SAN ANTONIO — Military historians and Admiral Nimitz Museum officials cheered the release Monday of an online version of the day-by-day operational log that the famed seaman maintained during the war in the Pacific.
“In terms of World War II history, this truly is a big deal,” said Richard B. Frank, an author and historian who regularly speaks at the museum in Fredericksburg devoted to the war's Pacific theater in the town where Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz grew up.
Frank and others previously had to travel to the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington D.C. to see the frail and fading 4,000-page document which, due to the color of its original cover, is known as the “Graybook.”
“It's probably the single most important document we have about U.S. participation in the Pacific war,” Frank said Monday by phone from his Virginia home. “In addition to the daily running commentary about what Nimitz is seeing and deciding and doing, it also contains a large number of attached messages that come to and go out from Nimitz.”
For example, the Graybook reveals Nimitz replaced his chief of staff in 1942 after the officer objected to Nimitz's forward posture in confronting Japanese carrier task forces in the Coral Sea and at Midway, which outnumbered his own ships.
“It really shows how aggressive Nimitz was,” Frank said.
The Naval War College in Rhode Island, which Nimitz attended, posted the document Monday at www.usnwc.edu\graybook and viewing was so heavy, computer servers couldn't keep up, college spokesman Daniel Marciniak said.
“We're definitely pleased with the level of interest,” he said. “We've consistently had up to 400 people viewing it at any given time since 10 a.m.”
The diaries trace Nimitz's and his planning staff's appraisal of the war in the Pacific from Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 almost to the war's last day in 1945. For all but 10 days of that period, he commanded the U.S. Pacific Fleet and from March, 1942 he held overall command of Allied forces in a huge swath of the Pacific Ocean.
“It's really a national treasure ... which gives the reader a great deal of insight into how his experiences both operationally and at the Naval War College informed and influenced his prosecution of the war,” said Capt. Henry Hendrix, director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, in a press release.
A similar digitization project is underway of other Nimitz records maintained at the museum, built in 1967 at the former hotel operated by Nimitz's grandfather, Charles H. Nimitz, on Fredericksburg's Main Street. Acquired by the state in 1970, the facility has since expanded to include 50,000 square feet of exhibit space in three galleries, known collectively as the National Museum of the Pacific War.
“We have copies of it, but it's not cleaned up like the one that was unveiled Monday,” museum spokesman Brandon Vinyard said of the planning log.
Helen McDonald, director of programs for the Admiral Nimitz Foundation in Fredericksburg, said scholars and the general public can find value in the document.
“Nimitz was the architect of the war in the Pacific, and he's had so little recognition.... He did not write a memoir or a book,” she said. “It's nice to see his words now available to everyone. These are his thoughts being expressed at a critical point in history.”