On the Deck of a Battleship, Men of Peace

A Japanese surrender delegation had to travel in secret to a rendezvous in Tokyo Bay

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor. John Rich, a former senior Asian correspondent for NBC News, was a marine lieutenant in the Pacific war.

They were awake on Sept. 2, 1945, long before Japan's early-rising sun - 11 men, not one a volunteer. They had been ordered to do what no Japanese had done in their country's 2,600-year history - surrender their nation to an enemy from abroad.

Their destination: the deck of the battleship Missouri, flagship of Adm. William Halsey's Third Fleet, now floating triumphantly in Tokyo Bay.

In secrecy the Japanese motorcade sped over the potholed roads to Yokohama. There had been no publicity for fear that young military firebrands, even after two atomic bombs and the emperor's capitulation speech, were prepared to kill anyone talking surrender.

Recommended: Default

Except for their somber faces, the two men who would sign the surrender were sharply contrasting personalities. Standing out in morning coat, white gloves, and black top hat was Mamoru Shigemitsu, two-time foreign minister, considered a member of the peace faction. The other was Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu, Army chief of staff, wearing braid, decorations, high leather boots, and a tiny visored peaked cap. His expression did not conceal his seething resentment at ending the war.

Following the emperor's capitulation speech on Aug. 15, President Truman had named Gen. Douglas MacArthur the supreme commander of the Allied Powers. General MacArthur ordered a high-ranking delegation to fly from Tokyo to his Manila headquarters in two planes painted white with green crosses. He sent them back with his specific instructions for surrender. Then he waited, allowing time for the Japanese government to order its 7 million-man force (154 divisions) to lay down their arms. Royalty from the imperial household had to be sent abroad to convince reluctant field commanders that it was the emperor's will to abandon Japan's empire.

Hardest to control were the young kamikaze pilots. One of them, Frank Takebe, now a businessman living in New York City, remembers these critical days at Misawa Airbase in northern Japan.

''Our superiors considered us dangerous,'' he says. ''They didn't tell us about the emperor's speech for three days. Then we had to haul our fighters onto the runways, take off the propellers, and lay them in front of the planes. We were all crying. That night we got roaring drunk on sake.''

Also at Misawa, Mr. Takebe says, were 3,000 crack imperial marine paratroopers. Their suicide mission had been to fly to Saipan and Tinian in late July, drop on the airfields, and destroy American B-29 bombers. The emperor's brother, Prince Takamatsu, had even gone to Misawa for their send-off party. But before they could leave, US dive bombers destroyed their planes on the ground. All those young and potentially dangerous firebrands were quickly disarmed, discharged, and sent home before the Americans arrived.

MacArthur made his historic landing at Atsugi Airfield near Yokohama on Aug. 30, corncob pipe clenched in his teeth. Almost simultaneously, US marine and Army units came ashore on landing craft at points around Tokyo Bay, the shoreline then marked by hundreds of white flags flying at dismantled gun emplacements. The Japanese drove MacArthur in an ancient Lincoln limousine to the Yokohama Grand Hotel and served him a steak dinner.

Sept. 2, the day of the signing, dawned overcast with scattered clouds. The destroyer Buchanan, carrying MacArthur and a score of top admirals and generals, threaded its way across Tokyo Bay to the Missouri, anchored amid an armada of 258 war vessels. It was near the spot where Commodore Perry had dropped anchor with his ''black ships'' in 1853 when he came to open Japan to the Western world, starting a chain of events that led in nine short decades to the bitter Pacific war. This day, the Missouri flew the Stars and Stripes that had been atop the Capitol in Washington on Dec. 7, 1941. It also displayed Commodore Perry's old flag.

Close behind MacArthur came the 11 Japanese on the destroyer Landsdowne. When it pulled up to the starboard gangway, Foreign Minister Shigemitsu had to be helped up the ladder. Some years earlier, he had lost a leg in an assassination attempt by a Korean terrorist angered over Japan's seizure of Korea.

For some awkward moments the Japanese stood, lined up on deck, Shigemitsu and Umezu in the front row. They were under the stares of hundreds of Allied officers, sailors, marines, and newsmen perched on or hanging from every available mast and outcropping on the veranda deck. Shunichi Kase, one of the three Foreign Office officials, wrote that he felt there were ''a million eyes beating us.... I felt their keenness sink into my body with a sharp physical pain. Never had I realized that the glance of staring eyes could hurt so much.''

Emotions were understandably high. Eyewitness reports had just reached the Allies describing the brutal treatment and executions of war prisoners. Yet there were no catcalls or jeering - just a chilly silence.

As he took the microphone, MacArthur set the mood for the signing and indeed for the occupation to follow. ''We do not meet here,'' he said, ''representing as we do a majority of the people of the earth, in a spirit of distrust, malice, or hatred.'' He swore to carry out the terms of the surrender fully and promptly but promised that as supreme commander he would rule ''with justice and tolerance.''

The Instrument of Surrender, now at the US National Archives, committed Japan to comply with the Potsdam Proclamation, stripping it of all its territory save the four main islands, and making the authority of the emperor and Japan's government subject to the supreme commander for the Allied Powers.

Shigemitsu was directed to sign first.

Life magazine photographer Carl Mydans, on a platform atop a 40-mm gun turret directly behind and above MacArthur, had a perfect view. Mr. Mydans himself had been a prisoner of the Japanese at the Santo Thomas camp in Manila. ''I watched Shigemitsu limp forward,'' Mydans says, ''his wooden leg tapping out his progress in the silence. He was helped by two servicemen to a chair. He leaned on his cane, took off his top hat, and stripped off his gloves, and for an instant seemed confused. As I watched this man, at what for him must have been a terrible moment, I suddenly felt all my pent-up wartime anger drain away, and compassion filled my heart.''

FORGIVENESS and compassion did not seem to be in the heart of General Umezu as he stepped forward to sign for Japan's military. He refused to sit and scrawled his signature standing up.

Umezu was later tried as a war criminal and given life imprisonment. Shigemitsu also was tried. He got 20 years, was released early, and again was made foreign minister.

After top Allied officials had signed, MacArthur intoned: ''Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are now closed.''

At that moment the drone of engines was heard. Looking up, spectators saw that the overcast sky had cleared. An armada of more than a thousand B-29s and Army and Navy planes roared overhead in a salute marking the end of the war - 1,364 days, 5 hours, and 44 minutes after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

As the Landsdowne took the Japanese back to Yokohama, Shunichi Kase began writing a report that Shigemitsu took immediately to Emperor Hirohito. In it he described MacArthur as ''a man of peace.''

* John Rich, a former senior Asian correspondent for NBC News, was a marine lieutenant in the Pacific war. Other articles in this series ran Jan. 30, Feb. 13, March 6, April 10, May 5, June 12, July 17, Aug. 4, 8, 14, and 21.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...