Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
FREDERICKSBURG, Texas — This community of 10,643 with an old-world German heritage represents what immigration should be all about. You come for opportunity and immerse yourself into the environment with a focus on survival. You pitch in, make do, and work to bring about a better life for those who come after you.
The Germans who found their way to the Texas Hill Country in the mid-1840s were seeking freedom and opportunity. The work ethic has never been more doggedly underscored. It was as much of a staple of the moral concept as were honesty, integrity, and paying your debts while measuring your life’s mission against the preachments of the Ten Commandments.
Out of those principles evolved Chester W. Nimitz, who was court-martialed early in his career when he was at the helm of a ship that ran aground. But he later attained the rank of fleet admiral, only one of four men to attain such status, during and following World War II. Tour the Nimitz museum here and you are struck by the many influences on his life. He arose from modest surroundings where the family work ethic was accentuated from the cradle throughout his life. In lockstep was his emotional commitment to the military. He had a deep-rooted objective to serve his country in times when resolve and devotion to duty were as basic to life as reading, writing, and arithmetic. His father died of rheumatic fever before he was born. According to the Internet, his grandfather Charles Henry Nimitz, a former seaman in the German Merchant Marines, taught him, “... the sea, like life itself, is a stern taskmaster. The best way to get along with either is to learn all you can, then do your best and don’t worry — especially about things over which you have no control.”
Selfless attitude can set leaders apart, and that is where we are moved to reserve for this remarkable man the highest of marks. He was blessed with patience and tolerance, which he often applied in making decisions and in dealing with subordinates.
If you review history, you are often reminded of the many vainglorious generals who were as much about image, rank, and medals as they were about leading men into battle. Eisenhower was a remarkable commander in World War II for having to deal with the arrogance of the British General Bernard Montgomery and his own maverick subordinate, General George Patton. Winning the war was not Eisenhower’s only mission-managing the egos and credit-seeking generals under his command was just as important and no less challenging.
If you read Brayton Harris’s book on Chester Nimitz’s life and career, you find countless examples where the egoless and modest admiral gained favor with his men and subordinates with clear-headed and cogent judgment. He inspired motivation, never giving the back of his hand to those under his command.
We remember that Gen. Douglas McArthur provided valuable leadership with his understanding the Japanese culture and mindset which enabled the U.S. to gain acceptance with the occupation of the country. We remember him for his battlefield brilliance with the Inchon Invasion in Korea. We also remember him saying upon leaving the Philippines, “I shall return.” When he returned, he sloshed ashore knee-deep in the ocean in full view of photographers. When the first photo-op was not to his liking, he “returned” for a second shot, which became the picture that history remembers.
When intelligence discovered the flight plan of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yammamoto, Nimitz, in consultation with his superiors, ordered the plane shot down, which was a crippling blow to the morale of the Japanese people. McArthur took credit.
Corporate executives, football coaches, college presidents, and especially politicians-men in high positions of leadership-should study the life of Chester Nimitz. There is a monumental difference in modest leadership and leadership driven by ego. That Nimitz was blessed with the former made a consequential difference in winning the war in the Pacific.
Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.