The experience began with a history-based, very detailed explanation of what led to the war. “The seeds of the great East-West conflict that brought the United States and Japan to war were sown in the fertile soil of China….” Then a very active globe gave facts about what led to Pearl Harbor. After that, doors opened and I was looking at a full-scale submarine and a large-scale recreation of the attack on December 4, 1941. It was a multi-media thrill ride, goose-flesh guaranteed!
This is how Ruth & my visit to the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg began. Beyond those doors and the sub was a 33,000 square feet exhibition area with 40 media installations, part of a door cut from the sunken Arizona, etc. The entire complex was more than 50,000 square feet, and that was just indoors. Down the street was an outdoor, combat area. The George H.W. Bush Gallery, the Japanese Garden of Peace, the Pacific Combat Zone, etc. encompass 6 acres strung along East Austin one block north of Main, Fredericksburg’s principal shopping street. It’s as if the entire Smithsonian complex was relocated to a small-town in the middle of, say, Nebraska.
So, why is the National Museum of the Pacific War (NMPW) in the middle of Fredericksburg, Texas? This gargantuan attraction began 46 years ago as the Nimitz Museum to honor a native son, Pacific Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. He spent the 1st 6 years of his life here in his grandfather’s hotel. Nimitz’s life is another, fascinating story. The Nimitz Museum is still around and definitely one of my favorite attractions. NMPW has steadily grown and become dedicated to honoring all 8 million Americans who served in World War II, especially the 100,000+ who lost their lives in the war with Japan. I suspect that I passed all 8 million names as I moved from the submarine to the torpedo bomber several hours later that our guide described as “like trying to fly a truck”. Honestly, I’m glad that Ruth and I planned for at least one full day to see it all, but I admit to brain overload long before the finish. Is it worth it? Is the Smithsonian?
Final words. The plane shown above is an extremely rare (only 89 were produced) Japanese Kawanishi NiK floatplane fighter. The Allies code name for it was Rex. Look for it.
If you consider yourself something of an expert on World War II, especially the Pacific Theater aspect of it, and have not been to the National Museum of the Pacific War, be warned that, in addition to the displays, its archives hold untold documents, photographs, recorded interviews with vets, etc. and you’ll probably expire before your visits to the appointment-only Nimitz Education and Research Center end. You may even have to move to Fredericksburg.