Pearl Harbor was attacked 75 years ago on Dec. 7, 1941. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously predicted the following day, the date has lived in infamy.
That is especially true for one South Carolina man, the third generation of a family that has fought to restore the reputations of two men initially held responsible for the attacks on the naval base and nearby U.S. Army facilities.
A quick history lesson: Without provocation, Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. bases early on Dec. 7, killing 2,403 Americans and wounding 1,178. The raid brought the United States into World War II.
Navy Adm. Husband Kimmel, commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet, and U.S. Army Gen. Walter Short were in charge at Pearl Harbor and nearby Army facilities at the time. Kimmel was relieved of command 10 days later. His family says he was shamed into retiring in March 1942 as a two-star admiral rather than at the four-star rank he held before the attack.
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Since then, Kimmel and his family have worked diligently to restore not only Kimmel’s and Short’s reputations, but also the ranks they held prior to Dec. 7, 1941.
With the attention prompted by the attack’s anniversary on Wednesday – plus the recent release of a book, “A Matter of Honor,” and a documentary based on the book airing on The History Channel on Wednesday – Manning Kimmel, Husband’s grandson, thinks now is a “small window of opportunity that will close, perhaps forever, when this (Obama) administration leaves office.”
“This is probably the last time, in my lifetime, anybody will take a look at this,” says Manning Kimmel, 68, managing partner of Rock Hill’s OTS Media Group.
“A Matter of Honor” was written by Pulitzer Prize finalists Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan with the subtitle “Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame, and a Family’s Quest for Justice.”
“Our work has in fact turned up much new evidence that Admiral Kimmel and General Short were scapegoats,” Swan said by email. “We now feel strongly that the two men should have their ranks posthumously restored.”
Manning Kimmel is urging people to buy the book and to sign a petition at www.kimmelpetition.org.
Short died in 1949. He has no known surviving relatives of the general, so the Kimmels have included him in their quest.
The Kimmels’ mission began in early 1942, six weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, when Husband Kimmel launched the campaign to clear his name. After he died in 1968, his sons Ned and Tom continued his quest.
Now it’s Husband Kimmel’s grandsons, Manning and his cousin Tom, who have taken up the cause.
“This is all that he did,” Manning Kimmel said of his father, Ned, in a video produced to aid the family’s efforts. “This was his retirement. And the same is true about his brother, Tom. This is all they did.”
Ned Kimmel died 11 years ago. Until the end of his life, he was asking questions related to his mission of clearing Husband Kimmel’s name.
Manning Kimmel wants it to end with his generation. While his sons are solidly behind the effort, he doesn’t want to pass along the burden.
“Three generations is enough,” Manning Kimmel said in an interview.
Manning Kimmel has two sons – Manning, 39, and Singleton, 36.
Many outside the family have stood up for Husband Kimmel, including Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry. Investigations indicate responsibility for the Pearl Harbor attacks should be shared by many. Historians debate whether the Date of Infamy would have had a different outcome had officials in Washington shared more top secret intelligence gathered from intercepted Japanese messages with Kimmel and Short.
“A Matter of Honor” reports some of the messages not shared with the Hawaii commanders showed the Japanese were gathering detailed information about Pearl Harbor and the location of ships there. The messages also indicated the Japanese had set a deadline for 7:30 a.m. Dec. 7 in Hawaii. The attack started just before 8 a.m.
Some insist that because Kimmel and Short were in charge, they are responsible, especially after both received cautionary messages about potential Japanese intentions in the days and weeks before the attack. But many agree with the Kimmels that the men were sacrificed as scapegoats.
In 2000, the Kimmels came the closest to getting what they wanted. With Thurmond’s help, a defense authorization bill included a provision that the ranks of Kimmel and Short be restored. Fifty-two senators voted in favor. President Bill Clinton signed the bill, but took no action regarding the ranks of Kimmel and Short.
The family wants to catch Obama’s attention in the next few weeks to exonerate Kimmel and Short.
“All we can do is try to raise this to America’s attention,” Manning Kimmel says.
About Husband E. Kimmel
Born: Feb. 26, 1882, in Henderson, Ky.
Died: May 14, 1968, in Groton, New London, Conn.
Education: Graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1904.
Children: Ned, Tom and Manning. Manning died after his submarine, the USS Robalo, sunk in July 1944 in the Pacific.
Buried: U.S. Naval Academy. Four stars are etched into the gravestone.