After graduation from Hospital Corpsman School Great Lakes, Illinois, I was transferred to Oakland Naval Hospital in Oakland, CA. The hospital was also called “Oak Knoll". The VA hospital treated wounded Vietnam casualties and offered prosthetics, dialysis, tissue grafts, psychiatry, and patient care to other veterans.
The day I reported to the detailer at Oak Knoll was also the same day Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz was admitted as a patient. He was in need of a corpsman, so I was assigned as his personal corpsman! I didn’t realize it at the time what a privileged the assignment was. Even though the Admiral was 82 years of age, he was still very coherent and ambulatory.
Before I begin my story, I think it would be good to give you some back ground information on the Admiral. Ten days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt named Admiral Nimitz as Commanding Officer in Chief of the Pacific Fleet and Commander in Chief of Allied Forces in the Pacific Ocean area.
Fleet Admiral Nimitz played a major role in the naval history of World War II; as he directed the U.S. victories at Midway, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and many other conflicts. After the war on 2 September, 1945, Fleet Admiral Nimitz signed the Japanese Peace Treaty for the United States aboard the Nimitz flagship U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japan.
My time with the Fleet Admiral was very memorable. The Admiral was very polite and considerate. It was a joy and honor to attend to his needs. He had a photographic memory and hardly ever forgot a name. I understand that he was well respected from his comrades who served under him.
I remember one evening we were sitting in his private hospital room watching a small black and white TV. The movie we were watching was “Midway”. The cast included Henry Fonda, who played the part of Admiral Nimitz, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum, Robert Wagner and many other great actors.
I thought at the time how great this was. I’m setting with a great American hero! I remember watching him during the movie wondering what he was thinking as he was in deep thought. During the movie he made a few commits on corrections of the events.
A few days after watching that movie, the Admiral presented me with a picture of him signing that Japanese peace treaty on the U.S.S. Missouri. I have treasured that picture for forty eight years.
I remember in February of 1966 I took some leave time and drove back to my home town of Joplin, Missouri. My birthday is in February and wanted to be with my family. While at home I received a call from Oakland Naval Hospital informing me that Fleet Adm. Nimitz had died on February 20th and wanted to know if I was interested in being a pallbearer. I told them that it took me thirty-two hours to drive home, and I wanted to enjoy my leave. Years later I regretted that decision because that would have been quite an honor.
Interestingly, the rank of Fleet Admiral is a lifetime appointment he remained on active duty for the rest of his life with full pay and benefits. He and his wife, Catherine, lived at the US Naval quarters on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay.
Fleet Admiral Nimitz was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California, on 24 February, 1966. My birthday was the next day. The excitement of my birthday was not there; my only thought was that I was not with the Admiral giving my respect to the passing of a great American Hero!
When I returned to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital I checked in with the detailer for a new job assignment. He said that the Commanding Officer, Rear-Admiral Harold Cokely, needed a personal driver. I agreed, but I informed them that I didn’t know my way around the bay area that well. I got the job. That’s another story!
Semper Frater (Always Brothers)
HMCM Ronald C. Mosbaugh