RN answered the call for service following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, serving in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1946.
On this day, 72 years ago, Pearl Harbor was attacked and bombed by an Imperial Japanese Navy. On the anniversary of the “day that will live in infamy,” the Nixon Foundation takes a look at how the 37th President learned of the bombing that brought the United States into World War II and how he volunteered for military service.
RN remembers in his memoirs:
One Sunday shortly before we were to leave for Washington, Pat and I decided to go to the movies in Hollywood. On the way we stopped for a visit at her sister Neva’s house. When we arrived, Neva’s husband, Marc, said that he had just heard on the radio an unconfirmed report that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I said I was sure that it was just one more of the frequent scare stories we all had been hearing, and we went on to the matinee. Shortly before the film was finished, the theatre manager interrupted with an announcement that all servicemen had been called to their units immediately. When we left the theatre, I saw the headline: Japs Bomb Pearl Harbor. The newsboy held up the paper as I walked over. He said, ‘We’re at war, mister.’
A few days before December 7, 1941, Richard Nixon was offered a position with the Office of Price Administration (OPA) in Washington, D.C. Eight months of rationing coordination later, RN decided that he wanted to serve his country, despite his pacifist upbringing as a Quaker.
Many men in OPA were able to get draft deferments and spent the war in their offices. Despite my Quaker background and beliefs, I never considered doing this. When I heard that young lawyers were being recruited as officers for the Navy, I talked to Pat about it and applied for a commission. I was sent to the naval officer indoctrination school at Quonset Point, Rhode Island, in August 1942.
RN’s appointment diploma and letter for the Navy Reserves, signed by the Secretary of Navy, Frank Knox.
RN explains why he believed Quakerism was fundamentally flawed when in the face of a ruthless enemy:
The problem with Quaker pacifism, it seemed to me, was that it could only work if one were fighting a civilized, compassionate enemy. In the face of Hitler and Tojo, pacifism not only failed to stop violence—it actually played into the hands of a barbarous foe and weakened home-front morale
President Nixon was not satisfied with a shoreside role while men gave their lives abroad, so when the opportunity arose to apply for an overseas commission, he did not hesitate.
Just when it began to seem that I might be landlocked in Iowa for the rest of the war, I saw a notice that applications for sea duty would be accepted from officers aged twenty-nine, and I sent the application in immediately. Pat was worried about my safety, but she supported my decision to trip to play a real part in the war effort.
RN receives reassignment to San Francisco, where he will be preparing to sail out to the Pacific Theater.
RN was assigned to the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command (SCAT). His unit was responsible for preparing manifests and flight plans for C-47 aircraft as they made their rounds through the islands. Even though this unit was one that remained in the background, they experienced action when stationed in Bougainville.
Like many assigned ‘down the line,” I wanted to get where the action was, and I spent a lot of my time trying to get a battle-station assignment. Finally, in January 1944, I was assigned to Bougainville, which was a target for occasional Japanese bomber attacks. Shorty after I arrived, the Japanese staged an assault. When it was over, we counted thirty-five shell holes within a hundred feet of the air raid bunker six of us shared. Out tent had been completely destroyed.
RN, who in 1973 brought the Vietnam POWs home and invited them as guests to the White House, showed similar compassion for his fellow toops in the Pacific theater. Though not in the thick of battle, he thought of anything to help the fine men of the United States military.
Many fighter and bomber pilots came through Bougainville on their way to battle missions, and I felt that they deserved the best we could possibly give them. I used by SCAT resources to get small supplies of chopped meat and beer. Everyone in the unit had a nickname, and I was known as Nick Nixon. Whenever I received a fresh shipment, I opened ‘Nick’s Hamburger Stand’ and served a free hamburger and a bottle of Australian beer to flight crews who probably had not tasted anything to remind them of home in many weeks.
It is perhaps his time in the Pacific that molded his empathy and consideration of all military persons, and ultimately his dedication towards establishing long lasting peace in the modern world.