Grandson seeks restoration of respect for Pearl Harbor admiral

MERIDIAN, Miss. — Dec. 7, 1941, is "a date which will live in infamy" then U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt predicted.  

The family of Husband Kimmel, who was admiral and commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, have a lot of questions about the events that led up to the fateful attack that propelled the U.S. into a world war.

Was Kimmel given access to all intelligence concerning the perceived plans of the Japanese military in the months, weeks, and days leading up to the hour that thrust America into World War II? Were there important key elements of the Japanese intent willfully left out of the reports? Were Kimmel, and his counterpart, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Walter Short, made scapegoats for decisions made at the most upper echelons of military and political platforms? And given the fact Kimmel has been exonerated by Congress, the Naval Court of Inquiry, and received the support of World War II leaders such as Adm. Chester Nimitz, why has he not been reinstated, posthumously, to the rank of admiral, his family wants to know.

Kimmel's grandson, Thomas K. Kimmel, Jr., himself a U.S. Navy veteran and a retiree of the FBI, was in Meridian at the Kahlmus Auditorium on the campus of MSU Meridian Monday night, to answer many of these questions.

"We want my grandfather's rank restored to where it should be," Kimmel said Monday afternoon prior to the presentation later that night. "It is a source of pride and respect for the family. He never would pursue this because he was a proud Navy man but then one day he met a man who changed all that."

Adm. Kimmel was removed from command after the attack and reduced to the two-star rank of rear admiral. He retired from the Navy in 1944 and died in 1968 with that rank. But it was a meeting with whom many have called the father of U.S. Navy communications and intelligence, Laurence F. Safford, that turned what Thomas Kimmel described as a broken, beaten man into a fighting tiger.

Safford was a U.S. Navy cryptologist. He established the Naval cryptologic organization after World War I, and headed the effort more or less constantly until shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

In 1944, two years after his retirement from the Navy, Adm. Kimmel met with Safford who asked the former rear admiral if he had heard of "Magic." Adm. Kimmel replied that he had not, his grandson said.

That is when Safford knew Kimmel, and Short, were not given all of the intelligence on Japanese intent prior to Pearl Harbor.

Magic was set up to combine the U.S. government's cryptologic capabilities in one organization dubbed the Research Bureau. Intelligence officers from the Army and Navy (and later civilian experts and technicians) were all under one roof. Although they worked on a series of codes and cyphers, their most important successes involved RED, BLUE, and PURPLE, the military codes of the Japanese military, Thomas Kimmel explained.

"Basically, this is why the Naval Court of Inquiry was held that ultimately found my grandfather not to have been derelict in his duties prior to the attack, like what was determined by the Roberts Commission ordered by Roosevelt many years before," Thomas Kimmel said. "My grandfather didn't have all the available information on the situation but it was in Washington, D.C. where Safford was."

Sitting in another chair close to Thomas Kimmel listening to history coming alive, Dustin Phillips appeared entranced.

"The story of Pearl Harbor and the admiral is one in which you know there is a great deal more there than has been told," said Phillips, who is a staff sergeant in the Mississippi Air National Guard with the 172nd Airlift Command in Jackson and a student at MSU Meridian. "So many people think that Hollywood, with the movies it has made of the attack, has it right. That's not so."

Phillips' enthusiasm has been instrumental for Thomas Kimmel's presentation. Phillips did a research paper on the attack and the ensuing controversy that engulfed Adm. Kimmel and Short.

"Adm. Kimmel's military career, honor, and legacy also became a casualty of that fateful day," Phillips said.

It will literally take an act of Congress to get Adm. Kimmel's rank reinstated.

The Officer Personnel Act of 1947 allowed military personnel of World War II to retire to their highest rank. Everyone, including two dubious commanders who reportedly, in one instance almost blew the plans of the D-Day invasion during a drunken night out, and the other, the allegedly inept commander of American forces who were routed by German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Corps at the Kesserine Pass, were afforded this honor. Not Adm. Kimmel nor Short.

In 1999, Vice President Joseph Biden, then a U.S. Senator from Delaware, sponsored a Senate bill recommending the posthumous advancement in rank for Adm. Kimmel and Short. Thomas Kimmel believes, now that Biden is the vice president, the time to get this done is now. Letters to current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and other high ranking American political leaders have also been sent. Thomas Kimmel hopes to bend the ear of Mississippi Congressman Roger Wicker, who is on the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

"In 1999 both Trent Lott and Thad Cochran helped pass a non-binding resolution to exonerate Kimmel and Short and requested that the president of the United States posthumously restore both men to full rank. Obviously, no president has done so," Thomas Kimmel said.

In the end, the telling signs that Adm. Kimmel should get his reinstatement of rank lies with those men who served with him and who were privy to the way things worked during that trying time.

The giants of the U.S. Navy during World War II who supported Adm. Kimmel included Admiral Chester Nimitz, who was the Chief of Naval Operations following the attack. He said in the book SEAPOWER he co-wrote with with E. B. Potter, "Admiral Kimmel had been given no information which would justify interrupting a very urgent training schedule."

And later, in a book published in 1976 Nimitz wrote, "Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox was wrong in blaming Kimmel."

Join the conversation and share your voice.

Show Comments

Follow Stars and Stripes's board Military families on Pinterest.