Pearl Harbor was attacked 75 years ago on December 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 or warning, 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 the men in charge at Pearl Harbor and nearby Army facilities at the time. Kimmel was relieved of command 10 days after the attack. 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.
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.
Manning Kimmel of Rock Hill — Husband’s grandson — once asked his father, Ned, why this “ancient history” was such a big deal.
“Well, that prompted him to come quickly out of his seat, point his finger right in my eye and say, ‘Listen. To a military man honor is above life itself. And what the military has done to your grandfather is to strip him of his honor.’”
With the attention prompted by the attack’s upcoming 75th 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 Dec. 4 — Manning Kimmel thinks now is a “small window of opportunity that will close, perhaps forever, when this (Obama) administration leaves office in January.”
“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, which includes the WRHI radio station. “Add the brand new book by two Pulitzer Prize finalists, the History Channel documentary, it’s all tied together. This anniversary is key to having America pay attention to what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Vice President Joe Biden supported the Kimmels’ quest when he was a U.S. senator from Delaware. Once Biden leaves office, “in essence we’ll have to start all over again and will not have the impetus of the 75th anniversary,” Manning Kimmel said.
“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.”
The husband/wife writing team was aware of the Kimmels’ decades-long effort. But when family members agreed to be interviewed and to cooperate with the authors’ research, they did so knowing Summers and Swan’s goal was not to exonerate Husband Kimmel, but to unearth the truth.
“We advised them that we would follow investigative leads wherever they took the story,” Swan said in an email interview. “The Kimmel family took the honorable position that getting to the truth was the most important thing – ‘let the chips fall where they may,’ they said.
“Our work has in fact turned up much new evidence that Admiral Kimmel and General Short were scapegoats and that others should have borne a greater share of the blame for American failures and inefficiencies before Pearl Harbor. We now feel strongly that the two men should have their ranks posthumously restored. We have called our book ‘A Matter of Honor,’ but this is really a matter of justice too long delayed.”
Manning Kimmel is urging folks to buy the book and to sign an online petition at www.kimmelpetition.org to “support our cause for posthumous restoration of rank” for his grandfather and Short.
Short died in 1949 and with no known surviving relatives of the general, 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 began 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.
“It’s like it’s in the DNA of the Kimmel family’s bloodstream. We’re all involved in this. Here I am all these years later and what am I doing? I’m spending virtually all of my free time trying to get this thing resolved.”
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.
“And right up until his last gasping breath, and he said, ‘maybe this is going to take another generation to get resolved,’” Manning Kimmel said in the video.
Manning Kimmel wants it to end with his generation. While his sons are solidly behind the effort and are willing to continue the quest, he doesn’t want to pass along the burden.
“I would hate to have to pass this on, as my father passed it to me,” Manning Kimmel said in an interview. “Three generations is enough.”
Manning Kimmel has two sons – Manning, 39, and Singleton, 36. While Singleton Kimmel never met his great grandfather, he does feel the connection.
“I can’t imagine one house that I’ve been in, in our family, where there is not a picture of the Admiral up on the wall,” Singleton said in the video, “with eyes that are almost watching you, that are saying ‘Are you going to take care of this? Are you going to stand for honor, which I stood for, which was stripped from me?”
Many outside the family have stood for Husband Kimmel. Politicians such as Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and the late U.S. Sens. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts have tried to help the Kimmels. Investigations, books, articles and testimony indicate responsibility for the Pearl Harbor attacks should be shared by many. Historians debate whether the Day 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 1 p.m. Eastern time on Dec. 7, which was 7:30 a.m. in Hawaii. The attack started just before 8 a.m. in Hawaii.
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, publicly vilified and disgraced, saddled with the nation’s grief and rage and manipulated into retiring.
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 still hopes the bill will exonerate Husband Kimmel and Short. They hope it will catch President Obama’s attention in the next few weeks, which is why they ask people to buy Summers and Swan’s book and sign the online petition.
“All we can do is try to raise this to America’s attention,” Manning Kimmel says.
About Husband E. Kimmel
Born: February 26, 1882, in Henderson, Kentucky
Died: May 14, 1968, in Groton, New London, Connecticut
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.