America to be repaired.
As it is now, the ships are in shallow water and can be raised. One tug can pull them over to the dry docks, and we can have them repaired and at sea by the time we could have towed them to America. And I already have crews ashore anxious to man those ships.
Mistake number three: Every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war is in top of the ground storage tanks five miles away over that hill. One attack plane could have strafed those tanks and destroyed our fuel supply.
That’s why I say the Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could make or God was taking care of America.
There are various points to make about Nimitz and his list. But the point I want to make here is that Nimitz was already looking at the situation from the standpoint of fighting back. He of all people had reason to know how much we had lost in the attack on Pearl Harbor, and what mistakes of policy and planning we had made beforehand. He could have been overwhelmed by it all. But instead, he was thinking in terms of what had to happen so we could take the fight to the attacker across the Pacific.
We know from history with what remarkable swiftness that was done. In spite of FDR’s decision to prioritize the war in Europe – advocated and supported by most of his senior military staff – the Pacific commanders, operating on a terribly thin margin, were able to deal the Japanese navy a serious blow at the Battle of the Coral Sea, less than six months after Pearl Harbor. Coral Sea was fought 4-8 May 1942 off the northeast coast of Australia; USS Dewey (DD-349), EM2 Cloud’s ship, fought in it. The Battle of Midway was fought a month later, from 4-7 June 1942.
Even before Coral Sea, the U.S. Army Air Corps was able to execute Doolittle’s famous raid on Tokyo, on 18 April 1942 (as it happened, the 167th anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride). Doolittle’s raid, which stretched operational ingenuity to the breaking point, was the first blow struck directly against Japan after Pearl Harbor. Later, on 7 August 1942, eight months after Pearl Harbor – less than five months after Douglas MacArthur’s ignominious departure from the Philippines in the wake of the Japanese invasion, and four months after the Bataan death march – the U.S. Marines landed at Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, in the first U.S. counter-invasion of the war. EM2 Cloud’s USS Dewey fought at Guadalcanal too.
It took more than four months of fighting to drive the Japanese from the island. The combined U.S. invasion force – the great majority of which had been in uniform less than a year on landing day – lacked proper amphibious assault craft, and in fact had to accomplish much of its task using weapons and equipment that were outdated or ill-suited for the purpose. This was a perennial problem in the “secondary” Pacific theater throughout the war.
But each day of that long Pacific campaign, which lasted for nearly four years of continuous peril, alertment, and combat, we can be sure that Chester Nimitz surveyed his situation and thought, not about what he wished had happened, or about what might have been, but about what he did have, and what he needed.
He was thinking about how to win his fight. I will admit, what I originally keyed on in the Nimitz passage above was the conclusion of the somewhat gloomy author whose summary my Facebook friend was quoting:
There is a reason that our national motto is, IN GOD WE TRUST.
Why have we forgotten?
PRAY FOR OUR COUNTRY!
But then I read the story of EM2 Bud Cloud, the Pearl Harbor sailor, and the crew of today’s USS Dewey (DDG-105), who were so proud and honored to host his visit on their ship, the modern namesake of the one he was serving in on 7 December 1941. And I realized that I was focusing on the wrong thing.
We can sit around talking about what we’ve forgotten. Or we can think about winning our fight. Those sailors and EM2 Bud Cloud were a living bridge, on the last day of May 2013, across the generations of America. Every one of them was here, just as you and I are, because in the darkest hour of 1941, at least one man was thinking about winning his fight. Bud Cloud was part of that fight, just as Nimitz was. He helped to win it. We owe him a great debt.
But we have caught the torch passed down to our generations from his. A fight is shaping up before us that will define us for many years to come. Not a military war this time, but a political fight for the future of our nation, our civilization, our children, our liberty.
Those young men and women doing honor to Bud Cloud aren’t unready for the fight. And neither are we. We won’t do everything right. We won’t have everything we need. Not everything will go perfectly for us. There will undoubtedly be many days when it seems like we’re on a razor’s edge, and the next push will be the fatal blow.
But it’s our choice how to look at what we face. We can be dejected and defeated, wondering why we’ve forgotten this or that. Or we can think about winning our fight.
Pray for our country, yes. Every day. But let’s pray like Nimitz, for enlightenment about how to win our fight. How to see the right goals and strategy. How to see what we do have, and not just what we don’t. Let’s pray especially for all the Bud Clouds we will need, and then some, to get the job done. They’re out there. They’re all around us. If we think like people who plan to win, we’ll find them.