MacArthur's Photo on Nimitz's Desk?

Quote of the Day

Asking for help isn’t giving up, it is refusing to give up.

Charlie Mackesy

Figure 1: Autographed Photograph of Douglas MacArthur to Chester Nimitz.

Figure 1: Autographed Photograph of Douglas MacArthur to Chester Nimitz. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

I have been reading a couple of books about Admiral Chester Nimitz and his conduct of the Pacific War during WW2. The books showed several of the pictures of Nimitz in his office and you could very clearly see that Nimitz had a photo of General Douglas MacArthur on his desk. Nimitz has impressed me as a person who disdained ostentatious and narcissistic behavior, exactly the opposite of MacArthur. To me, Nimitz personifies the model of a manager who takes less than his share of the credit and more than his share of the blame. Why would Nimitz have a framed photograph of MacArthur on his desk?

A little bit of googling gave me the answer. Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton, the Pacific Fleet's head of intelligence, told Nimitz's biographer that Nimitz kept a framed photograph of MacArthur on his office desk throughout the war. Layton asked Nimitz why he kept that photograph on his desk. Nimitz's response was priceless (link).

Layton, I'll tell you. That's to remind me not to be a horse's ass and to make Jovian pronouncements complete with thunderbolts.

Rather than looking for inspiration, Nimitz wanted a reminder about staying grounded.

It is interesting what personal items people keep on their desks. I have nothing on my desk – I have worked hard over my career to develop the habit of a clean desk. My coworker's desktops usually have photos of their spouses and children, sometimes their dogs.

Some famous people have office items that have become legendary.

  • Wernher von Braun
    Desktop placard with the saying "Late to bed, early to rise, work like hell, and advertise." Wernher was not going to make the mistake of other rocket pioneers who did not pay attention to public opinion.
  • Harry Truman
    Desktop placard with the saying "The Buck Stops Here." The phrase reminded Truman that he has to make the decisions and accept the ultimate responsibility for those decisions.
  • John Glenn
    8-inch wrench from his father's plumbing shop to remind himself of where he came from.
  • General Mark Hertling
    He keeps a small box with the names of all the soldiers that died while under his command. I teared up as I listened to him tell that story.
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