Wednesday, April 28, 1999

1941 attack scapegoats
may be cleared

By Pete Pichaske
Phillips News Service


WASHINGTON - Even as the House is considering a bill to clear the name of the Navy captain blamed for the 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis, the Senate is being asked to clear the two officers blamed for the 1941 disaster at Pearl Harbor.

A resolution introduced in the Senate earlier this month would restore the full wartime rank of Adm. Husband Kimmel and Army Gen. Walter Short.

Kimmel and Short were the two senior U.S. commanders in the Pacific when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Shortly after the attack, they were charged with dereliction of duty, relieved of their commands and retired at lower ranks.

In the nearly six decades since then, a growing stream of critics have claimed the two were used as scapegoats, and evidence has mounted that crucial intelligence was withheld from them before the bombing.

As the critics have grown in number and visibility, so, too have the calls for clearing their names.

"Military, governmental and congressional investigations have provided clear evidence that these two commanders were singled out for blame that should have been widely shared," wrote Delaware Sens. William Roth Jr. and Joseph Biden, sponsors of the resolution, in a letter to their colleagues.

"To reverse this wrong would be consistent with this nation's sense of military honor."

Neither Sen. Daniel Inouye nor Sen. Daniel Akaka have signed on to the resolution. Inouye was a co-sponsor last year.

Like the efforts to absolve Indianapolis skipper Capt. Charles B. McVay, the latest of which was introduced in the House just last week, attempts at clearing the Hawaii commanders are not new.

And like the McVay efforts, efforts to clear Kimmel and Short still face opposition - mainly from a military reluctant to change its official position.

The Senate Armed Services Committee first held a hearing on the Kimmel question four years ago this month, after years of lobbying by the admiral's son, Edward "Ned" Kimmel, a Wilmington, Del., attorney.

That hearing led to another Department of Defense report on the subject, which conceded for the first time that key intelligence had been withheld from the Hawaii commanders by Washington. Blame for failing to anticipate the bombing, the report stated, should be "broadly shared."

Still, the military declined to restore Kimmel and Short to their pre-war ranks. So last fall, Roth and Biden introduced their bill calling on President Clinton to do so.

The bill got lost in the chaos of White House scandal and impeachment proceedings and never came to a vote.

Two weeks ago, the two senators introduced it again.

"I'm pretty optimistic this year," said Ned Kimmel. "We've got 22 co-sponsors, a bipartisan group with Roth at one end of the spectrum and Teddy Kennedy at the other. Our biggest problem is the crowded agenda of the Senate.

"There is no money involved in this," added Kimmel, who served in the Navy for four years during World War II and whose father died in 1968. (Short died in 1949.)

"The issue is the reputation and honor of these two men and their families. I'm hoping if this resolution passes by a substantial majority in the Senate, it sends a pretty clear message to the president."

Senate aides were equally optimistic, saying that prior opposition from key Democratic senators seems to have evaporated, and key Republican senators - including Sen. John Warner, R-Va., - had signaled their support

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