Bush May Exonerate Officers Blamed in Pearl Harbor Disaster;

Families Want Commanders Restored to Highest Ranks, Names Cleared

by Edward Epstein

Published in the Tuesday, May 29, 2001 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times

Text from a copy in the collection of Edward R. Kimmel

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor almost 60 years ago, but the controversy over those who were blamed for the Dec. 7, 1941, disaster is still burning bright.

In fact, a much-disputed congressional recommendation now on President Bush’s desk could rewrite the story of that dark day in American history.

The bombing wrecked the careers of Navy Rear Adm. Husband E. Kimmel and Army Maj. Gen. Walter C. Short, the top U. S. commanders in Hawaii that day.

By Dec. 16 they were stripped of their commands. A quickly convened court of inquiry in 1942 accused them of dereliction of duty.

They were forced into retirement and stripped of the higher temporary ranks they held.

For decades, their families have been campaigning to clear their names, saying the blame for Pearl Harbor should be shared by many, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

They also say investigations starting in 1944 exonerated the two men, but they were never restored to full honors.

Detractors say the two officers ignored repeated warnings from Washington that a Japanese attack was possible.

They also say the effort to clear the men’s names is part of a dangerous revisionist trend in American history and lends credence to conspiracy theories that say FDR and others in Washington knew about the coming attack but did nothing, in an effort to draw the United States into World War II.

"They were guilty as hell," said Penn State emeritus history professor Stanley Weintraub.

Many of those still alive who were on the scene of the attack support the two top officers’ redemption. The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association is for it.

"I think the president should act, based on all the information we’ve heard over the years," said Mal Middlesworth of Upland, Calif., who edits the association’s newsletter.

"They’re always looking for a fall guy. Obviously they weren’t prepared," said Middlesworth, who was a young Marine aboard the USS San Francisco at the time of the attack. "But who was?

"President Roosevelt had a tough time getting money for the military and I remember when I arrived at Pearl Harbor in October 1941 that there wasn’t any real feeling that there was an imminent attack."

Last year, Congress passed a resolution urging the president to restore the officers to their highest ranks. That would posthumously make Kimmel a four-star admiral and Short a three-star Army general.

President Bill Clinton didn’t act on the recommendation before he left office, so now the matter rests with Bush.

White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said the new administration was unaware of the congressional request until media interest surrounding the movie "Pearl Harbor" brough inquiries.

Scripps-Howard News Service

MORNINGLINE: Should President Bush clear the Pearl Harbor commanders’ names?

Results published May 30, 2001:      YES - 79%      NO - 21%


Details on the pages of the Kimmel Family Record web site come from the collection of
Timothy W. Kimmel of Fort Wayne, Indiana.  You can contact Tim at timkimmel@comcast.net

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