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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 John RichSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor. John Rich, a former senior Asian correspondent for NBC News, was a marine lieutenant in the Pacific war. / September 1, 1995

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.

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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.

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.