Everybody knows that Japan surrendered and the war was over. That's what people heard on the radio or read in newspapers. But I want to tell my Phi Psi brothers some of the details they probably never heard or read about.
I was a flying officer in the Troop Carrier Command - 67th Squadron, 433rd Group, Forward Area Wing, Fifth Air Force. The 67th had about 275 enlisted men and 83 officers. The latter consisted of an intelligence officer, a signal officer, a medical doctor and 80 flying officers, which were 78 pilots and two navigators. I was one of the navigators and thus was always in a lead plane.
After the successful battle of Okinawa we began practicing for the invasion of the Japanese homeland. Troop Carrier's role would be dropping paratroopers and towing gliders (containing items like Jeeps, cannons and heavy weapons, ammo, food and medical supplies). I found out later that the scheduled date was November 15, 1945. I would have been in the first wave and very likely would not have survived. That invasion, of course, never occurred.
The Allied High Command estimated about 2.5 million casualties, comprised of 1 million Allied (mostly American and Australian), plus a million-and-a-half Japanese, many of which would be civilian. How would we avoid the carnage? That's when President Harry S. Truman approved using America's new weapon, the atomic bomb. The United States, through diplomatic channels, sent a message to the Japanese government urging them to surrender or 'we will destroy your country.' That fell on deaf ears. And so, on August 6, 1945, an A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Japan did not surrender.
General George MacArthur, who no doubt knew there could be more atomic bombs dropped, ordered the squadrons of the 433rd Group to ferry the 11th Airborne Division from Luzon to Okinawa. He didn't want Japan to surrender and then have us take 10 days to arrive. Then, on August 9th, the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, a secondary target when the primary target was socked-in by weather. Still, Japan did not surrender. I learned later that the Emperor entered the picture and convinced his military leaders to surrender "or they will destroy our country." On August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered and we immediately began flying 11th Airborne into Atsugi air base in Tokyo. Yes, I was in Japan on the first day of the occupation.
Brother Stever then began a stretch of time in Japan. Many fail to realize that a surrender doesn't mean an immediate return home for troops. Instead, the occupancy takes on a new level of embedded organization and control. It would be weeks before he would get his ticket back to the United States. But, during this time, Brother Stever created some lasting memories, including flying missions over the recently bombed Hiroshima. He took pictures from 3,000 feet up in the air, fearing radiation should they get any lower to the ground of the city bombed just two weeks prior. It was one of many unique experiences in occupied Japan.
The airstrip at Atsugi had a parallel taxiway on the east side. After our cargo left the plane, we had about 45 minutes as all planes worked before heading back for another load. There was a small village next to the taxiway. During my 45 minutes, I walked over there. I was probably the only curious person in the entire fleet. I just wanted to see what a Japanese village looked like. To the villagers, I was an enemy soldier with a gun. I realized those people were frightened and returned to my plane, but it was an experience I shall never forget.
The 433rd squadrons received orders to move to Japan. Our new base was bombed-out Mitsubishi Laboratories at Tachikawa, about 15 miles west of downtown Tokyo. One day, we got word that we could not use Japanese aviation gasoline in our planes (too low octane) and the 67th squadron was ordered to fly to Iwo Jima and pick up fuel. I volunteered to go.
They put four tanks in the fuselage of each (15 total) squadron planes. Each tank could hold 450 gallons of gasoline. After a couple of days filling the squadron's tanks, we headed for Tokyo. As we approached Tokyo Bay we could see hundreds of ships plus squadrons of planes circling overhead. So we decided to form up and circle with the rest of them. It was September 2, 1945 and the surrender documents were being signed on the Battleship Missouri! I remember looking down on a U.S. destroyer and thinking, "You guys have no idea what's above you." We made one circle around Tokyo Bay and decided we better get our cargo to Atsugi.
A few weeks later, Brother Stever would make a 10-day journey (by sea) across the Pacific to Tacoma, Washington. With him came a lifetime of memories and even a Japanese battle flag he discovered while exploring a jungle during his time in the Pacific. He has never been back to any of the spots he experienced during the war. He would get his degree from Ohio Wesleyan in Mathematics before earning his Masters in Petroleum Geology from Texas Tech. He went on have a successful career as a Petroleum Geologist in Texas, and also is an author and historian.
As I said in the beginning, you probably never heard about the 11th Airborne being the first occupiers or a squadron bearing aviation gasoline flying overhead on Surrender Day. Just a couple of tidbits of history.
Thank you Brother Stever and all of our members who have served in the military to protect our country, many of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve a country where Phi Kappa Psi can thrive.