Tag Archive | "Nagasaki"

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

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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