Never forgetting VJ Day, 76 years ago

By Linda Mider - Contributing columnist

I love Japan and the Japanese people. I respect them as some of the most industrious, brilliant, disciplined, and hardworking people on the face of the earth.

But that was not the sentiment of the American people 76 years ago. It was a perilous time. Hitler was bent on taking over Europe and was pushing towards Asia with his Nazi regime.

World War II had already started two years before America was thrown into the war, on Dec. 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese Imperial Navy.

This article is not about World War II on the Western Front. This article is about the final official act ending World War II, which was the signing of the Japanese surrender document onboard the battleship U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept 2, 1945.

The war in Europe had already ended on May 8, 1945, known as Victory in Europe Day, but the war with Japan raged on. On July 17-Aug. 2, 1945, Allied leaders drew up the Potsdam Declaration calling for the surrender of Japan. It warned Emperor Hirohito that if he did not surrender, there would be prompt and utter destruction.

On Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On Aug 15 the Japanese surrendered and all hostilities ceased. But it wasn’t until Sept. 2 that surrender documents were signed.

The Missouri had been chosen for these ceremonies because the Army, represented by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, had been the first of our armed forces to land on occupied Japanese territory. As an act of courtesy and tact, the General left the site selection for the formal surrender to his Naval counterpart, Admiral Chester Nimitz, American Commander in Chief of the Pacific, who decided to hold it aboard the Missouri because it was present and adequate, and it was named from the President Truman’s home state.

The ship was then acting as the U.S Third Feet Flagship of Admiral William F. Halsey. Quite a crowd was on board, including military officers and dignitaries of many nations, the approximately 2,000-man crew of the Missouri, and nearly 200 war correspondents from all over the world.

Days earlier, some 200 men were picked to hold rehearsals in the best Hollywood tradition. It was a cool, partly cloudy morning as Navy vessels transported the various contingents to the Missouri where the veranda deck was designated for the ceremony.

As each correspondent clambered aboard the Missouri he was checked and given a tag designating his place on the ship. The Japanese news writers on board were under Marine guard. The Russians would not stay put but protested against being assigned fixed positions.

The British had gifted the U.S. with a very nice mahogany table to be the Peace Table but the table was too small for the documents.

One sailor went and got an old mess table brought up from the crew’s quarters, scarred and worn, but its age and imperfections were hidden by a coffee-stained green cloth that they had been playing cards on.

A frame containing the American flag, the first ever to fly on Japanese soil, raised by Commodore Perry on July 14, 1853, was hung on the wall. The flag was backward in the frame but there was no time for re-arrangement.

At exactly 9 a.m. General MacArthur stepped out of Admiral Halsey’s cabin and walked to the table, facing the Japanese. MacArthur spoke clearly from a prepared statement.

With 50 official representatives of 10 nations, the signing ceremony started with 12 signatures affixed to the document, which was signed in duplicate. The English version was leather bound with gold edge for the Allies, The Japanese version had a burlap cover. At 9:04 a.m. the Japanese Foreign Minister started the signing and ended with the Air Vice Marshal of New Zealand being the last to sign at 9:22 a.m.

General MacArthur’s parting words were “Let us pray that peace now be restored to the world and God will preserve it always. These proceedings are now closed.”

The ceremony itself was brief, lasting 30 minutes, and featured hundreds of American airplanes flying over the Missouri as the sun broke through the clouds. Jubilation broke out all over the world.

That ended one of the most terrible wars in the history of mankind. It took just 18 minutes to sign. It was 9:30 a.m. Sept. 2 on the Missouri, but it was 6 p.m. Sept. 1 in New York — but V-J Day (end of WW2) has been observed on Sept. 2, ever since.

Such was the end of WWII, but on a bluff overlooking Manila, a military cemetery in the Philippines, as elsewhere, white graves stand as a reminder of the heavy cost paid for victory.

As Americans who fought together as brothers now lay side by side, their sacrifices gave us 76 years of living free of an oppressive dictator. After their brave sacrifices, let us not succumb to living under another dictator and oppression.

Let us not give up our liberties and freedoms as set forth in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The next war may not be with guns and tanks.

The next war may be biological, psychological or with Artificial Intelligence (IA). Let us band together as “We the People”. In 1999, then Vice President Al Gore gave a speech at the Columbine Memorial Service. He said, “We can rise up and we can say, ‘No more!’”

By Linda Mider

Contributing columnist