Jack DeTour, a B-25 bomber pilot on Okinawa in 1945, recalls word spreading at his airfield — the Japanese had surrendered — and the fusillade of celebratory fire that followed.
“Every type gun” was firing, DeTour said. “The big guns. The small guns.”
It wasn’t confirmed until the next day — after DeTour was assigned another combat mission, his last against Japan.
If America had invaded Japan’s home islands, DeTour, now 97, wonders if he’d have been here today as an honored guest on the battleship Missouri for the 75th anniversary of the official end of World War II.
“We were very, very happy because we knew if we went into the cities, they would really get a lot more of us than they had been getting,” DeTour said of the war ending.
In Honolulu in 1945, Lambert Wai remembers celebrations in the streets when word came of the surrender.
“When they got the word, there were so many screams going up,” the 99-year-old Army veteran said. “So many parties going on. People yelling. People jumping in the streets. It was amazing.”
Those who lived through it knew the horror of war, he said.
Wai certainly did. His brother, Army Capt. Francis Wai, was killed rallying fellow soldiers against waiting Japanese forces in the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines in 1944.
Wai received the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Lambert Wai and DeTour were among a dozen World War II veterans who live in Hawaii and were aboard the Missouri this morning for the commemoration of the official surrender signed by Japan on Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the battleship in Tokyo Bay.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the keynote speaker, and who is on a Hawaii-Palau-Guam-Hawaii trip, said it was his “great honor” to be on the historic ship for the 75th anniversary of the end of the war.
“It is because of your selfless service and your sacrifice that we live in peace and prosperity today,” Esper told the Hawaii veterans.
He added that the Missouri, “which was built for war, has since been dedicated to peace and reconciliation,” resting in the very harbor where more than 2,400 Americans paid the ultimate sacrifice on Dec. 7, 1941.
Throughout the war, “millions of our countrymen answered our nation’s call with great courage,” Esper said during the ceremony that was sparsely attended but was livestreamed around the world.
Just several dozen veterans and dignitaries were on the fantail of the battleship for the event.
“Americans of all faiths, races and ethnicities, from all walks of life and vocation, rich to poor, and from all corners of the country, from cities to suburbs to farms” left loved ones to join allies in a desperate fight for liberty, Esper said.
He noted that the war’s outcome reshaped the international order to one “led by like-minded nations, grounded in common purpose and and shared values.”
Although he didn’t mention China by name, Esper talked of a changing landscape, and offered a warning.
After the war, “we built relationships with like-minded nations based on reciprocal trade, not predatory economics, based on respect for the sovereignty of all countries, not a strategy of might makes right,” he said.
Esper said the United States and partners for decades “have based our efforts on the belief that today’s free and open order, however imperfect, is worth fighting for.”
A small air armada of at least a dozen vintage fighters and bombers shipped to Oahu for the occasion conducted a flyover. In 1945, more than 900 aircraft flew over the Missouri in a massive show of force.
Just after 8:30 a.m., a B-25 bomber and a P-51 Mustang arced over the starboard side of the Missouri in Pearl Harbor in a tight formation, followed quickly by another Mustang.
A TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, several T-6 Texans and two PBY Catalina flying boats were among warbirds that also made a pass.
Coronavirus reduced the commemoration in Hawaii to local World War II veterans, and two warbird aerial parades over the weekend and in today’s ceremony.
Planned trips by 46 wartime veterans and an equal number of guardians from the mainland to Oahu were canceled due to COVID-19.
So were commemoration dinners, a warbird open house, a documentary movie premiere and a parade.
Steve Colon, a retired Navy captain and co-chair of the 75th World War II Commemoration Committee in Hawaii, was prescient when he noted in early August that the coronavirus “situation is changing on a daily basis,” but that Sept. 2 was the day that the surrender ceremony took place on the Missouri.
“Seventy-five years from Sept. 2 (1945) regardless of whether all of the World War II veterans who can and want to make it here, can, for whatever reason, or whether none of them can, we will do some sort of ceremony on the fantail of the Missouri,” Colon said at the time. “That date is too important for us to just let that go.”
It was the end of the deadliest conflict in the history of mankind. Somewhere between 50 million and 80 million people died in the war.
On Sept. 2, 1945, more than 2,000 sailors and Marines jammed aboard the Missouri for the ceremony at which Gen. Douglas MacArthur proclaimed, “We are gathered here, representatives of the major warring powers, to conclude a solemn agreement whereby peace may be restored.”
The destroyer USS Michael Murphy honored the Missouri and dignitaries with a pass as sailors stood at attention along the rails of the destroyer.
A rifle salute, taps and a “missing man” formation of F-22 Raptor fighters concluded the commemoration.