- Historic Sites
Landing At Tokyo Bay
Two letters from a Navy lieutenant to his wife tell the story of the last hours of World War II
August/September 1985 | Volume 36, Issue 5
The one totally breath-catching sight, of all the spectacles provided by our daily deluges of military drama throughout the recent weeks, was the first glimpse obtained of Fujiyama the evening of August 27. Late that afternoon the leading ships of our armada crept slowly, prudently, into Sagami Wan. Remember that name—Sagami Wan. I’ll have more to say about it very soon. On that day the sky was heavily overcast morning and afternoon. Then at sunset the clouds lifted.
After the fading of the glare in the west, the royal mountain lay just ahead, silhouetted against the horizon like a perfectly installed museum piece. A million Japanese prints are all honest about Fujiyama; surely this is the most beautiful mountain on earth. It brought to my mind exactly the opposite feeling I had had when first seeing Niagara Falls. A tourist there has been led to expect more grandeur than he can make of it. Fujiyama exceeds its publicity. Surely a people with a mountain like that in their front dooryard have been blessed by God. The contemptibles who have been ignoring its sermons are thereby doubly damned.
The naval operations that resulted in this present occupation of Japan are in their own way a kind of mighty monument, accomplished with fiery swiftness. Advances were made not in planned precision but in brief spurts, fitfully. So they, too, constituted a volcano of sorts. Throughout the whole first three and most critical weeks following the capitulation, I labored on the leading edge. The admiral on whose staff I began serving in June is Rear Adm. Oscar C. Badger, “COMBATDIV 7” (commander, Battleship Division 7). The qualification that got me this assignment, and extricated me from the humdrum I shared as a junior officer on the Iowa, seems ludicrous indeed: I can type. Admiral Badger’s “division” consists of merely two ships, the Iowa and the New Jersey. Immediately after the Iowa came back to the far Pacific last April, the Jersey sailed for dry-docking on the West Coast. My admiral’s responsibilities were mostly just now and then; day after day he had nothing to do but go through motions becoming to an admiral. “Staff work” was usually an empty routine. When Mumoran and southeastern Honshu were shelled in July, it was he who ran the show, and then for a few days his staff was busy. Occasionally our “command” would be designated to conduct antiaircraft practice exercises, and on those occasions, too, the admiral could play with the ships for two or three hours. Otherwise our weeks were spent cruising around with the carriers, keeping the admiral up-to-the-minute on all current matters, preparing (we told ourselves) for the all but impossible crisis that might occur if all senior admirals sailing on nearby ships were incapacitated.
Some four weeks ago, however, our admiral made a couple of trips over to the South Dakota, ostensibly to chat with Adm. William Halsey. In those quiet, distant days we were cruising with the giant Task Force 38, intermittently launching air strikes against the Empire. Our speculations were about which year the war would end. We guessed the reason Halsey wanted to talk with Badger had to do with prospective bombardments. As can now be seen, however, those two destroyers which showed up to taxi our boss to see the 3d Fleet boss were the first tremors foretelling the military “volcano” of which I speak, which since then has changed the shape of the world. For it was then that Halsey told Badger that he—Badger—had been designated commander, Tokyo Bay Occupation Task Force, since then known as Task Force 31. Nobody can ever completely fathom all the factors that the Navy relies on in choosing its brains, but one theory that floats around about Oscar C. rests on the fact that in 1923 he was the skipper of the only U. S. Navy ship anchored in Tokyo Bay. This prior local experience was doubtless unmatched by his peers in the current fleet and may have been the clincher in his selection for another Japanese job this year.
Whether Halsey had received ultrasecret advance information on the mysterious bombs that were dropped a couple of weeks later or on the Japanese intentions to surrender (a preposterous guess in those days), or whether he was merely imaginatively and shrewdly preparing against ultimate possibilities and “lucked out” by the coming events, the fact remains that before the first bomb fell on Hiroshima, and before the Russians joined the fight, and while Dugout Doug [Gen. Douglas MacArthur] and his armies were still a thousand miles or so away, organization of the Allied occupation of Japan had begun, and it was the Navy that did it. By the grace of those very few days of “head start” we were not caught napping when the emperor opened his doors.