August/September 1985 | Volume 36, Issue 5
Two letters from a Navy lieutenant to his wife tell the story of the last hours of World War II
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.
Within the next few days the character of our admiral’s prospective duties assumed some kind of shape. At first the idea of “preparing to occupy Tokyo Bay” seemed ludicrous. But then, as you simultaneously learned back home, the atomic bombs did start to fall, and the Russians did “come in,” and on August 14 the Japs did crumble. On that day the Navy’s bomb-filled planes were recalled, victory flags went up all over the fleet, and from Halsey’s flagship, the South Dakota, a flag hoist was raised proclaiming an illegal order, “Splice the main brace.” Do you know what that means? The onboard pharmacies knew; their whiskey stores soon ran out. All of a sudden our mighty Task Force 38 had nothing to do! The hints and glimpses a few of us had had of Badger’s instructions and plans were the only available outline of the prospective strategies of the United States Navy.
Admirals Badger and Halsey—and doubtless, somewhere, Chester Nimitz—were laying their bet that they could beat the Army to the goal line. Thus the original plans seemed to exclude the Army and its mighty Air Corps. Each ship of cruiser size or larger in the fleet about us was ordered at once to organize large landing parties of bluejackets and fleet Marines. Rifles and pistols were broken out of lowest-deck storage lockers. Machine guns were stripped from aircraft, tripods for them being improvised by shipfitters out of water pipe. On the fantail of the Iowa from morning to night we watched the designated men drilling and practicing, shooting their unaccustomed weapons at targets thrown into the sea. A more astonished collection of sailors never existed in military history. To assault the Empire with landing forces of raw sailors was sheer lunacy. How could we expect no opposition? We had seen the enemy dive-bombing the Wasp a mile away, the afternoon of the morning when the emperor said he was throwing in the towel. But orders from a rear admiral are to be complied with—and behind him sat Halsey.
The heretofore placid routines in flag plot were thrown into convulsions of activity. There was where the core of the new volcano was hottest. Up from the conference rooms below us came an endless stream of dispatches to be transmitted: to our ships nearby; to Guam, Ulithi, Eniwetok, Pearl Harbor; to ships a thousand miles away. Our voice circuits became overloaded; new circuits were added, increasing what was already bedlam. Our coding officers hunched over the keyboards in their locked room for five hours at a stretch. A great new naval task force was being created, and the race was against time—against time and the Army. Commanders and captains joined our staff, experts in this or that, fliers and submarine men and photo interpreters and mine guys—all manner of gold braid. Admirals visited the Iowa daily. Sometimes the destroyers that serve as seagoing taxicabs would be lined up on our flanks three deep, to take on or discharge high-ranking couriers. I was directed to create a chart of the western Pacific and devise arrangements of pinup cards to show the names and locations of every ship eventually to marry into our hastily nominated family. I never did get it finished: too many ships; not enough chart.
Otherwise my own humble part in the maelstrom was always the same. During my time on watch I tended the voice circuits, writing down the messages as they came tumbling in to us and reading out the queries, the replies, the orders composed in the conference room. Our voice call was “Bonaparte,” and as Bonaparte I broadcast until I was hoarse. Off watch I would fall asleep with the clamor of loudspeakers ringing in my ears, and persistently the word Bonaparte shouted through my dreams. We thought then we were under pressure; afterward the frenzy increased until it seemed likely that hell is cacophony.
It was only about then that we learned that one General MacArthur was to be supreme commander of the Allied powers, and of us too, responsible for directing all phases of the forthcoming occupation. But by the time General MacArthur had the burden of planning fairly upon him, the emergence of Task Force 31 was so well advanced there could be no notion of an Army alternative. And that same delay served the Navy well, for while we were awaiting MacArthur’s commands, the ships were pouring pell-mell from all directions into a large portion of the western Pacific now identified as Area Badger.
The timetable for the program was announced. Normandy had had its Dday; Japan was to have its L-day (the L for landing), and at first it was set for Wednesday, August 28. On Thursday the twenty-second, Admiral Badger and most of his staff transferred to the light cruiser San Diego, which he had selected as his flagship, for the critical approach into the tiger’s mouth. On the twenty-third my orders reached me to go aboard the San Diego.
Once more it became my job to manage and record voice communications. My place was in the CIC—the Combat Information Center—a gadget-packed room high in the superstructure. We had six separate voice circuits, each alternatingly coming up as Bonaparte. I never worked fewer than sixteen hours a day. What I mostly had to do was to see to it that every message transmitted by voice, incoming and outgoing, was typed in proper form and properly routed via the conference tables below. Every command or report concerning Task Force 31 clattered through me and my yeomen. My voice! My vocal cords grew nodes like Bing Crosby’s. Light bulbs rattled when I spoke.
L-day was postponed until the thirtieth, by orders of MacArthur. Task Force 31 milled around in Area Badger, agglomerating itself. About us were transports loaded with hastily extricated Marines, augmented by the landing parties recruited out of numerous big ships. By now we had with us the small attack transports (APDs)—converted destroyers. All around us was a swarm of minesweepers; we also were in company with landing craft, repair ships, ships full of vehicles, seabees, drinking water, fuel oil, and battle-ready Marines. Circling on the outskirts were the destroyers, without which a fleet is vulnerable from below and above. We had formed up as a long, strung-out array, a column of units perhaps twenty miles from van to rear; we went through maneuvers to find out how well we maneuvered. By noon of the twenty-sixth we were a thin dagger pointed in the general direction of Hirohito, approaching at about nine knots. It developed that we were ahead of schedule; we countermarched for two hours, then countercharged again. Except for the destroyer screen always just ahead, the San Diego was in the lead.
If you look at a map of Japan, you will see that Tokyo Bay is a deep little cavity in the southern coastline, connected to the Pacific Ocean by a narrow, crooked channel penetrating its southern rim. It somewhat resembles Narragansett Bay, just outside your windows, except that it’s about twice as big and is undoubtedly one of the greatest harbors on earth. Sagami Wan is a large bite out of the coastline just outside and to the west. It’s open to the sea and is thus a poor anchorage; there is no substantial industrial development along its bordering beaches. It was therefore presumed to be not well defended by coastal artillery or mines. Only a narrow strip of land to the east, however, separates it from teeming cities lining the sides of Tokyo Bay, full of ferocious defenses. Thus it was Sagami Wan that had been selected as the first-night focus for our avalanche now ready.
We anchored there, a mile or so offshore, late in the afternoon of August 27, Janie’s second birthday. As the hook went down and I stuck my head out to look at Fujiyama, I thought of you two and wondered about the party you had doubtless scheduled for later that day, so far away. Our task force kept arriving and anchoring, silently. There was very little to say over the radios. Japan lay solid, stolid, and mysterious before us.
At first we saw no lights on shore. Presently, however, tiny twinkles became visible along a sizable stretch of shoreline. Then, astonishingly, a strange little school of fisherman-sized motorboats appeared out of the darkness, heading slowly toward us. The San Diego’s five-inch turrets swiveled around to cover the cockleshell heading our way. We learned that these were conveyors of platoons of Japanese channel pilots, allocated two to each of our ships, expected and required to guide us through minefields in the channel into the bay! A squad of our Marines, rifles poised, stood waiting for a head to appear at the top of a rope ladder let down over the side. A terrified and shabby little man came slithering onto the deck and lay prostrate, awaiting what he surely thought would be his doom. He was vigorously encouraged to get himself up and was escorted belowdecks unceremoniously. Another one followed. We learned next day they spent that night in the brig.
Next morning the San Diego, with two destroyers capering purposefully ahead, minesweepers on our flanks, and loaded attack transports right behind, pulled out to sea again, to the southeast, to round the isthmus protecting the channel entrance.
Tokyo Bay is a picturesque, not to say a perfectly beautiful, harbor. Its banks are densely wooded, clear down to the water. From time to time I could leave my post and come out to peek at the Risen Sun. On one such visit I caught sight of a fluttering of small white things deep within the steep, forested hills. Binoculars disclosed them to be people waving handkerchiefs at us as we passed. They were either just welcoming us or surrendering; we knew not. The strangest thing was that there were no rifle shots or detonations, as surely there would have been had this been occurring almost anywhere else in the world.
By noon we were well into the great bay, anchored once more, not two miles from the Yokosuka Naval Base where now I write. Presumably it is the largest and most elaborate such establishment in Japan, the pride of generations of admirals and designed to be impregnable. The transports settled down around us like tackles converging in a huddle. The minesweepers began their work; the occasional thud of an exploding mine was really the only sound to be heard. The populace had obviously been directed to vacate the entire shoreline. Gulls and crows circled hopefully overhead. Flies, the first we had seen in two months, buzzed in the wardroom.
During the afternoon a party of twelve Japanese naval officers and one Army officer boarded us, by prearrangement. They brought bundles of charts, which laid bare all the secrets of their fortifications. They were passive, docile, and primly correct. Each saluted every Marine who searched him for weapons and bowed to whoever addressed him. Their tiny stature surprised me. On a dash into the conference room with a message for somebody, I sideswiped a tiny fellow festooned with gold rope and destroyed his equilibrium. This was my only act of violence in thirty-two months of Navy life. I saw his little cloth cap on the table, a shoddy affair, for all the world like a boy’s imitation bus driver’s cap worth maybe ninety-eight cents; it wasn’t much larger than a teacup.
The admiral composed a message to Halsey, who was still down in Sagami Wan on the Missouri, announcing our arrival. I transmitted it; it read as follows:
280458 CTF 31 IN SAN DIEGO AND GROUP IN COMPANY ARRIVED DESTINATION 1327 I X ANCHORED EASY ANCHORAGE TOKYO BAY X NO HITS NO RUNS NO ERRORS X SWEEPING REPORT LATER BT 290458
FROM: CTF 31 TO: COM3RDLEET TOD: 0501/TBS
That’s one message the typed copy of which I shall keep in my memory book.
An hour later he came up with another message, to everybody in general:
280539 ROUTINE CALLS WILL BE DISPENSED WITH X
Only a Navy man can appreciate that one.
Later that same day I heard the order from Halsey to the fleet around us and nearby, directing them not to black out that night, and I carried that news down to the admiral. A couple of hours later Halsey put out a transmission complaining that there were not enough lights showing.
I reported that to Admiral Badger and took back to CIC, and broadcast, his grim order for all ships in Task Force 31 to darken as usual.
Next morning more power jostled in. Up the channel came the Missouri and the Iowa; shortly afterward the South Dakota and the British Duke of York showed up. A half-dozen full-size transports arrived, and numerous lesser craft. They anchored just outside us. Meanwhile the buildup down in Sagami Wan steadily progressed. The process was, as I have been saying, much like that by which Fujiyama was created aeons ago. Layers built progressively upon layers; the San Diego, like the flame at the peak, stayed always in the lead.
We remained anchored all through the twenty-ninth, while many Marines and others were defanging the surrounding fortifications. By that night Tokyo Bay had been readied for L-day. H-hour was 0930. That morning the boats milled around in the conventional circles, all hands watching clocks. The moment arrived. The circles sprang open into processions, and wave by wave they headed for shore. It was a flawless day, all blue sky and golden sunshine; the show was as good as any movie ever made. On shore we saw not a soul. We were not, however, without witnesses. As the boats neared the beaches, tiny white specks again became visible in the surrounding hills, surrender flags strung up on tree trunks and improvised poles. These singularly naive gestures are the only public demonstrations I have so far seen.
These varied sights I saw only in snatches, during moments when I ducked out of CIC on brief vacations. The intensity of voice traffic was always mounting, greater this day than ever before. Down in Sagami Wan, a few miles away, every heavy ship in the gathered Task Force 31 was awaiting word from the San Diego to start shooting. I was sure I could feel their intensities as they waited down there. The voice call for the battleship Mississippi is “Dan Boone”; poor old Dan Boone was particularly an eager beaver. Every twenty minutes he would call up and say, “Hello, Bonaparte, this is Dan Boone: radio check; how do you hear me?” I would gravely repeat myself and answer, “Dan Boone, this is Bonaparte. I hear you loud and clear. Out.” That was all I could tell him; the rules don’t permit offhand situation reports.
The beaches having been nobly secured, once more the San Diego hoisted anchor, this time for the final, climaxing surge forward. The San Diego passed through a gap in a vast semicircular stone breakwater guarding the entrance to the Yokosuka Naval Yard. We went by cliffs so close off our beam that any husky patriot could have landed a hand grenade on our bridge. We sailed slowly by the anchored Nagato. Three times we had announced she had been sunk, yet there she floated, looking substantial. Her superstructure had obviously been interfered with by a couple of bombs, but her hull and decks showed not a mark. Ahead lay the dock, well populated by Marines and waiting sailors. Our own deckhands began to swing their heaving lines while we were still a hundred yards out. We edged closer, and the weighted ropes continued to fly, mostly toward land, only to splash unhappily into the water. At last an unknown hero on the dock leaped from the pier onto a heavy raft at dockside; he clutched a San Diego line that had fallen there. Up went the line to his mates, and away they ran, dragging out the first of the heavy hawsers that would make us fast.
For the first time in the history of Japan, a “barbarian” man-of-war, with unsociable intentions, had control of a piece of the Empire. But I could not stall around on the bridge to watch these developments for very long at a time. In the narrow passageway immediately outside our little bedlam, a small but highpowered commercial radio broadcasting station had been set up, linked via Guam with nationwide networks at home. Announcers from NBC, CBS, and Mutual had been blurting out their staccato descriptions of our progress. Admiral Badger was called upon to make an impromptu speech, to which challenge he responded gallantly. In concluding his remarks, he raised his voice, to help him to be heard in the U. S. A., and happily shouted this brief aside: “Hello, Ma! I’ll be seeing you soon!” Many of us thought that a most significant disclosure.
The next big event was the raising of the Stars and Stripes over His Imperial Majesty’s naval base. Admiral Badger composed a dispatch for me to transmit to Halsey, down yonder in the Wan. Of the circuits available I elected to use the long-range apparatus, to which I knew the distant carrier fleet was also listening. I read it off as if I were a cathedral pipe organ. Almost certainly it was the first word that had penetrated to the carriers—and to the world outside—of the final success of the landing. My figure of speech fails me here: I see no way to liken that moment with anything in the history of Fujiyama; I did not sound like a volcano in full eruption, but I did get a tremendous kick out of that brief transmission.
That was surely the climax of our drama of great events. Since then Allied power has continued to cascade into the bay. In the meantime, General MacArthur has, of course, arrived on the scene, all having been made safe for him. The complexion of the invasion has changed from pure blue and green to mostly khaki. The monstrous airborne Army invasion occurred on the morning of September 2, immediately preceding the great ceremonious signing of the surrender documents on board the Missouri. We had no way to calculate the number of planes that were involved. More than one hundred and fifty B-29s were seen directly over the Piedmont, and that was merely a small fraction of the total that came thundering over the bay.
There are pages and pages more to be written concerning these last few days. But this is a letter to one dear and patient wife, not a textbook or a Baedeker, so all I shall describe in what’s left is the fabulous multitude of underground cities we’ve discovered and explored, deep under many portions of this Japanese naval establishment.
I’ve already mentioned the steep cliffs and wooded mountains surrounding the piers and buildings. Tunnels penetrate them by the score. Deep within them they open into labyrinths of rooms and corridors carved from solid rock. Nothing could better persuade one that the Japanese had prepared for this war—or for some war—for generations. The catacombs are loaded with supplies and equipment in enormous variety—mountains of things, deep under mountains. The entrances are protected by series of steel doors, some of them eight inches thick. I am convinced this dragon’s lair could not have been taken by violence.
The largest and most marvelous system of tunnels I have seen appears to have constituted the central air raid warning system for the Empire. Intricate beyond description, we found it abandoned and intact. It included room after room of radio equipment, transmitters, and receivers. One chamber alone had more than forty duty stations set up side by side. The largest single room was a veritable auditorium for display of a giant map of Japan and its neighboring islands, studded with countless little electric lights.
Opposite it, like seats for looking at a stage production, were rows and tiers of observing stations, each complete with desk, chairs, and transmitting apparatus. It is to be assumed that here the American air raids were analyzed as they converged on the Empire. Any approaching aircraft could be spotted when it was still a hundred miles away, appearing as a light on the map. The observers in that particular room were thus able to alert the appropriate defenses. Mysterious devices that our technicians do not yet understand make this great mechanism work. I’ve been told that in general their radio instruments appear to be inferior to ours. Here and there, however, are examples of the most advanced sorts of devices our people know about. Every door was open; the inhabitants had left suddenly, as if they were fleeing a volcano, taking no time to destroy anything. Who can imagine Americans of any description evacuating such a place without recourse to hand grenades or sledgehammers? Some of the Japanese technicians who worked in the place have been located and, with the help of a beaming interpreter, are busy explaining how everything operated.
I save until last the best news of all! Censoring has ceased! We can seal our own envelopes now! The Iowa is nominated to be returning to the States by Navy Day! I shall be home to you and the baby, somewhere, within weeks!
I have just returned from an all-day pilgrimage to Tokyo, and I must tell you about it at once so my mind will rest better as I try to sleep tonight. I have seen such filth, and wretchedness, and destruction, and remembrances of past horrors as to sicken and exhaust me. Square miles of the great cities of Yokohama and Tokyo are leveled, white with ashes, emptier than deserts, cluttered with shards of smashed machinery, littered with burned rubble. Hundreds of chimneys—thousands—survive in the shattered areas, standing tall and white like skinny ghosts, where once the wooden houses filled the crowded settlements. They are almost all that does remain, after the fire bombing some months ago. At first I was puzzled by what looked like scattered dozens of bunged-up sheds, maybe dog kennels, clumsily fastened together and made from fragments of rusty corrugated sheet iron or pieces of other kinds of junk. Then it became clear that they were houses, with people living in them.
Of course, it was not pure ordeal throughout. Getting to Tokyo proved to be no trick at all. I simply played hooky from ship—which is overflowing with idle officers—and seem not to have been missed. Yesterday my blithe companion Ensign Engle and I laid our plans for the escapade. He’s one of our communications officers, as am I, but he is frequently called upon to make guard mail trips and has a jeep to command. In midafternoon we jeeped over to the Yokosuka railroad station to get our tickets. We checked out .45-caliber automatics from our well-stocked little armory on board—not so much for protection, we told ourselves, as to provide more insignia. This morning, when we boarded the train, there was no one sufficiently courageous to ask for anything. We just walked on.
The train was nothing exotic, very much like one of our interurban electrics, six or seven cars long. We had seats as far as Ofuna, just south of Yokohama, but there we had to change trains. From there on we stood. The whole trip took about an hour and a half. The service is excellent, trains in both directions every few minutes, every car crowded. We were the objects of much concentrated observation. Occasionally we were bowed to or even saluted. Nowhere was there evident a trace of hostility or resentment. This seems unaccountable to us. There were other Americans on the train, in uniform, most of them unarmed. If lurking dangers do exist among these ragged little people, they do not appear.
We had it in mind to head for the Imperial Hotel, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and much admired by all of us students of architecture, built twentyeight years ago, as I remember things, well before the devastating earthquake of 1923. We easily found it, as well as another deluxe hotel five minutes away from it. These two hotels are serving as American headquarters; MacArthur himself is now at the Imperial. They were the only clean, nonstinking buildings we visited all day. The Imperial has a strange magnificence about it, with a feeling in its massing and in its details more Aztec or Peruvian or ancient Mexican than true Japanese. Not a bomb touched it in the recent excitement, though neighboring buildings all around were smashed. We poked about, trying to look studious, and learned the very important fact that meals were being served free of charge to American troops. It was another evidence of how far we are from home: grated raw carrots garnishing a slithery slab of what must have been a raw and elderly fish. Our next goal was the emperor’s palace, only a mile or so away.
Everywhere people were toting great burdens on their backs, like so many ants or pack mules. The items carried ranged from tiny babies, trussed up on a couple of strings, little arms and legs jouncing wildly with every step of the indifferent mothers, to monstrous canvas sacks that forced their bearers to proceed nearly horizontally.
A stink pervades the city, leaping at one from every doorway and window, like nothing I ever endured elsewhere, maybe like the last days of an abandoned slaughterhouse. It is a solid, rich, adhesive, and colossal aroma, one that you can almost see and that was still in my clothes when I undressed last night.
The palace embraces a kind of enormous campus—a vista of imposing buildings surrounded by pavements and parks. Its outer defenses consist of a great, strong stone wall, rising perhaps thirty feet above a water-filled moat, enclosing several square miles. A half mile within it is another moat, crossed by a great stone bridge, as monumental as anything in Paris over the Seine, terminating at a forbidding gatehouse, guarded by two policemen in sentry boxes. The wooden gates were closed. A U.S. Army sign was posted, warning all Yankees to stay away.
We returned to the Imperial Hotel shortly after one o’clock for a typically late lunch consisting of pea soup, raw fish again, hamburger steak, and bread and butter. The waiters were, of course, all Japanese. The one who served us had been employed at the Imperial for twenty-three years. He toothily chattered of the American tourists who used to patronize the premises. For all he seemed to be concerned about, we were merely a new generation of sightseers. The only diners were uniformed Americans, officers and enlisted, some of them bringing rifles with them into the dining room. Although there were numerous shiny American sedans parked outside, we saw no direct evidence of MacArthur’s presence among us. No one asked anyone for identification or what he was doing there. This will doubtless all be changed in a week or so, when regulations are remembered and will clamp down like bear traps.
Experience has persuaded me that the best of all strategies in invading a foreign city with a view to reducing its barriers is to acquire an affable middle-aged gentleman of some culture and moxie and then so charm him as to make him insist on adopting me as his protégé. This system worked well for me in invading Europe a year and more ago, and after lunch I explained its points to Brother Engle. We chose comfortable chairs in the luxurious lobby and awaited the arrival of a likely candidate. He was not long in showing up; his name turned out to be Mr. Kobayashi Hiroyuhi, a prosperous-looking businessman who had come in, he said, to see the hotel manager. We nailed him.
This was a genial, lonesome character who had lived for twenty-three years in America, where, as a silk merchant, he had traveled throughout the length and breadth of the forty-eight states. His customers had been (he quickly informed us) such enterprises as B. Altman’s, Marshall Field’s, Bullocks, and so forth. In recent years he had run his business from Tokyo. He had had his own building (he afterward showed us its ruins) with a staff of sixty clerks and twentyfour typewriters, all but four of which had been Underwoods, he explained with a mixture of pride and wistfulness. We talked with him for nearly two hours there in the hotel, I asking most of the questions:
What’s the explanation for this apparent lack of hostility or resentment among the Japanese toward the Americans?—Why should there be any resentment now? We are defeated. We accept the situation always.
But only a month ago you were fighting us?—Yes, to be sure. But now the emperor has ordered that all that be forgotten. Japanese are a very disciplined people. When the emperor tells us, we change our minds.
When did you first feel that the war was going against you? That you had really lost it?—I suppose some began to think so after we lost Okinawa. Mostly, though, it didn’t occur to us until about a month ago. (Note to the home front: The first nuclear bomb dropped one month and three days ago.)
Did you know that the Japanese had not won a battle with us, of any sort, since midsummer of 1942?—No! We were not told that.
What is the most serious shortage that has affected Japan?—Food shortage. Very bad. People are starving, right now, and will get worse. Caused by lack of manpower and no rice arriving by ship. This winter will be very bad in Japan.
How many people were killed in Tokyo?—We don’t really know yet. Two hundred thousand people killed in one night, night of first big fire-bomb attack. People were not ready, not trained how to take care of themselves. Altogether probably much over half a million people dead in Tokyo.
All these things he told us in an effusive, offhand manner, laughing merrily at our astonishment. At one point I became a bit irritated by his outlandish amiability and demanded to know what Japanese people are really, honestly thinking, deep inside. Was this candor of his a pose? I suspected Oriental wiles.
Was he putting me on?—No, no, no! It is as I say. Japanese very friendly people. You have seen. Do you see anybody looking bad at you? Or anything except all OK?
This sort of thing kept up for a considerable while and in more detail than I have described here. He in turn was keen to know about the silk business in America. I told him about nylon and about the size of the nylon industry. He had barely heard about this, and it seemed to worry him.
He claimed to be surprised when I told him Japanese had been guilty of terrible cruelties in their treatment of prisoners of war. “Did not know that,” he said. Engle and I had it in mind to do a little shopping, so Mr. Hiroyuhi took us via the Tokyo subway to a department store district. There we found a new policy in effect: All big stores closed on Sunday. Undiscouraged, he then led us down back streets to a slummy district of filthy, tiny shops, a regular flea-town or junk-store neighborhood. Storekeepers would bow and beam as we entered their hovels; children would stare wide-eyed at us without moving. Occasionally, nervous males would eye our weapons and salute. The sight of Mr. Hiroyuhi bouncing along with us may have been reassuring. To us, he seemed a fortress.
As soon as he left us, I felt I could stand no more of Tokyo; I tried to insist to Engle that we head for the railroad station. It was hot, and I was sweaty. I craved a bath with no delay. So we were nearly at the station when Engle’s more creative genius salvaged, from the morass of our horrid thoughts, a pearl of great price. He remembered about beer. The Imperial Hotel, we had noted, served beer with supper, commencing at five o’clock. Banzai!
You know very well that beer and I are mutually unrelated institutions; I regard it as something akin in nature to green olives or an opera hat, and three years in the Navy have only put it farther away from me. Yet beer to a serviceman is more than a thirst or an indulgence; it’s a symbol. It is the consequence and accompaniment of liberty. It’s more talked about, month after month, night after night, than anything but women. So it would be an incredible American, a dolt, a worthless burden on manhood, who would turn down a chance to drink a cool beer in Tokyo. We came to a halt at the side of a pile of ruins, turned squarely back toward the Imperial Hotel, and marched off, reborn.
We entered a pew in the crowded dining room, full of equally religious fellow Americans. At five-thirty the waiters appeared with trays filled with tall, dewcovered bottles. It was Japanese beer, of course, one bottle to a man, and no more, but not bad. We poured the glasses full and lifted them. We could think of nothing to say other than the usual inanities: “Here’s mud in your eye! Here’s one for Hirohito!” What I actually was thinking about, in a tired, confused way, was that this was one very great summit of America’s war effort. In a way the whole purpose of all the terrible fighting was to give us a chance to drink beer in the Imperial Hotel.