- Historic Sites
The author entered the conquered capital days after the surrender to meet high officers of the Imperial Navy
May/June 1995 | Volume 46, Issue 3
Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1945, I was a naval officer in Norfolk, Virginia, contemplating my inevitable return to the Western Pacific, when two bombs were dropped, the Soviets entered the war, and the Japanese emperor prevailed on his government to throw in the towel. On August 28 the first occupation forces arrived; on September 2 the formal surrender took place. A few days later Rear Adm. R. A. Ofstie, for whom I was working, called me down the hall and asked if I would like to go to Japan.
Admiral Ofstie had been appointed senior naval member of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, which, after a big effort at assessing the virtues of this form of warfare in Germany, was now about to extend its attentions to Japan. But the Pacific war had been a dominantly naval affair, and while there had been plenty of dropping of bombs, it was not what was generally considered “strategic” bombing. No doubt this would be clarified in time. Although demobilization was beginning and I had plenty of points to get out, Japan sounded interesting, so I said I would go.
Admiral Ofstie was a gifted and experienced officer who had served on Admiral Nimitz’s staff and commanded first the Essex and then a division of six escort carriers. Before the war he had been an assistant naval attaché in Tokyo, and his familiarity with those he was about to visit was perhaps a governing reason he had been selected for the job. The other six interrogating officers divided up the war largely on the basis of experience. I, having been through the recapture of the Philippines, drew that campaign.
My unexpected tour of postwar duty began agreeably. I had priority-one air passage, and the luck of the draw got me aboard a Clipper flying boat, under charter from Pan Am, which provided a rare experience of agreeable air travel: takeoff out through the Golden Gate in a fine sunset, a big table set up in the cabin with a cooked meal, and then a comfortable six-and-a-half-foot berth. We settled down in Honolulu Harbor at eight-thirty, and that afternoon it was on to the west—from this time on by Navy transport plane with utilitarian seating. The next morning we reached Guam.
We might have expected some hostility, but all our contacts with Japanese were orderly, correct, and even friendly.
There, while our group was assembling, we worked on planning problems. Late on the night of October 2, in very bumpy weather, I flew up to Japan, pausing for a midnight breakfast of baked beans on Iwo Jima, where a large airstrip had been installed, and then heading on to Tokyo Bay to see the damage. It was impressive. From the airport at Kisarazu we went across the bay by B-25 bomber to the big naval base at Yokosuka and then by jeep down to Yokohama, largely destroyed except for steel and concrete buildings. Yokosuka seemed strangely deserted; since the Japanese armed forces had been abolished by General MacArthur, everybody had gone home, leaving only a handful of laborers and a few aircraft, largely experimental types but including, interestingly, a Navy F6F fighter in apparently good condition. We never did learn how it got there.
On October 5 a couple of were ordered into Tokyo, some twenty miles away, to check out the possible office accommodations. So at 8:00 A.M. Commander Thomas Moorer (who would later be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and I strapped on our sidearms and headed into town in a jeep. The destruction along the way was extensive, with very large areas burned flat but dotted with rusting steel safes—everybody seemed to have had one—and intermittent chimneys. There did remain fairly considerable islands of built-up areas, and there, whenever our jeep slowed, dear little children would appear waving and shouting, “Hurro, hurro,” and then when we sped up, “Kootebai, kootebai.” We were later told that a fair number of those who could afford it had sent their women to the hills to avoid the horrors of occupation. But they had little understood the American GI, homesick and far from home, happy that the shooting was over, lover of small children, and well armed with chocolate and chewing gum. In due course the exiles somewhat sheepishly returned. And this was the last time we carried sidearms.
In Tokyo we managed to find the landmark Meiji Building, where we were assigned the seventh floor, with windows overlooking the palace grounds; a short distance away was the Dai Ichi Building, where General MacArthur held sway. The Meiji Building was a conventional modern office building with nothing exotic except for the men’s rooms, where half the stalls required squatting rather than sitting. The B-29s had been told to stay away from the palace grounds, so these major buildings around it had escaped serious damage. On the grounds all we could see were trees, plus some very large carp in some pretty dirty water in the moat. The substitute emperor, General MacArthur, arrived every morning at a dignified hour from the American Embassy, where he had taken up his quarters.