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Let Biden-Obama set the record right for scapegoated Pearl Harbor officers

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Sam Waltz

Sam Waltz
Founding Publisher

Dec. 7 is Delaware Day, celebrating that day in 1787 when Delaware became the first state to ratify the Constitution, thus making Delaware the First State in the new nation.

But far beyond the First State, Dec. 7 is universally known as Pearl Harbor Day, “a date which will live in infamy,” as President Roosevelt said in a Dec. 8 appearance before Congress, seeking a declaration of war for the unprovoked Japanese sneak attack that claimed some 2,400 American lives and created 1,200 more casualties.

Joe Biden, Delaware’s favorite son as vice president of the United States, leaves office in just six weeks or so, after Pearl Harbor Day, on Jan. 20.

Many Delawareans believe Joe’s last remaining piece of business as VPOTUS should be to stroll into the Oval Office with this message to President Obama:

“Barack, it’s time for us to do the right thing with regard to Pearl Harbor and the Kimmel family. You need to vindicate Adm. Husband Kimmel and Gen. Walter Short, the two men who were unfairly scapegoated for the success of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941!”

Specifically, what Biden would seek is the president’s nomination of Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Short under the Officer Personnel Act of 1947 for retirement at their highest wartime ranks.

Adm. Kimmel, the CINCPAC, or Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, was a permanent two-star admiral serving in a four-star slot, allowing him to wear the full admiral’s insignia. Gen. Short, who commanded Army forces in Hawaii, was a permanent one-star general serving in a three-star slot.

As the military downsized at the end of World War II, to honor its officer corps, Congress passed the Officer Personnel Act of 1947, allowing officers nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to be retired at their highest wartime ranks.

It was about honor, not about money, and the only two eligible officers not so nominated and retired were Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Short.

“Joe was one of our biggest allies ever in getting “˜the right thing’ done with regard to Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Short,” said Manning Kimmel, 69, a Wilmington native who owns and runs an AM-FM radio station combination in Rock Hill, S.C., outside Charlotte, N.C.

“It was Joe along with Sen. Bill Roth, plus Sen. Roth’s key adviser Ian Brzezinski, son of the international presidential adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who helped us get traction in this campaign in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” Kimmel said.

The inspirational driver in the campaign was Edward R. “Ned” Kimmel, then in his 80s, a retired DuPont Co. attorney, a founder of the Greenville Country Club and an active parishioner at Christ Church Episcopal
in Greenville.

The elder Kimmel – who himself died in 2005 – had remembered how his father, Adm. Kimmel, who died in 1968, had fought year in and year out to vindicate his honor and that of Gen. Short, who died shortly after the end of WWII.

“The admiral had long accepted the political expediency that FDR had to scapegoat the two commanders in order to retain the moral authority to prosecute World War II,” said Manning Kimmel. “But, at the end of the War, when “˜the Old Man’ learned just how much intelligence existed in Washington – that was not shared with Kimmel and Short in Hawaii – that told of the coming attack, well, he truly became a “˜fighting tiger’ to clear their names.”

In the interests of full disclosure, it was my firm that the Kimmel family hired to run the campaign 1998-2003 that resulted in the three votes in Congress, a campaign that won the industry’s highest award.

On the wall of my office is a framed front page of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin of May 25, 1999, with the headline “2 cleared in 1941 Pearl attack,” and a story that goes on to report “¦

“The Senate today voted to exonerate the two officers blamed for decades for the disastrous 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.”

In the most moving moment of my own career, Ned Kimmel and I sat shoulder-to-shoulder in the study of his Wood Road home behind the Delaware Art Museum watching on C-SPAN as the U.S. Senate voted to vindicate his father. Memories of that May 25 midday vote still bring me to tears.

And, yet, the ultimate vindication never occurred, the actual nomination by the President with confirmation by the Senate, and Ned Kimmel’s generation passed from the scene without that justice.

Joe Biden is the last of those of the era who really cared. Before he comes back to Greenville, Joe really needs to talk with Barack Obama about doing “the right thing” for Kimmel and Short.

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