We all think back on our teachers from time to time. It seems that in retrospect we actually did learn
important lessons during our school days. Some of the things we learned, particularly in elementary
school, never appeared on our report cards. We learned how to line up and walk in a group, eat our
lunches in a civilized manner, hang up our coats, play with our classmates at recess, exit a building
calmly in a fire drill, and respond courteously and obediently to our teachers. The historical event that
is described in this essay is based on one such Texas student’s experience at his school in Kerrville
which ultimately affected millions of people and the fates of nations.
Chester Nimitz was a member of one of the proud German immigrant families that settled in the Texas
Hill Country. Chester’s father passed away before the boy was born. He was raised by his mother and
grandfather, who was known as “Grandpa Nimitz,” in Fredericksburg. The boy later moved to
Kerrville where he was able to watch Army officers and soldiers training in the field with their artillery
unit. He made inquiries to see where the officers were educated and was told that they went to the
Military Academy at West Point. When he got to high school, he applied for an appointment to West
Point, but it was full. His congressman advised him that he had one appointment open for the Naval
Academy. Chester never heard of it, but was told he could pursue his education in mathematics and
engineering at the government’s expense. He took the competitive exam, came out first among seven
candidates, and received the appointment from his Texas congressional district.
He graduated from the academy and entered the Navy as a warrant officer. In those days of the early
20th Century a midshipman graduated from the Naval Academy and had to perform well as a warrant
officer for a year prior to receiving his ensign’s commission. He received his commission a year later
and embarked on a career that was long on nautical engineering.
Although the first practical combat submarine was invented by the Confederate Navy (CSS Hunley),
the Germans improved it greatly with the introduction of diesel engines in the years prior to World War
One. The Navy Department sent Nimitz to Germany to learn about diesel engines and to introduce
them into our own submarines. He could speak German fluently as that was the language he spoke at
home. He was known as a nuts and bolts kind of a guy and got along well with everyone. He
transformed our submarines using German technology.
In those days, the Navy wasn’t so huge that the officers and senior enlisted men weren’t known to most
naval personnel. When President Roosevelt was elected, he knew most of the senior officers through
his time as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He knew Nimitz to be a detail oriented engineer who could
build a fleet.
When the war started for America at Pearl Harbor, the president knew whom he wanted to command the
Pacific fleet. FDR promoted Nimitz to full admiral from rear admiral. (He went from two stars to four
stars, skipping vice admiral – three stars.) The admiral was told to get out to Pearl Harbor and get busy.
The admiral was told military aircraft were available to get him out to Hawaii from Washington in the
shortest amount of time. Most people assumed he would want to get to Pearl Harbor as quickly as
possible, but they would be wrong. He actually purchased a coast to coast train ticket under an assumed
name. He shipped his uniforms to Hawaii and dressed as an every day senior American businessman on
the train. Top Secret documents were placed in his wife’s sewing bag (she would find out later) and off
he went. He wanted to take the extra time to read every report on the Pearl Harbor disaster. When the
train stopped in various cities, he would receive additional information from the Navy Department via
couriers. He would also read all the local papers on the westerly journey to gauge the national mood
and glean local nuggets of information about hometown boys caught up in the disaster.
Most importantly, he allowed the ongoing military rescue operations in Hawaii to continue without
distraction from the new admiral. He was very calm and deliberate in his approach. Admiral Kimmel,
the previous commander, was relieved of duty, but Admiral Nimitz kept everyone else in their posts to
provide much needed continuity. As he made his way across the country, he saw in the reports where
the Japanese made an egregious tactical error that would allow the Pacific fleet to continue to operate.
Admiral Nagumo, the Japanese commander, withdrew his forces prior to striking the fatal blow. He
consciously retreated rather than destroying the oil tank farms and dry docks that could have stopped
the American navy from operating for at least a year. Nimitz saw this immediately in the battle damage
reports that he read so thoroughly. When he finally arrived at Pearl Harbor he prosecuted the war in a
methodical and analytical manner that led to Japanese defeat.
Later he would be asked who had taught him his understated and calm approach to solving any
problem. Without hesitation he named his teacher: Miss Susan Moore of Kerrville, Texas. “Whatever
qualities of calmness and patience that I may possess, I attribute to her example.” Miss Moore probably
never thought that one of her students would one day grow up to lead over two million men and women
in a desperate war across the largest geographical feature on the planet. She in all likelihood never
thought her lessons plied across the hills of Texas in the very shadow of the Alamo would mold a
leader who stands today in the great pantheon of American heroes. She taught him lessons that aren’t
on any report card knowing that the most important lessons are learned in the human heart.
In the early years of the 20th Century, appointments to the Naval Academy were based strictly on
competitive examinations. Many candidates were self taught or only attended school when they were
not needed on the ranch or farm. Chester Nimitz was one of the midshipmen who had no high school
diploma. After the war, the admiral returned to Kerrville where he received his diploma from Tivy
High School (still in operation) at long last. Miss Moore was on hand to support her student as she had
done forty years prior when she tutored him for his entrance exams.
After receiving her teaching certificate from the Peabody School in Nashville, Miss Moore taught in
Kerrville for almost fifty years. Fleet Admiral Nimitz graduated from the Naval Academy in 1905 and
served on active duty until his death. (Five star officers serve until their deaths.)
Susan Moore and Chester Nimitz died within six months of each other in 1965/66. One lies among
many of her students in Kerr County, Texas, while the other rests overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the
Golden Gate National Cemetery. Both are American heroes.