On this day 77 years ago, the United States was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor. The surprise bombing killed thousands of soldiers, sailors, and civilians.
In front of Congress, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called December 7, 1941 “a date which will live in infamy.”
The American in charge of the Pacific fleet was a decorated Navy officer, placed there by Roosevelt himself. He can trace his roots to Henderson.
December 7 has now “become a day of remembrance,” said Ken Christopher, the leader of Henderson War Memorial Foundation.
Remembrance of all the men and women lost, and for Christopher, remembrance of Pearl Harbor’s most famous man you may have never heard of.
Admiral Husband Kimmel oversaw the entire pacific theater at the beginning of the war, until the attack. He was as exceptional a Navy officer as his name was unique.
Kimmel was born and raised in Henderson. His homestead was on the corner of Fifth and Green Streets where Family Video now does business. He was educated at Henderson High School before shipping off to Annapolis, Maryland.
Kimmel was tapped by FDR to lead the U.S. Pacific fleet. Eventually his leadership would be tested, and ultimately defeated.
“He was the scapegoat,” said Tom Jake with the Henderson Historical Society. “Admiral Kimmel was not informed of what he had to have to protect Pearl Harbor.”
Kimmel supporters say the information to prepare for the Japanese attack never made it to Kimmel’s desk. Shortly after the attack, Kimmel was stripped of his rank.
Legend has it, Kimmel already knew what was coming. “When he saw what was going on he just reached up and took off his shoulder boards and just dropped them,” said Jake, “because he was the man in charge and that’s where the buck stopped.”
On the Henderson riverfront, a statue of Admiral Kimmel stands alone; his rank restored on each shoulder. Shortly after the war Kimmel was exonerated, but his name still suffers demotion.
Kimmel’s family and supporters are still pleading with the federal government to restore Kimmel’s rank officially. It will take a signature from the President to make it happen.
The Admiral didn’t know what was coming on that fateful day in December. Hopefully we’ve learned since then.
“Our history teaches us,” Christopher said. “If you don’t know where you’ve been, you won’t know where you’re going.”
The folks in Henderson hope you’ve learned a little more about our hometown hero.
“He was a brilliant man, a very decent man, family man,” said Christopher. “We want to remember him as long as we can as a native son that we’re proud of.”