September 01, 2006

At a little after two o’clock, General Douglas A. MacArthur’s four-engine C-54, aptly named Bataan, landed and bounced to a stop in a cloud of dust. The General descended the ramp, smiling and waving, his corn-cob pipe clamped between his teeth. Only weeks before, Imperial Japanese Army and Navy forces had dedicated their lives to kill this man. But now, he and his entourage deplaned virtually unarmed. Winston Churchill said of MacArthur’s landing, “Of all the amazing deeds in the war, I regard General MacArthur’s personal landing at Atsugi as the bravest of the lot.”

The General was there to preside at the surrender ceremony three days hence as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. For many, it was anticipated to be a time of retribution and revenge — pay-back time when tempers could take their fill, the deserving enemy crushed under a vengeful boot.

But the Americans did something unpredictable. With only a token force, MacArthur went into Tokyo taking quarters at the New Grand Hotel. That night he issued orders that surprised the Japanese — orders that countermanded centuries of Asian tradition. MacArthur stated that occupying troops were not to consume local food and were to eat only their own rations, and that there was to be no curfew and that martial law was not to be imposed.

From fleet headquarters in Guam, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet issued a similar order:

“…it is incumbent on all officers to conduct themselves with dignity and decorum in their treatment of the Japanese…the use of insulting epithets in connection with the Japanese as a race or as individuals does not now become the officers of the United States Navy. Officers in the Pacific Fleet will take steps to require of all personnel under their command a high standard of conduct in this matter…”

And so, the tone was set.

September 2, 1945 broke gray and somber over Tokyo Bay. Over 200 ships of the U.S. Navy were anchored there. Sailors stood at their long glasses, eyes riveted to the USS Missouri (BB 63), proudly flying the flag that had flown over the nation’s capital on December 7, 1941.

Starting at 0800 that morning, destroyer after destroyer pulled alongside the Missouri, her topside spaces already brimming with sailors and correspondents — in particular the Japanese press. Allied generals, admirals, and ranking diplomats were delivered. Admiral Nimitz, appointed as representative of all American forces, was piped aboard at 0805. General MacArthur arrived via the destroyer USS Buchanan (DD 484) at about 0830. A naval precedent was set when Admiral Nimitz’ blue flag and General MacArthur’s red flag flew side by side from the Missouri’s mainmast.

For a bit of irony, MacArthur invited General Jonathan M. Wainwright, Commander of the U.S. Forces which surrendered at Corregidor in 1942, and Lieutenant General Arthur E. Percival, Commander of the British forces that surrendered at Singapore in the same year. Both were terribly emaciated, having been quickly spirited from captivity in a Japanese prison camp in Manchuria.

A large number of well-known military leaders were also in place including Admirals Halsey (The Missouri was his flag ship), McCain, Turner, Sherman, and Clark and Generals Spaatz, Kenny, Stillwell, and Eichelberger.

At 0855, the destroyer USS Lansdowne (DD 486) was summoned to the Missouri’s starboard side. Ushered up the gangway were eleven members of the Japanese delegation. Amongst them were Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and Army Chief of Staff Yoshijiro Umezu. Admiral Sadaoshi Tomioka represented navy commander in Chief Admiral Soemu Toyoda and the Imperial Japanese Navy. (An embarrassed Toyoda refused to attend, saying to Tomioka, his operations officer, “You lost the war, so you go.” It mattered not to Tomioka who, like many other officers, committed harakiri after the ceremonies.

With everyone in place, the Missouri’s chaplain delivered an invocation and the Star Spangled Banner was played. As it should have been, the ceremony was somber but without rancor. General MacArthur began with:

“We are gathered here, representatives of the major warring powers, to conclude a solemn agreement whereby peace may be restored…It is my earnest hope, indeed the hope of all mankind, that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage from the past, a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance and justice.”

He then ordered the representatives of the Imperial Japanese Government and the Imperial Japanese Staff to sign the agreement. Shigemitsu was the first to step forward and sign for Emperor Hirohito. Umezu then signed for the Japanese General Headquarters.

The Japanese then stepped back and, with Wainwright and Percival at his side, MacArthur signed on behalf of all the Allied powers. Admiral Nimitz, with Admirals Halsey and Sherman at his side, signed in behalf of the United States. Signing next were: General Hsu Young-chang of China, Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser for the United Kingdom, Lieutenant General K. Derevyanko for the Soviet Union, General Sir Thomas Blamey for Australia, Colonel L. Moore Cosgrave for Canada, General Jacques LeClerc for France, Admiral Conrad E. L Helfrich for the Netherlands, and Air Vice Marshal Sir Leonard M. Isitt for New Zealand.

With that done, General MacArthur again took the microphone and gave his famous, “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are now closed.”

The darkness of the moment was brightened when two things happened. First, as if staged by Cecil B. DeMille, the sun burst through the clouds, its light shimmering on Tokyo Bay, the snow-capped Mount Fujiyama gleaming in the distance. Next, a formation of 1,000 U.S. planes began flying over. Necks craned as admirals, generals, diplomats, correspondents, photographers, and former adversaries watched them all, from nimble F4U Corsairs to long, silver, USAAF B-29s fly over, bringing peace with the thunder of their engines. Symbolically, the eleven Japanese, now at peace with the Allies, were piped over the side with full military honors.

* * * * *

It is said that over 280 Allied warships swung at anchor that day, their guns silent, finally at peace with the world, their crews eager to return home. But there were no aircraft carriers among their number. They were still at sea, ready to strike, should the Japanese surrender be a ruse, or in the worst case, the leaders aboard the Missouri be killed or incapacitated in a fanatic’s kamikaze raid.

But Admiral Raymond A. Spruance was poised aboard the battle ship USS New Jersey (BB 62) in Buckner Bay, Okinawa. Spruance, the hero of the Battle of Midway, and later, the Marianas campaign that signaled the end of the Imperial Japanese Navy was on duty and ready. As deserving as the others to be aboard the Missouri that day, Spruance had been held back to take over, should something terrible happen.

Fortunately, it did not.

MacArthur, Nimitz, and the Allied leaders took a chance: they walked softly. And it paid off. The Japanese seized the opportunity to rebuild themselves to the mighty industrial and cultural power they are today, taking a respected place in the free world.

MacArthur, Nimitz, Halsey, Spruance, Eisenhower, Patton. As James A. Michener asked in his novel, “The Bridges of Toko-Ri,”“Where do we get such men?”