From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
After commanding more than 2 million Soldiers, Sailors and Marines during the Pacific campaign of World War II, Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz probably wasn’t too concerned about rain clouds that threatened to rain on his parade Oct. 9, 1945.
But just like the Japanese a month earlier, the heavens capitulated and it was mostly sunny but breezy for the nearly 3-hour ticker-tape parade in New York City.
It was 69 years ago today when Adm. Nimitz took part in the second parade in his honor, the first being Oct. 5 at Washington, D.C. While the DC parade included speaking before both chambers of Congress and in front of thousands packing the National Mall, the New York City parade was mostly pomp and circumstance that epitomizes a New York City ticker-tape parade.
As with the Washington parade, Adm. Nimitz didn’t travel alone: Riding in a series of Jeeps behind him were 13 newly-awarded Medal of Honors recipients, and the admiral’s son, Cmdr. Chester W. Nimitz Jr., who had received the Navy Cross for his actions as a commander of submarine Haddo. Nimitz Jr. rode with prisoner of war and Marine ace Col. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, followed by:
- Car No. 4 – George Levick Street, Norfolk, Va. and Maj. Louis H. Wilson Jr., Pearson, Miss.
- Car No. 5 – Marine Joseph McCarthy, Ironwood, Mich. and 2nd Lt. Arthur J. Jackson Jr., Portland, Ore.
- Car No. 6 – William G. Harrell, Mercedes, Texas and Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class George Edward Wahlen, Ogden, Utah.
- No. 7 – Cpl. Richard E. Bush, Glasgow, Ky. and Cpl. Douglas T. Jacobson, Port Washington, N.Y.
- Car No. 8 – Hershel W. Williams, Fairmont, W.Va. and Pfc. Jacklyn H. Lucas, Belhaven, N.C.
- Car No. 9 – Franklin E. Sigler, Little Falls, N.J. and Pvt. Wilson D. Watson, Earl, Ark.
The more than 4-million turnout over the length of the route from Battery Park through Broadway (Avenue of Heroes) to City Hall in Manhattan and then Queens, at times overwhelmed Nimitz, who said “I can’t believe this is happening to me. I think I’m in a dream.”
New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia was clearly impressed with Nimitz’ modesty over such a display of admiration. “Strange, these real fighters are such mild-mannered persons,” he told a New York Times reporter.
None were quite as exuberant as Medal of Honor recipient Pfc. Jacklyn Lucas. He stood in the back seat of his Jeep, waving and throwing kisses to the women who lined the streets. One young lady even ran up to plant a kiss on him as they drove past.
The motorcade was led by 175 hand-picked Marines, veterans of action in the Pacific, plus six Navy and Coast Guard bands that alternated playing martial music, plus another 3,800 Navy, Marine, Coast Guard personnel along with 600 Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), women Marines, SPARS (“Semper Paratus—Always Ready” the name given to the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve), and Navy nurses.
Parade participants weren’t limited to those on streets, either. Along the East River, water craft added to celebration with blasts from their whistles, and two fire boats which spewed water from every hose nozzle.
Missing from the parade, however, was Catherine Nimitz, the guest-of-honor’s wife. Having already ridden with him for the Washington, D.C., parade, Mrs. Nimitz explained “there isn’t the slightest reason why he shouldn’t ride alone. It’s his day.” She was taken directly to City Hall to await her husband’s arrival there.
As New York celebrated the end of the war, Mrs. Nimitz knew her husband’s service to the U.S. Navy still wasn’t over, or for her as a volunteer worker at the Navy’s hospital in Oakland, Calif.
“Someday, perhaps when they send my husband home to stay, I’ll realize that is really over,” she told a New York Times reporter. “I don’t think anybody could work among the badly wounded and feel that it’s over. There’s so much still ahead of us, adjustments with other countries, adjusting in our own country.”
Hoping for an eventual return to normalcy, Mrs. Nimitz looked forward to her and her husband getting back to Pearl Harbor so she could “put her easel and paints in the back of her car and go off awhile.”
Once the motorcade got to City Hall, Adm. Nimitz stepped out on the stage built to look like the prow of a ship, with 1,000-pound anchors standing in the corners, 4-inch hawsers strung through hawse pipes and large pilings to give it the appearance of a pier. Navy life preservers hung on piles with bunting draped between. Six long ropes of Navy signal flags streamed from the cupola down the façade of the building. And bunting with five silver stars hung from the second balcony. Below that hung a huge map called “Nimitz Sea” with a lightning bolt from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo, Japan.
La Guardia spoke first, saying the city was honoring the man who had been given “the greatest and most difficult task ever entrusted one man,” command of the Pacific Fleet after the attack on Pearl Harbor. “There was no doubt at any time – it was just a matter of time – that Adm. Nimitz would clear the way from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo – and he did.”
A key to victory was training the people who served in the Navy. “Men and boys who had never seen the ocean were trained in seamanship, gunnery, navigation,” the mayor said.
As Adm. Nimitz walked to the podium to receive the city’s Gold Medal of Merit, there was the sound of the ship’s bell and shrill piping of bosun whistles as the 350,000 people in the vicinity cheered.
He spoke briefly, accepting the honors “on behalf of the two million men of the Army, the Navy, Marine Corps, men of New Zealand, men of Great Britain, all of whom teamed up together to defeat Japan.”
Victory had been achieved because America came together, Nimitz said, from the fighting forces overseas and on the home-front by industry and agriculture achieving “proud production miracles, by American shipyards building the world’s mightiest fleet and the greatest merchant marine.”
While the war may be over, Nimitz stressed the U.S. Navy “must remain strong” and retain adequate seapower” to make sure peace reigns.
“Never again should we risk the threat that weakness invites,” he said. “We owe this to the men who have fought and to the youngsters who are growing up today. Let us give our next generation a heritage of strength so that our citizens may live without having to spend their blood in battle.”
The parade ended at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel at Park Avenue and 56th Street where Adm. Nimitz was treated to lunch at the Starlight Roof with classmates from his Naval Academy Class of 1905. Afterward, Nimitz stopped by the Women’s Military Services Club.
That evening, he attended a $15 a plate dinner with 2,000 guests. It is here where Adm. Nimitz showed a lighter side and his sense of humor.
As reported by the New York Times on Oct. 10, 1945, “Admiral Chester W. Nimitz scored a salvo on his audience at the dinner in his honor at the Waldorf-Astoria last night when he interpolated into his serious address a rollicking bit of doggerel: ‘Nimitz and Halsey and Me.’ The verse, he said, was written by an unnamed naval officer in the Pacific and it illustrated the camaraderie in the Navy.”
NIMITZ AND HALSEY AND ME
Patsy McCoy, an American boy,
Left his home in the old Empire State.
He set out to sea in a shiny DD,
And wound up in Task Force 38.
He cruised for awhile with a satisfied smile,
And then he took his pencil in hand.
And here’s what he wrote
In a well-censored note.
To the folks back in home-state land!
Me and Halsey and Nimitz
Have sure got the [Japanese] on the run
We’re driving them wacky in old Nagasaki.
We’re setting the damn Rising Sun,
Kyushu and Kobe and Kure
Are wonderful ruins to see.
We’ve got ‘em like gophers a’seeking’ a hole;
The way that they burrow is good for the soul:
And everything out here is under control –
By Nimitz and Halsey and me.
Me and Halsey and Nimitz
Are having a wonderful time.
What we ain’t uprootin’ by bombing and shooting,
Will fit on the face of a dime.
They say they’re a face-saving nation,
And that may be true as can be;
They’re taking a pushing all over the place;
We’re giving ‘em arsenic minus old lace.
They’re getting a kicking but not in the face –
From Nimitz and Halsey and me.
Me and Halsey and Nimitz
Are anchored in Tokyo Bay;
The place is just drippin’ with American shippin’,
They stretch for a hell of a way.
We hear that the fightin’ is finished
And that’s the way it should be.
Remember Pearl Harbor – they started it then;
We’re warning ‘em never to start it again;
For we have a country with millions of men —
Like Nimitz and Halsey and me.
Information for this blog came from published news reports in the New York Times Oct. 10, 1945.