Victory And Beyond Area Soldiers Watched Allies’ Final Triumph Mood Tense As Japan Signed Treaty To End Wwii
Jim Borg remembers that moment 50 years ago this weekend when the sun came out over Tokyo Bay.
It was a cool, gray day on the USS Missouri, where the world’s deadliest war was coming to an end.
The young Marine private looked down from his guard station to the deck 12 feet below, where the Japanese envoys were signing the articles of surrender to the Allied commanders.
There were no cheers or shouts from the assembled troops, who were under strict orders not to allow interruptions of any kind to this most formal of occasions.
“When the ceremony was finished, though, the sun came out, and just seemed to shine down on that ship,” Borg said. “It was like a sign.”
Suddenly, the sky was filled with war planes, swooping low over the battleship and the other ships in the bay, then in toward the Japanese mainland.
“I think every kind of plane they could get off a ship or an airfield they put in the sky that day. They just kept coming. It was deafening. It was a thrill to see,” recalled Borg, now a retired Spokane city official.
Borg is one of several Inland Northwest residents who were present when the Japanese officially surrendered to end World War II. < He and Edwin Askimakoupolous of Wenatchee both recall the anxiety that preceded the ceremony. The Missouri and other warships had entered Tokyo Bay a few days earlier.
The war was supposed to be over - but the ships’ crews remained on guard for kamikaze planes and submarines. Small boats constantly circled the big ships. Armed sailors and Marines were ready to shoot any divers that might approach.
There had been no incidents, but when the day of the surrender arrived, the crews were still apprehensive, Askimakoupolous said.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” he said.
In formation that morning, Borg was given the job of guarding news photographers from several countries sent to record the formal surrender.
The Chinese photographers were in their finest uniforms of shiny woven wool, he recalled. Their generals on the deck below wore bright colors and carried daggers with jewelencrusted handles.
The Japanese photographers “looked truly defeated.” They didn’t ask any questions and showed little interest in the ceremony.
The Russian photographers wore uniforms that looked like they were made from old Army blankets and wore some of the worst-made boots he had ever seen.
One of his duties was to make sure the Russians photographed only the ceremony - not the Navy’s latest controls and equipment on its newest battleship.
“The Russians wanted to run around the ship and look at the machinery. They really wanted to photograph that radar basket,” Borg said. He told them no, they’d nod their heads, then try to take a picture when he turned away.
“I grabbed many a Russian by the arm so his camera couldn’t photograph anything but a blur,” Borg said.
Finally he let them photograph a dial in a nearby glass case and they snapped away. They didn’t know it, but it was just the dial to turn on the firehose.
Askimakoupolous was assigned to escort the Russian general to the platform, then stand behind him as an honor guard.
“I was so close I could almost reach down and take off (Gen. Douglas) MacArthur’s hat,” he said.
He was so close to the ceremony that in many of the historic photographs that record the surrender in history books, Askimakoupolous is there in the background.
It was an exciting day for a 19-year-old who had grown up on a ranch near Lewiston.
The rails on the ship, painted battleship gray for months, had been scraped down to the brass and shined. Teak decks had been sanded and polished.
MacArthur looked dignified and confident, he said. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, who was captured with American troops on the Philippines more than three years earlier, was thin and emaciated.
The Japanese looked beaten.
Askimakoupolous paused when he tries to describe the feeling of that day.
“Words can’t express that. There was a great sense of relief, but it was something you felt deep within your heart,” he said.
Borg said he felt the weight of history, and the weight of a long war. He thought of all the men who had died on Iwo Jima and Okinawa and dozens of other islands in the Pacific.
“Every man who had ever been killed in the war was there with you,” he said. “It was an occasion you would never forget.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo