65 years ago Thursday: WWII ends

Posted Sept. 01, 2010, at 9:07 p.m.
General MacArthur signs the Japanese surrender papers aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.  ASSOCIATED PRESS  [This photograph originally ran on page one of the Bangor Daily News on September 4, 1945.
General MacArthur signs the Japanese surrender papers aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. ASSOCIATED PRESS [This photograph originally ran on page one of the Bangor Daily News on September 4, 1945.

Dateline USS MISSOURI, Tokyo Bay, Sept. 2, 1945. Newspapers worldwide carried the story that World War II was officially over.

The now-familiar photo of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Allied commander, signing the papers on V-J Day, Sept. 2, wouldn’t be in papers until Tuesday, Sept. 4, but The Associated Press assured readers that the event had gone as expected:

“Amid military pomp and power of the Allied Nations, the documents of Japan’s unconditional surrender were signed today on the quarterdeck of this great battleship under a hazy sky. The sun broke through just as the brief ceremony ended.”

Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and other Japanese officials wore morning clothes, gloves and black silk top hats.

Most Navy and Army officers, including MacArthur and Adm. Chester Nimitz, wore regular field khakis without ties. Sailors dressed in their whites stood at attention on the main deck and on the gun turrets.

On the foremast flew a flag that was waving over Washington, D.C., on the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The occupation of Japan was carried out methodically, with U.S. troops crossing the Tama River just outside Tokyo, spreading their occupation zone over 720 square miles and taking over four airfields, “one of them only two miles from the ruined capital of the wrecked empire,” reported the AP.

In recent months, fire raids by the Allies had become effective against military and industrial targets in Japan and the Allies had taken Luzon in the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

The war was over in Europe, the Germans having surrendered on May 7. President Harry Truman proclaimed May 8 V-E Day, for Victory in Europe.

But in the Pacific, the war continued even after Okinawa, south of Japan, fell on June 22.

Allied troops in Europe were being reassigned to the Pacific, and ships on patrol needing repairs were heading for Pearl Harbor. Invading Japan would be next.

The plan was for Operation Olympic to put 650,000 soldiers and Marines on Kyushu, the southern island of Japan, probably around Nov. 1.

Four months later, Operation Coronet would see 1 million Allied troops, including British, Canadian and Australian divisions, on the main island of Honshu.

Those invasions didn’t take place. On July 16, the United States tested an atomic bomb successfully in New Mexico.

Bomber crews in the United States had been training for the unspecified project for a year, and were in place on Tinian in the Marianas by June 1945.

Secretary of War Henry Stimson and other advisers in Washington did discuss the possibility of dropping the atomic bomb in an unoccupied location to urge Japan to surrender.

Instead, they recommended to Truman that the bomb be used on a Japanese military target, and quickly.

On Aug. 6, a uranium bomb called “Little Boy” was dropped on the city of Hiroshima by the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, flown by Col. Paul W. Tibbetts, the one member of the bomber crews who had known the whole year what they were training for.

As the plane banked sharply and then climbed to 33,000 feet, Tibbetts said later, the city below looked like a “black, boiling barrel of tar.” An estimated 100,000 people were killed or died later from radiation in the military-industrial city.

Truman told the U.S. by radio about the bomb, promising “a rain of ruin from the air” if the Japanese did not surrender.

They did not.

Maj. Charles W. Sweeney was the pilot for the dropping of the second bomb, a plutonium device called “Fat Man,” on Aug. 9.

Flying Bock’s Car, a plane usually flown by another pilot, Sweeney found out right off that a problem with the fuel pump meant that he wouldn’t have enough fuel to return to Tinian.

His target, the Japanese city of Kokura and its military arsenal, were fogged in, so the plane went on to Nagasaki. Hills surrounding the city helped contain the blast, but tens of thousands of people were killed nonetheless.

The Bock’s Car did not have enough fuel to make it back to Tinian, so Sweeney landed at Okinawa. Also on Aug. 9, the Soviets invaded a section of Manchuria still controlled by Japan.

The Japanese War Council was divided 3-3 between peace and continuing to fight, and it was the emperor who tipped the balance.

Like Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo, Emperor Hirohito agreed that the Japanese should surrender if the Allies would allow them to keep the position of emperor.

That became the sticking point until Aug. 14, when Americans agreed not to insist on abolishing the Imperial constitution.

Hirohito announced the surrender on Aug. 15, and Japan prepared to release thousands of POWs. At least 100 American POWs were executed on Aug. 15.

Great Britain observes V-J Day, Victory over Japan, on Aug. 15. In the United States, Truman proclaimed Sept. 2, the date the surrender actually was signed, as V-J Day.

Tibbetts, the pilot who had known the details for a year, told Studs Terkel in a 2002 interview in The Guardian that his training was predicated on the idea that if the war had continued in Europe, atomic bombs would have been dropped in Japan and Germany on the same day.

He also said that when he got word that the Japanese had agreed to surrender, he and his crew already had picked up a third atomic bomb in Utah for transport to the Pacific.

The Allies began their occupation on Aug. 28, and on Sept. 2 Japan and the Allies signed the surrender.

When the Allied victory became public on Aug. 15, churches and schools rang bells throughout the United States.

Ringing bells is now a tradition among churches, organizations and communities.

Gov. John E. Baldacci has signed a proclamation naming Sept. 2 as World War II Commemoration Day, urging the ringing of bells from noon to 1 p.m. throughout Maine.

World War II veterans are invited to wear their caps and carry their WWII walking sticks for the Sept. 2 commemoration of the end of World War II, to be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at Cole Land Transportation Museum, 405 Perry Road, Bangor.

The Marine Corps League will present a flag to the oldest World War II veteran in attendance.

Participants will include World War II veterans with a variety of service:

• Retired Col. Clifford “Bruz” West of Winthrop, a Bangor native who served with the Marines at Peleliu and Okinawa in the Pacific.

• Guy and Nancy Ellms of Dexter. Guy was in the U.S. Army at Anzio, Italy, and in Germany. Nancy was a U.S. Navy WAVE.

• Herschel Norwood of Southwest Harbor, who was in the invasion at Normandy, France, and has three Purple Hearts.

• Galen Cole of Bangor, museum founder, who served with the Fifth Armored Division of the U.S. Army in Germany.

• Warren Burns, who flew B-17 missions over Germany.

Burns, of the Black Bear Men’s Chorus, will lead a sing-along of U.S. service songs “America the Beautiful,” “White Cliffs of Dover” and “God Bless the USA.”

Other activities Thursday will include a sing-along, a cake and ice cream party, and a showing of the video of the parade in 1995 marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the war.

There also will be gifts for World War II veterans and for children attending.

A U.S. military helicopter will land on the grounds at the Cole Museum, and the Maine Air National Guard is scheduled to do a fly-over with a KC-135 tanker between 2:50 and 3:05 p.m.

Master of ceremonies Don Colson will read from MacArthur’s statement during the ceremony of surrender by Japan.

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