Scientific testing has apparently solved one of the lingering mysteries of World War II.
The testing identified the sailor kissing the nurse in the famous photo of Aug. 14, 1945, in Times Square, New York. This photo was one of the most famous pictures of the Big War. The sailor’s identity probably brought back vivid memories to those who can remember World War II.
Perhaps you saw the ABC-TV “Good Morning America” show last week. Diane Sawyer, program host, interviewed the sailor in the famous World War II photo. Seeing that program stirred the memories of this World War II sailor. Some memories are like letters etched in a tombstone - they last a long time.
Today, Aug. 14, is one of those memories that has lasted more than six decades in this writer’s mind. As an 18-year-old apprentice seaman in the U.S. Navy, this writer had the opportunity to observe, first hand, V.J. Day (Victory over Japan) on Aug. 14, 1945, in downtown San Diego, California. This event, which signaled the end of World War II, is one of the most significant happenings in the history of this nation
Sixty-two years ago the Japanese government agreed to an “unconditional surrender” with the United States and its allies. This momentous occurrence brought to a close the bloodiest conflict this earth has ever experienced.
The dropping of two atomic bombs — the first over Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and the second over Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945 — finally convinced the “Land of the Rising Sun” to cease fighting.
It was Tuesday, Aug. 14, 1945, (U.S. time) when the allies received a message from Japan accepting surrender. Gen. Douglas MacArthur was appointed the allied powers supreme commander to handle the surrender. The formal surrender took place on Sept. 1, (U.S. time, Sept. 2 Japanese time) aboard the U.S. battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
As many young men did during World War II, this writer volunteered at the age of 17 for service in the United States Navy. My first tour of duty was 10 weeks of Boot Camp at the U.S. Naval Training Station in San Diego.
My Boot Camp training was nearing an end on Aug. 14. During the afternoon, I was among a 12-member crew rowing a whale boat in the San Diego Bay. This was part of the Navy’s recruit training. A whale boat, is about 25-feet long, and has a deep, oval hull.
The morning training had consisted of repeated beach landings on the Pacific Ocean side of Coronado, a peninsula across the bay from the Naval Training Station. Our job was to guide the landing craft to a certain spot on the beach so troops could be sent ashore. These landings could be tricky, depending on the ocean’s undertow and the height of the waves.
Coronado was at the north end of a peninsula that bordered the western part of San Diego Bay. The landing area was situated near the North Island Naval Air Station and the Coronado Amphibious Training Facility.
Early in August our training procedures seemed to change. More time was being devoted to operating amphibious landing craft.
Rumors persisted that after completion of Boot Camp in late August and following a five-day leave, our company would ship out to the Western Pacific - probably Okinawa — for further landing craft training. Japan’s surrender changed these plans.
History later revealed an invasion of the southern islands of Japan was scheduled for Nov. 1945. This proposed invasion would have been much larger than the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion in France. Casualties were expected to be extremely heavy on both sides. If this invasion failed to bring the Japanese to the peace table, then a second invasion of the northern islands of Japan was set for March, 1946.
About 4 p.m. (Pacific War Time) on Aug. 14 as this writer and 11 other sailors were rowing the clumsy whale boat, whistles and horns from warships anchored in the harbor suddenly began to sound. Most of us immediately surmised the noise was an indication the war had ended.
I, along with the other 249 men in Company 294, didn’t officially hear the good news until we came ashore about 45 minutes later. It was then our company commander, Chief Petty Officer M.E. North, told us the Japanese had capitulated.
Following calisthenics, the chief pointed out our regular every eighth night liberty would be honored that night. Chief North further advised training would be suspended for two days. My platoon would have the first day off, Aug. 15, while the second platoon would have the following day off in observance of the war’s end.
While marching to supper, I observed large, flatbed trucks leaving the base, loaded with Shore Patrol. They were headed for downtown San Diego.
Gulping down my supper, I soon found myself with three or four of my buddies aboard a bus for the 15-minute ride to downtown San Diego. The bus was filled with joyful sailors, marines and a few civilians.
The downtown area on the night of Aug. 14, 1945, was a “woolly-bugger.” For an 18-year-old apprentice seaman, that night created a completely different world. Women would run up to servicemen with hugs and kisses. Then they would disappear into the crowd to kiss another serviceman. It was like heaven and chaos rolled into one.
Broadway, which was the main street in San Diego, was completely roped off for pedestrian traffic. The wide sidewalks could not handle the tremendous number of celebrants. Confetti was so thick in the street the pavement felt as if it were foam rubber. Restaurants and bars were overflowing with people. Newspaper “hawkers” were selling extra editions with headlines covering the entire front page. All of these happenings brought about a night of happiness, laughter, frivolity and confusion.
One incident still remains in my mind — about 100 servicemen decided to attend FREE the Spreckles Theater, the premier movie house in San Diego. Someone apparently persuaded a wounded marine, who was on crutches, to lead the “freebie” group.
In a matter of minutes the theater’s box office was ringed with about 20 Shore Patrol, equipped with nightsticks. In many instances the Shore Patrol was most tolerant in enforcing the law; however, with the theater problem, the SPs quickly responded.
This show of force rapidly diffused the theater escapade, and the group of servicemen with their wounded marine leader quickly evaporated into the street crowd.
For the next two days the celebration continued; however, on a more subdued basis — most everyone was tired and exhausted.
It was a night a young Texas sailor has never forgotten.
Dr. Chilton, a retired educator/journalist, lives in Stephenville. He occasionally writes for this newspaper.