HONORING THE FALLEN AND EDUCATING THE LIVING, TAKE A TOUR OF THE PACIFIC WAR
Located in Fredericksburg in Texas’ Hill Country, the National Museum of the Pacific War is a state-owned museum run by the Admiral Nimitz Foundation. The museum opened February 24, 1967, and was originally named the Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz Memorial Naval Museum.
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Why would a Naval Museum be located in the hill country in Texas? Because Chester Nimitz was born in Fredericksburg. The museum spans six acres and offers over 50,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space within several buildings, such as the Admiral Nimitz Gallery, the George H.W. Bush Gallery, and the Pacific War Zone, all in the heart of Fredericksburg.
Outdoor displays include the Memorial Courtyard and Plaza of Presidents, with monuments honoring the 10 U.S. presidents who served during WWII.
THE ADMIRAL NIMITZ GALLERY
The Admiral Nimitz Gallery, located in part of the Historic Nimitz Hotel, greets you as you enter the city on Main Street. It provides insight into the career of Fredericksburg native Chester W. Nimitz.
After its $4.5-million renovation, the gallery has over 95 of Nimitz’s personal as well as family artifacts and new interactive displays.
JAPANESE GARDEN OF PEACE
In 1976, the people of Japan donated the Garden of Peace to the museum. The garden is a replica of the private garden of Gensui Marquis Togo Heihachiro.
Nimitz admired Admiral Togo and his tactics during the Russo-Japanese War and, in 1955, helped restore Togo’s flagship Mikasa, the last remaining pre-dreadnought battleship, into a memorial located in Yokosuka, Japan, to honor the Gensui.
Craftsmen from Japan traveled to Fredericksburg and built a replica of Togo’s study. Constructed in traditional Japanese fashion, the study was built without the use of a single nail. The garden of peace has all the features of a traditional Japanese garden, complete with bonsai trees, raked stones, koi pond, a small bridge, and larger rocks.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH GALLERY
Greeting you at the main entrance to the George H.W. Bush gallery is the conning tower and foc’sle of the USS Pintado, which was a Balao-class Pacific diesel-electric submarine that saw action in the pacific.
It was commissioned January 1944 and decommissioned March 1946. The sub was mothballed and finally sold for scrap in 1969. The display is unique in that the submarine is covered in “waves of grass” simulating a surface run.
The Bush gallery is home to the majority of the collection, with 33,000 square feet of displays. The museum estimates that only 2 to 3 percent of its artifacts are on display, with the rest in storage. The Bush gallery features the Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, Doolittle Raid, Okinawa, and the Atomic Bomb exhibits.
PEARL HARBOR EXHIBIT
The Japanese deployed five midget submarines during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Their mission was to divert attention from the air attack and launch their torpedoes on ships in the harbor. One of the subs survived intact.
Due to a malfunction in the gyrocompass, the HA-19 ran aground and was captured. It now sits in the museum in pristine condition. The sub’s commander ensign Kazuo Sakamaki survived and was taken prisoner, while his shipmate drowned. Sakamaki was the first enemy captured by the U.S. in WWII.
After its capture, HA-19 was shipped to the mainland and used as a tool for War Bond drives. The sub was modified with small viewing windows cut into the starboard side, put on a trailer, and towed around the United States for viewing by citizens.
After the war, HA-19 spent time displayed at NAS Key West and the Key West lighthouse, until 1991 when HA-19 reached its final destination in Fredericksburg. That same year, Ensign Sakamaki traveled to the museum for a conference and was reunited with his sub.
IWO JIMA EXHIBIT
While many know the iconic photo of U.S. Marines raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi, most don’t know the significance of the island or the horrifying 36-day battle for its capture. During the final push to reach the Japanese main island, Iwo Jima was a strategic must-have if Japan were to be defeated.
A radar installation on the island had to be shut down, as it would warn the main island of incoming B-29 bombers. Once captured, Allied forces would use the island as a base to launch short-range fighters. Knowing how critical it was, the Japanese fortified Iwo Jima and created a massive bunker and tunnel system.
The battle was slow and brutal. On February 19, 1945, 60,000 U.S. Marines began the assault against 21,000 Japanese troops embedded in their bunkers. It was here that the fearsome flamethrower became worth its weight in gold. Although the U.S. flag was raised over Mt. Suribachi after four days, it would be March 26 before the island was declared secure.
When the smoke cleared, 6,871 Marines were dead and 19,217 wounded. Heroism on an unparalleled scale was shown on Iwo Jima with 27 Medals of Honor awarded; 14 of them were given posthumously.
THE DOOLITTLE RAID EXHIBIT
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, America needed a victory, however small. In January 1942, Army Air Forces LTC James Doolittle volunteered for a mission to do just that. The plan was to launch 16 B-25 Mitchell Bombers from the Aircraft Carrier USS Hornet and strike Japanese targets.
The aircraft would then land in China. The Doolittle Raiders trained at Wagner Field Auxiliary #1 in Florida. The aircraft were then loaded onto the USS Hornet in Alameda, California.
On the morning of April 18, 1942, as Task Force 16 was making way, they were spotted by a Japanese fishing boat that warned Tokyo about the approaching U.S. ships. Since the mission had been compromised, the order was given to launch about 200 miles farther out than planned.
While the B-25s had been modified with extra fuel tanks and lightened by removing some equipment, the bombers would be short on fuel and might not make it to the safety of China. Undeterred, Doolittle’s raid was a success, striking targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, Nagoya, and Yokosuka.
OKINAWA AND THE ATOMIC BOMB EXHIBIT
While the objective was the invasion of the Japanese home island, the U.S. strategy was to take the outer islands one by one, with Okinawa being the largest.
The Japanese strategy wasn’t to stop the Allied forces at Okinawa; it was to make the invasion so costly that the U.S. would sue for peace instead of demand surrender. It was for this reason that President Truman decided on using the atomic bomb.
The casing on display is of the Fat Man design, used at Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. It was a plutonium implosion bomb, and the code name for the Fat Man was created by Robert Serber, who worked on the Manhattan Project with Dr. Oppenheimer. Serber came about the name from Sydney Greenstreet’s character in The Maltese Falcon.
THE PACIFIC COMBAT ZONE
The exhibits in the Pacific Combat Zone are truly awesome. It includes a motor torpedo boat PT-309 armed with MK 8 torpedoes, depth charges, a 20mm Oerlikon cannon in the fore, twin .50-caliber machine guns mounted, and a 40mm Bofors Autocannon mounted aft.
The PT-309 was named “Oh Frankie,” as the ship’s commander met Frank Sinatra in New York City the night before being deployed to the Mediterranean.
Also displayed is a pristine TBM Avenger Torpedo Bomber of the type piloted by a certain Lt. Junior Grade, George H.W. Bush. The Avenger had a payload of 2,000 pounds and could carry one MK 8 Torpedo, one 2,000-pound general-purpose bomb, or four 500-pound bombs. Did you know another famous person was a turret gunner on an Avenger? His name was Paul Newman.
Last but not least is a recreation of a Pacific island battlefield, complete with a collection of Japanese tanks, Japanese guns, quonset hut, and machine gun emplacements. The hardware is great by itself, but periodically during the year the museum stages battle reenactments, complete with a landing craft coming ashore and U.S. Marines engaging a Japanese pill box with an actual flamethrower.
The National Museum of the Pacific War is a top-tier military museum with an outstanding collection of WWII memorabilia. Speaking of which, the museum has an excellent gift shop complete with everything from toys for the youngsters to books and reference material for the adults. Anyone wanting to learn about service in the Pacific will find everything they desire here. The staff are proud of their museum, and the attention to detail is incredible.
The National Museum of the Pacific War
Address: 311 E. Austin St.
Fredericksburg, TX 78624
Hours of Operation:
Open Wednesdays through
Mondays, closed Tuesdays
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Adult $20
- Senior 65+ $16
- Student 6-17 $10
- WWII Vet Free
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