Column: Echoes from the South Pacific
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 5, 2016
The Japanese signed the surrender on Sept. 2, 1945.
We B-29 airmen had done our job and after we dropped the supplies to the P.O.W. camps we had nothing to do except sit around and wait for our turn to go home. Those of us on Saipan had seen most of the island from the air, so our pilot checked out a large truck with a driver and we went sightseeing; so much sugar cane everywhere and the cliffs overlooking sandy beaches was amazing.
I was thinking what a great place to live — after the war — but wait, the next thing we witnessed was a heart breaker and totally unbelievable.
On top of one of these cliffs we saw Army soldiers place a new Jeep into the cargo area of a large new truck and push them both over and into the surf below. We could not believe what we just witnessed, then it happened again.
We were so disturbed we asked the driver to take us “home” promptly. Later, and after much investigation, we found that this was ordered from higher command for there was no space on the ships to return this equipment back to the states.
Presumably the ships will be used to take us home.
Since we had so much free time I wanted to see all I could, and I wanted to see an aircraft carrier. I hitched a ride on a truck down to the other end of the island.
I especially wanted to see an aircraft carrier and I was in luck, there was one at anchor right there in front of me. I walked down to the dock and asked the skipper of the plot boat if he was going out again could I ride with him. He said, “hop aboard,” and in a few minutes we were on our way.
He said he had to deliver some sealed orders to the carrier and some other ships. I asked if I might get off and tour the carrier; could he pick me up on his way back after visiting the other ships that were farther out in the harbor?
He saw how I wanted to visit the carrier so he said OK. Two sailors helped me up the ladder and onto the hanger deck.
Wow, what a giant. I took the stairs up to the flight deck then hurried back to the ladder to wait for the pilot boat. The ladder was not there and suddenly I felt vibrations, we were moving — HELP!
I quickly found an officer and explained my plight. I explained that I was just a stupid B-29 gunner about to go to sea with the Navy and spend the rest of my life in some U.S. prison for going AWOL during wartime.
This kind officer made a quick phone call and the pilot boat was soon pitching and bobbing alongside as the sailors put down a rope ladder and two of them helped me down the ladder and gently pushed me into the arms of two more sailors standing on the aft deck of the pilot boat. I thanked them all profusely and especially thanked GOD. How could an innocent day of sightseeing turn into such a debacle?
After this last experience I was satisfied to just stay in our area, get my “homecoming” sun tan, and take long walks over to the other areas and visit friends. We started walking down to the end of the road late in the afternoon and watched the Japanese come out of there caves and search for food and clothing.
One afternoon we were walking to the mess hall and suddenly heard a loud noise. We looked quickly toward the trash dump and saw about 50 poorly clothed Japanese men marching down the road straight toward us. Some men were beating sticks together and the others had magazine photos held across their chest and sticks with white cloth on the end.
The photos were of the surrender being signed on the U.S.S. Missouri. These were on Life, Look, Yank and U.S. newspapers. They had found these in the trash dump and they wanted to surrender.
We looked at these men and they looked at us but no words were spoken, and I’m proud that none of our men made any remarks. Shortly, some trucks and the police arrived and these men were loaded into the trucks and taken away.
At the far end of the island there was an old Japanese fighter strip that we converted into a P.O.W. camp so these men were taken there to enjoy food, clothing and shelter, and were eventually shipped them back to Japan and united them with their families.
Yes, we Americans are pretty nice people.
This is not exactly a “war story,” but just something I observed.