A ceremony aboard the USS Missouri marks 65 years since Japan's surrender ended the war
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Sep 3, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Sep 3, 2010
The battleship USS Missouri bombarded Iwo Jima, Okinawa and finally, mainland Japan, with its big guns as the Allies reclaimed the Pacific in World War II.
Don Fosburg, then an 18-year-old radioman on the battleship, remembered the rumor.
"We all knew there was going to be an invasion (of the Japanese mainland)," Fosburg said, "and our understanding was it was going to be sometime in October or November," he said.
The losses would have been "horrendous," he added.
Instead, the unrivaled destruction of the atomic bomb was unleashed on Japan, first on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and then on Nagasaki three days later.
Japan announced its surrender, and on Sept. 2, it was made official on the deck of the Missouri in Tokyo Bay. World War II, the most destructive conflict in history, was over. Fifty million to 70 million people were killed worldwide.
Yesterday on the fantail of the "Mighty Mo," now a memorial and museum, the fighting spirit of America's "greatest generation" was commemorated on the 65th anniversary of the surrender signing.
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, a former Army chief of staff and a Kauai native, said with the surrender in 1945, the Missouri decks, once filled with the sound and fury of war, fell silent.
"The significance of this stately memorial lies not just in the strength of steel," Shinseki said, "but in the soul of a generation of ordinary Americans who came forward to serve their country in extraordinary ways."
The war started in 1939. America's involvement began with the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Among the losses were those from the battleship USS Arizona. The sunken battleship lies bow to bow with the Missouri, symbolizing the start and end to the conflict for America.
"These magnificent ships, the Missouri and the Arizona, are the bookends of World War II," said U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. "The Arizona represents sacrifice and the resilient spirit of the American people, (and) the Missouri speaks of America's triumphant victory."
About 700 people were present yesterday at a ceremony on the decommissioned battleship Missouri. Inouye and Shinseki, who were wounded in combat -- Inouye in World War II, Shinseki in Vietnam -- each received standing ovations.
Eight World War II Missouri veterans were back aboard their ship for the commemoration. Fosburg, the radioman, remembered hearing the first news of the surrender on the ship in 1945.
"One of my friends was on duty, and he got the message that they (Japan) had accepted the surrender and he came rushing up," the 84-year-old Whittier, Calif., man said. "It was probably 10 o'clock at night and he woke me up and he said, 'Don't tell anybody!' Of course it went through the ship probably in 10 minutes."
Hundreds of sailors swarmed the decks and gun emplacements for the surrender signing.
Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu, chief of the Japanese army general staff, and Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu were among the signatories.
Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz signed the "Instrument of Surrender" as the U.S. representative.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the supreme allied commander, said on a radio broadcast that "a great tragedy has ended. A great victory has been won."
Albert Circelli, who joined the Navy as a 17-year-old in 1942, yesterday recalled a British sailor coming aboard with a desk with mahogany legs that was to be used for the surrender.
"He puts it down. (Another guy) says, 'What's that for?'" Circelli said. "He says, 'It's for the Japanese surrender,' and he said, 'That's too small. You're nuts.'"
Circelli said he was told to go to the mess hall to get a larger table, and a green tablecloth from the officer's mess was placed over it to give it some dignity.
The Utica, N.Y., man had a bird's-eye view from a higher deck, and he was captured, hands on hips, in a photo as he looked down on the historic surrender ceremony.
Circelli remembers a Japanese kamikaze pilot whose plane hit below his gun mount in the battle of Okinawa just months before. The pilot's body was found on the deck of the battleship.
He also recalled the rumor that 300 Japanese planes were going to attack the Missouri.
"You were scared, but you had to do your job," Circelli said.
Frank Borrell, now 94, who has cancer, lost a lung to the disease and is on oxygen, said, "It was a big thrill to see my ship for the last time. I loved her very much."
Fosburg said he's going to a battleship Missouri reunion in a couple of weeks in Illinois.
"I've often wondered how many of us are left," he said. "I don't think there would be over 20 or 30 of us."
He was glad he made the trip, he said.
"It's good to see a lot of your friends," Fosburg said. "You realize it's been a long time."