Objects of the Month

April 2011: Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz's Shoulder Marks, c. 1945

Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz's Shoulder Marks, c. 1945
  • Object No.: 2006.2.23
  • Donor: Mitchell Slavitt
  • Description:

    Pair of shoulder marks worn by Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, c. 1945

Handwritten note from Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz to Harry Slavitt, 1940s

Shortly after World War II, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz sent his five-star shoulder boards, discolored from Pacific sea water, with an accompanying note, to D.C. business owner Harry Slavitt.

Slavitt had opened a liquor store in 1932 at 509 Seventh Street, SW, close to the Army War College at the Washington Barracks (the post was later renamed Fort McNair). During the war years, customers patronized his store from the College, Pentagon and other local military institutions. The interior of the store was decorated with military memorabilia and the vast majority of liquor was sold under Slavitt's private label, "GHQ" (General Headquarters). Slavitt's sons Mitchell and Robert remember making deliveries to the White House mess, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense mess.

Liquor bottle with custom label for General George Patton, 1940s

Slavitt commissioned Gib Crockett, cartoonist for The Washington Post, to draw caricatures of many of his military customers. With these drawings, he created individualized labels for liquor bottles and sent the bottles to these customers across the world. In appreciation, Slavitt received personal letters and autographed photographs. Over time, Slavitt amassed an impressive collection of letters, photographs, and other items such as these shoulder boards. Military customers brought friends and family to view the gallery room in the back of the store where much of this material was displayed. Among those customers represented in Slavitt's collection are eight of the nine 5-star officers in U.S. military history: Henry "Hap" Arnold, Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, William Leahy, Ernest King, George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, and Chester Nimitz. Additionally, photographs of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson were sent by their military attachés.

Slavitt himself volunteered for the Navy in 1943 and served in the Supply Corps. His wife, Helen, ran the store while he was away. In the early 1960s, the store moved to Fourth & M Streets, SW, and Slavitt sold the business a few years later. The liquor store, still named Harry's, remained at Fourth & M under its new owners for about 10 years before relocating to the Waterside Mall one block away. The business was sold once more before closing around 2004.

In 2006, Harry's sons donated Nimitz's shoulder boards as well as two albums containing a selection of Harry's letters, photographs, and drafts of the custom cartoon bottle labels to the Jewish Historical Society.

Do you have material documenting a local Jewish-owned business that you'd like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society's collection? Please contact us at info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.