Tag Archive | "Hiroshima"

VJ Day, 1945

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August 6, 1945 was no ordinary day.  Although the Allied Forces had achieved victory in Europe, World War II still raged on in the Pacific Theater.  The Japanese were, and remain to this day, an extremely proud race.  Demonstrating their resolve at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, they preferred to fight to the death rather than face dishonor by surrendering.  Many Japanese pilots became kamikazes: the equivalent of human bombs.  The devastation they left behind made the war more costly to the Allies, and the Japanese had hoped that we would cave in by suing for peace.   Even Japanese civilians were trained to counterattack their enemies with anything that could kill or main.  This included hastily fashioned weapons such as sharpened bamboo stalks.


The war had begun during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration.  FDR had vowed that we would achieve unconditional surrender from our enemies.  When Harry S. Truman assumed the Presidency after FDR’s death, he was honor-bound to fulfill the wishes of his former Commander-in-Chief. And fulfill them, he did.


The atom bomb, or A-bomb, was classified as Top Secret.  Testing at Alamogordo, New Mexico revealed that this weapon represented an incredible, unprecedented level of destruction.   So secret was it that those on the “Need to Know” list were a relative handful.


With the A-bomb, the planned invasion of Japan was on the drawing board, along with the date, the time, and calculated cost of life.  President Truman agonized over whether to drop the bomb on a city, rather than a military target, or follow the original invasion plan and pay the price in American casualties.  In the end, he ordered that the city of Hiroshima be bombed on August 6, 1945.  On that day, accompanied by two other B-29 bombers, the Enola Gay unleashed the power of the atom and initiated the Atomic Age, devastating the city of Hiroshima.  After bombing another city, Nagasaki, Japan surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.


August 14, 1945 was declared VJ day.  All across America and the rest of the free world, crowds gathered and cheered to commemorate the peace for which we had prayed for four long years.  The famous photograph of a sailor spontaneously and joyously kissing a girl in New York City’s Times Square echoed the world’s elation.  The photo was widely circulated and reproduced.  Today a statue of this couple still stands in Sarasota, Florida; no doubt, other likenesses stand elsewhere in our nation.


On August 14, 2010, a reenactment of that scene will be held in Times Square to commemorate the surrender of Japan to the Allied Forces in the Pacific.


It was 65 years ago when that sailor kissed that girl.  As he was planting that kiss, I was sailing on a troopship in the Pacific Ocean, heading — literally — for a baptism by fire.  I was part of a massive armada sent to invade Japan.  But when the Captain of our ship announced Japan’s surrender, the invasion was no longer necessary.  Thus, I served my country in another capacity, by occupying Japan for a full year.  From October 1945 through September 1946, my fellow soldiers and I — Americans and European Allies — ensured the stabilization of Japan subsequent to its surrender.


I was recently interviewed by a reporter from The Courier Post, for an article that the newspaper is running with respect to VJ Day.  After she finished the formal interview, the reporter asked me, “As a veteran of that war, how do you feel about us no longer celebrating the days that finalized World War II — VE Day and VJ Day?”


I answered, “August 6th was not the official end of the war.  That took place in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.  That is another day that is not celebrated; another day that gets lost in the Labor Day weekend, like other holidays set aside to honor God and country.”


Maybe something that occurred 65 years ago has no meaning to those who weren’t there.  But it still means something to me.  Those who sacrificed themselves for that war did so to protect the lives and fundamental freedoms of Americans as well as all who were oppressed, tortured, and murdered by the Axis Forces.


It has been rightly said that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  For that reason, the study of World War II is immensely important and the reason why Americans and, for that matter, all inhabitants of this planet should both remember and commemorate events like VJ Day.


Related Post:  VJ Day: August 14th

The Mystery of Hiroshima and the Fourth B-29

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The history surrounding the conclusion of World War II centers on the atomic bomb, a weapon that brought the war to a screeching halt.  In the 65 years succeeding the end of the war, all records of that fateful day — August 6, 1945 — have stated that three, repeat, three B-29’s set out to deliver the first atomic bomb to the islands of Japan.


Bearing a single nuclear bomb code-named Little Boy, a B-29 bomber took off from the island of Tinian in the Pacific. Christened the Enola Gay in honor of Commander Colonel Paul Tibbets’ mother, the Enola Gay was accompanied by two more B-29s.   The Great Artiste conveyed instrumentation and was commanded by Major Charles W. Sweeney, and The Necessary Evil, which carried photography equipment, was commanded by Captain George Marquardt. Leaving Tinian separately, the three planes rendezvoused over Iwo Jima; from there, they began their irrevocable six-hour flight to Japan.


As a safety precaution, the bomb was armed en route to Japan and the safety devices removed thirty minutes before reaching primary target, Hiroshima.  Kokura and Nagasaki were the secondary targets.  When the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, those aboard the B-29s described the event as a giant fireball and a mushroom cloud that completely destroyed the city.


Now, 65 years after Hiroshima was leveled, comes a strange tale that surfaced in the Raleigh News & Observer.  It concerns a North Carolina World War II veteran who photographed the A-Bomb as it exploded over that Japanese city.


Like all stories, this one has a beginning and an end, so let’s start in the beginning.


In June of 1941, John McGlohon, who was then 18 years old, joined U.S. military.  Assigned a desk job, he was attached to the 3rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron at Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama, where he was trained in photography.  John enhanced skills during an assignment in Brazil, in 1942, when he was ordered to replace one of the aerial photographers who had taken ill.


As the war progressed, John’s squadron was sent to Smoky Hills Air Force Base at Salina, Kansas, to learn to fly the new B-29 bomber.  His tour of duty found him photographing missions in China, the Korean peninsula, and Japan.


In the spring of 1945, John’s squadron was assigned to the 20th Air Force Command at Harmon Airbase on Guam.  Later, they would be assigned to the 8th Air Force Command.  Flying missions over Japan, the squadron recorded possible targets and damage resulting from bombing runs.


When the order was given to bomb Hiroshima, the 20th Air Force Command issued an order forbidding all aircraft from flying within 50 miles of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.  Somehow, this order never filtered down to John’s group.  Therefore, a B-29 piloted by Jack Economos left Guam in the early morning hours on the day in question to reconnoiter at Hiroshima and points north.


As the plane approached Hiroshima, one of the gun crew announced over the intercom that he saw another B-29 headed in the opposite direction.  At that point, John said that a brilliant flash of light appeared under the plane like a giant flash bulb going off; this was followed by a large cloud rising into the air. John immediately switched on his cameras to record the devastation.  Unaware of the order not to fly within 50 miles of Hiroshima, John assumed that the B-29 he saw leaving the area had dropped its load not on a heavily populated city, but on an ammunition dump.


Returning to Guam late in the day, John delivered his photographs to be developed.  While in the developing room, he saw shots taken by the photographic crew that had accompanied the Enola Gay.  “What’s that?” he asked.  The reply was, “It’s an atomic bomb.”  “Well,” John retorted, “if it is, we took pictures of it this morning!”  No one believed him until they saw his photographic evidence.  For decades, that  was the last time that John ever saw those photos.


With the second attack on Nagasaki, Japan surrendered, thus bringing the World War II to an end after four long, bloody years.  John returned home to Asheboro, North Carolina.  He shared his story with his wife, family, and friends and then went on with his life to become a city councilman and the town’s fire chief.


During a reunion of his war buddies in 1995, John’s old photographic lab chief, Elmer Dixon, brought a file marked Secret that contained the photographs of Hiroshima.  While the docks on the south side of the city were visible in the photos, the  mushroom cloud obscured everything else.


“That’s just the way I saw it!” John McGlohon excitedly told his wife.  Sure enough, the photos were stamped with the date that went down in history: August 6, 1945.


Over the years, John’s story found it’s way into an Internet forum discussion.  Some claimed that it was fabricated as a ploy to achieve greatness.  At a subsequent reunion, in 1998, John McGlohon met up with Ken Samuelson.  Ken believed John’s story and set out to verify it.


His hunt for corroborating evidence led him to Air Force museums, conversations with curators and veterans, and examinations of flight logs of the 3rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron. The logs carried the path of John’s flight that day as well as a flight mission report.  Ken Samuelson then contacted 91-year-old Clarence Becker, who had served as Operations Officer for the 3rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron.  Becker confirmed, “I sent them [the squadron] out that day.”


Samuelson also tracked down the photos that Elmer Dixon had had in his possession, which he had subsequently donated to the Historic Aviation Museum in Tyler, Texas.  When informed of the McGlohon photographs, the museum’s curator, Mike Burke, stated, “It’s the only photo looking down on the cloud, and the story makes it more interesting and unique.”


The evidence uncovered by Samuelson supports John McGlohon’s story.  He and his crew did indeed comprise the fourth B-29 contingent that flew over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.  Why did it take so long for this story to surface? Will historians of World War II correct the number of B-29s over Hiroshima that day?  Or will this be written off as just another war story?


If this story exists, surely there must be other tales stockpiled in the minds of veterans who witnessed or participated in events that occurred while serving their country.   If these stories remain untold, they will be carried to the grave to be buried forever.


Let’s rectify this, please.  The Veterans Corner of Write On New Jersey extends an invitation to veterans to share your stories here.  If not here, please pass your stories on to your families and friends, before they are lost for all time. 

Hiroshima: A Personal Perspective

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Hiroshima

“Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.”

 

Prophetic and chilling, this Biblical admonition scripted centuries ago may well have been written at a far later date: August 6, 1945, to be exact.  On the day known afterward as “Hiroshima” for both the event and the city that it affected, the course of history was forever altered.  As an American soldier serving in the Pacific Arena, I found myself entangled in the changing tide that had begun with a well-planned and meticulously coordinated attack, the most devastating ever witnessed in recorded history.

 

On the day that Hiroshima fell, followed, like a horrific game of dominos, by the city of Nagasaki, three B-29’s rose separately into the skies over Tinian Island, in the Pacific, carrying deadly cargo.  Colonel Paul Tibbets commanded the Enola Gay namely, in an ironic twist of tenderness, for his mother.  It bore a single atomic bomb, code-named Little BoyThe Great Artiste, commandeered by Major Charles W. Sweeney, carried instrumentation gear, and under the direction of Captain George Marquardt, The Necessary Evil conveyed photographic equipment.  Over Iwo Jima, the three planes rendezvoused and headed for Japan in the longest six-hour flight ever known to man.

 

As a precaution, the bomb was armed en route to Japan and the safety devices removed a mere thirty minutes before reaching its primary target, the city of Hiroshima.  When the bomb found its mark, those aboard the B-29’s described the strike as a giant fireball and a mushroom cloud roiling into the sky that completely engulfed and destroyed the Japanese city.

 

Housed in Tokyo, Japan’s military headquarters sent out a plane to investigate the sudden and complete lack of communication from Hiroshima.  Nothing had prepared the pilot and crew for the sight they beheld, of a once thriving city burning like Hell and reduced to rubble.  Immediately, the Japanese government sent aid to Hiroshima, but it was too late; indeed, it would forever be too late.  Although the bomb itself had killed 70,000 people, the fall-out claimed another 70,000 lives in the years to follow.

 

After the bombing, the Allied Forces demanded that the Emperor of Japan surrender under the terms of the Potsdam Declaration.  Had he refused, he was promised that more death would rain from the skies over Japan.  The Japanese do not believe in surrender; a proud people with a fierce sense of nationalism, they wished to negotiate different terms. Having witnessed Japanese resolve, I was acquainted with the suicide (Kamikaze) bombers at Iwo Jima, and the realization that our enemies would prefer to fight to the death rather than surrender.

 

August 9, 1945, the Allied Forces prompted the Emperor of Japan’s decision by way of another B-29 named Bockscar. Armed with a second atomic bomb, the plane unleashed its weapon, code-named Fat Boy, over the city of Nagasaki, Japan. Confronted with destruction on a scale never before witnessed, the Emperor tendered an unconditional surrender under the terms of the Potsdam Convention; on August 12th, he sued for peace.

 

While history was being made, I was aboard a troopship, the U.S.S Extavia in the Pacific Ocean, when our Captain announced the surrender of the Japanese.  We had been heading toward Japan, scheduled to converge with a force of other ships, planes, and troops in the event that a Japanese invasion was necessary.  Thus combined, the size of this force would have dwarfed the greatest armada that had crossed the English Channel on D-Day, in 1944.

 

In Tokyo Bay aboard the Battleship Missouri, on September 2, 1945, General Douglas MacArthur, as Supreme Allied Commander, and the Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shegimitsu officially ended World War ll by signing the instruments of Unconditional Surrender.

 

In October of that year, we who had been designated to invade Japan secured and occupied the islands of that nation.  Assigned to the 24th Infantry Division, I landed, with other military units, on the island of Shikoko and set up camp in the town of Matsuyama.  The tents that my fellow soldiers and I pitched would become our homes for the next several months.  As 1946 dawned, we were ordered to replace His Majesty’s Royal Cameron Highlanders at Okayama, on the main island of Honshu. Mess Sgt. Werner Poppe selected three men to accompany him, to set up an advanced military kitchen in that city.  Those three men were Tony Prikosovich (the cook), Paul Bartels (the mess driver), and Tom Petruzzelli (yours truly, who manned the stoves).  With a truck weighing three-quarters of a ton, we hauled a small water carrier over the mountains of Shikoko to a ferry station at Takamatsu on the inland sea.  Boarding the ferry, we then sailed across the inland sea to the town of Uno on the island of Honshu.  The Captain of the ferry invited us up to the wheelhouse and offered us sake, a Japanese wine fermented from rice.  Harsh, hot, and completely colorless, it slid down my throat like fire, bearing little resemblance to the wine I sometimes drank at Sunday dinner prior to my experience with the U.S. military.

 

Landing at Uno, we then motored to Okayama where a page out of a Rudyard Kipling novel awaited my fellows and me. Uno had been secured previously by Scottish forces, which dominated the Asian landscape with their plaid kilts and keening bagpipes; truly, it was sight to behold.  We bunked with Sgt. Major MacDonald, who allowed us to photograph him and a friend in uniform.  Before the Scots left, they put on quite a show for the Americans, which included bagpipe playing and the lively Highland Fling (a Scottish native dance).  Okayama was to house us for the next few months, until our last move to the island of Kyushu.

 

In the latter part of that spring, we were ordered to the southern-most island of Japan: Kyushu.  Landing at a town named Moji near Sasebo, we then motored to the Kitagawa Racetrack area and set up camp near a town named Kokura. This would be our final home in The Land of the Rising Sun until our replacements arrived.  Summer was on the wane and the coolness of the night air brought the hint of autumn.  Soon, we would mark the one-year anniversary of the end of World War II, and that of my own year of living in the Japanese islands.  Rumors flew, bringing with them the hope of heading back home to America once our units were replaced. 

 

In September of 1946, when those rumors were realized as truth, I said, “Sayonara” to Japan as well as the good friends I had made during the most surreal year of my life.  Knowing it would be the last time that we would see each other, the departure was bittersweet.  After a train ride to Yokohama, my unit and I boarded the U.S.S  Hood Victory.  Our voyage home took a northerly route, ferrying us past the Aleutian Islands to the port city of Seattle, Washington in the good old USA.  As we passed the Aleutian Islands, our ship narrowly avoided striking a mine floating but a few hundred yards away, a near-catastrophe that caused quite a stir onboard.  Imagine surviving World War II and facilitating the transition for an entire year, only to meet death so close to home!  Thanks to the watchful eyes of the U.S Navy, I was spared that fate

 

Upon reaching Seattle, our final destination, there were no cheering crowds or marching bands to greet us; war weary America was not ready for us.  My separation from the U.S. Army began at Fort Lawton in the State of Washington.  The Army welcomed us home with a feast, telling us that anything our hearts desired was on the menu at the mess hall.  Then came the long journey home to Separation Centers all across the nation.  I was separated at Fort Mead, Maryland, and on November 17, 1946, I was Honorably Discharged from the U.S. Army.  On that day, World War II finally and truly ended for me.

 

Years after World War II, there was talk among some Americans that President Harry S. Truman’s decision to drop the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima constituted a war crime.  As one prepared to defend his country in the wake of Pearl Harbor, I heartily disagree with this perspective.  A President’s first priority is to defend the Constitution and protect American lives. By bringing the conflict in the Pacific to an abrupt halt, the bombs not only saved thousands of American and Allied lives but also thousands of Japanese lives that would have been lost in more drawn-out battle.

 

As you may well imagine, World War II has left an indelible mark upon me.  The things I that did, the things that I witnessed, the places I have been, and the people I have met have all impacted me, in ways both small and significant, my entire life.  Thanks to my mother’s prayers, President Truman’s decision, and the eagle eyes of my compatriots in the U.S. Navy, I was spared from becoming a casualty of war.

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