AUSTIN (KXAN) — Only an hour and a half from Austin, but still quite a ways from the ocean, Fredericksburg is both the hometown of WWII Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and the National Museum of the Pacific War — the only museum in the continental United States solely focusing on the Pacific theater of World War II.
Here you can take a deeply moving tour into the past, into the heroic lives of the Greatest Generation, to a time when our nation came together to win victory in the face of almost insurmountable odds.
“This museum is just incredibly special. We really try to tell the human side of the story. We have the big overall picture, but we also talk about the individual stories,” says Rorie Cartier, the museum’s director.
You can already tell Cartier loves his job from just the tone of his voice, but he’ll still come right out and tell you.
“I just love it so much. You always learn something new. There’s something that will catch your eye this time, but if you come back and visit us again, next time there’s going to be a completely different experience,” Cartier says. “It’s just a unique opportunity to really get involved and feel what these men and women went through.”
A maze of exhibits covers every facet of the Pacific theater through oral histories, personal stories, and artifacts tiny as a torpedo calibration tool to a miniature — but still gigantic — submarine from the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“It never actually made it into the harbor itself,” Cartier explains, looking like a minnow standing beside the black, 76-foot-long Japanese “midget” sub. “It ran aground before that. An officer that was part of this submarine attack actually became one of the first Japanese P.O.W.s of World War II.”
The Pearl Harbor exhibit also contains a haunting relic of the devastation wrought – a door from the U.S.S. Arizona, rusted and splashed with an oil stain across it’s middle. Oil from the sinking ship rose so high it came very close to the top decks. Cartier also points grimly to a hole cut in the top right corner of the door. “This was cut by crewmembers to search for survivors in the ship.”
From tragedy to triumph, we come to the display on the Doolittle Raid.
“After the attack on Pearl Harbor, we were on our knees. We were devastated. We needed to counterattack some way. Thus the Doolittle Raid.” He points to an actual B25 Mitchell bomber, emblazoned with a white and red star.
“Colonel Doolittle, he modified these a little bit so they could take off on aircraft carriers. These were not long range,” Cartier says. “However, they reached mainland Japan and were able to firebomb Tokyo. It wasn’t a huge success military strategy-wise; they didn’t do particularly a lot of damage. But what they did do is boost morale. They showed the U.S., and also Japan, that America is in the fight and we can do things that no one ever believed we could do.”
That really seems to be the overall theme of the museum: America rising to any challenge and accomplishing the impossible through sheer grit and determination.
“They were ordinary people that did extraordinary things. Hopefully, this museum allows people to connect the past to the present — the idea that we’re all in this together. We need to sacrifice and support each other. This is an interesting and important lesson we can take from World War II and bring it to today’s times as well.”
It’s a message of resilience for a new generation facing their own great crisis.
The Museum of the Pacific War is open once again for tours, Wednesday through Sunday, but you must make a reservation. Each tour is approximately 2.5 hours and attendees will be required to wear a face mask. Disposable masks will be provided to those who need them. Social distancing etiquette will be enforced. Tickets are $18 for adults and $8 for children over 6. WWII veterans can visit for free. More information can be found on its website.