Friday, August 14, 2020

After VJ Day

 On 15 Aug 1945, after two atomic bombs, the Japanese militarists agreed to surrender. One atomic bomb was insufficient persuasion, and it was only the personal intervention of the Emperor after the second that broke the deadlock. Even so, there was an aborted coup to overthrow the Emperor just to keep the militarists in power. 

The surrender had the happy result of mooting the invasion of Japan, in the forefront of which would have been Pfc. Joseph F. Flynn, USMC, who once told TOF that LST stood for "Large Slow Target." (Officially, it means Landing Ship, Tank) Private Flynn had been aboard such a vessel on his all-expense, government-paid vacation on the lovely Pacific island of Iwo Jima. (Years later, when a reunion was to take place on the island, Joe declined to attend. "But it's free," bro Sean said, "the government is paying."

"The last time they did that," said Pere, "I did not have a good time.")

At one time on the island, his platoon was sheltered in a foxhole and directly in front of them was a dead Japanese soldier. He had been killed by an explosive blast which had whipped all his clothing from him, and decay had swollen his body, including his masculine member. The other marines dealt with the sight in the usual macabre fashion. "Looks like he died happy." But, Pere told TOF, "all I could think of was that this had been some mother's child, and she would never hear from him again." Of course, you can't have such thoughts, he explained, when people are trying to kill you. But afterward, when they are not, it was worth bearing in mind.

Instead of invading the Home Islands, Flynn was assigned to the Occupation Forces. He landed in Nagasaki, on Kyushu Island, and walked with his platoon through that city. The devastation was terrible. Everywhere they encountered Japanese policemen who turned their backs on the marines. He was told later that it was a mark of respect: they trusted them not to shoot them in the back. 

He and some other marines were assigned as a guard-escort to an Army cartography team mapping the island of Kyushu. Their was still a suspicion of die-hard resistance, a la Okinawa, and the marines were to be on the ready at all times. Under no circumstances were they to eat any food offered them, as it might be poisoned. They were based in Sasebo and traveled its environs. In one village, they were proudly shown the village fire engine. "It was like something Ben Franklin would have known," he told me. "A hand cart with pump bars on each side." These were the people who had built a powerful Navy and fought the US, UK, Australia, and China across the Pacific for three years. And this was their idea of modern firefighting equipment. Just think what they could do if they put their talent into civilian goods!

The marines were billeted in the local clinic, which was partitioned to give them some privacy. As they were undressing for bed, they heard sounds like mice or tittering. They traced it to a hole in the partition. The clinic nurses had wondered if these strangers were white all the way down and had taken steps to check it out. 

The mayor of the village came to them offering a tray of food, They started to demur, but the translator interrupted to tell them "It would be a great insult to refuse." The mayor might have to commit suicide to expunge the shame. The lieutenant thought it over. There had been no sign of hostility so far. So he said he would try the food and if it proved safe, the rest of them could eat it, too. And of course, it proved so. They knew how to fight, Pere said, but they knew how to surrender, too, and he knew then that Japan and America would become allies. 

Later that same day, the vice-mayor visited and offered the liberties of the geisha house to the Americans. The marines looked at one another and with one accord, they said, "It would be a great insult to refuse!"


  1. Seems in the remit of a vice mayor to offer vices — women of professional affection, absinthe which makes the heart grow fonder of these women, pipe of opium, &c., &c.  Hospitality, the continuation of war by other means.

    — Occasional Correspondent

    1. Well, that's what they would have offered Japanese dignitaries, too. Which doesn't mean that wouldn't have a little passive agression, but....

  2. Anyone who has read E. B. Sledge will find opposition to the bombings a little more difficult.

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