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Ken Beaton: Always finish big

By Ken Beaton

On Aug. 6, 1945 Hiroshima was the first Japanese city vaporized by an atomic bomb. Three days later Nagasaki was the second city.

Before you get excited about the hundreds of thousands of civilians who died instantly with more dying over the years from radiation sickness. More Japanese citizens died from B-29 firebombing raids. They began in February 1945 and continued into March, April and May of 1945.

In 1943 our War Department began planning the invasion of Japan, “Operation Downfall” which would have dwarfed D-Day. Three Atomic bombs would have been dropped inland before the invasion near each of the three Kyushu landing zones on Nov. 1, 1945. American air superiority would drop massive amounts of napalm, an incendiary bomb which rapidly burns oxygen and everything it touches.

Do you remember trying to stuff 19 of your friends into a phone booth or a Volkswagen Beetle? Millennials can Google it. On Sept. 2, 1945 the decks of the USS Missouri were similar to a 40,280-ton VW Beetle stuffed with U.S. sailors in their dress whites. They knew this was an important day in history, Japan’s formal unconditional surrender.

Most American don’t know. In January 1945, the Japanese government began training females from ages 6 to 40 and males from ages 6 to 60 with six- or seven-foot sharpened bamboo spears. Grouped by gender and age into a square, 10 Japanese across with 10 rows deep, similar to an ancient Roman army fighting unit. They practiced in unison with their spears. They were told to kill 10 Americans before they could die. These Japanese men, women and children would be “cut to ribbons” when caught between convergent machine gun fire or a napalm bomb.

Gen. George C. Marshall’s staff had estimated the invasion and defeat of Japan would cost 1 million U.S. casualties, wounded and killed. On Sept. 2, 1945 1 million of our soldiers and sailors along with tens of millions of Japanese received a new lease on life.

Within days of the signing, our GIs were being honorably discharged. They rushed home to marry the most wonderful gal in the world, use their GI Bill for their education, and began the 1946-64 Baby Boom, a population bulge of 77 million. Those Boomers married, had children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, four generations of DNA.

After Pearl Harbor Americans weren’t concerned with collateral damage! More atomic bombs would be dropped before the March 1946 planned invasion of the industrial heart of Japan, Operation Coronet. This would have reduced Japan’s population by tens of millions, buried in mass graves with a radioactive wasteland for home.

The Japanese cabinet consisted of three military leaders, three civilian leaders and the Emperor of Japan. The military members were against surrender. The civilian members were in favor of unconditional surrender to save tens of millions of Japanese lives. The cabinet was deadlocked until the Emperor voted for unconditional surrender.

The Kyujo Incident, an attempted coup d’tat, occurred on Aug. 14, 1945. The Staff Office of the Japanese Ministry of War with some members of the Imperial Guard of Japan failed to place the Emperor under house arrest at the Tokyo Imperial Palace. On Aug. 15, 1945 the Japanese people heard Emperor Hirohito’s voice for the first time. He announced Japan’s unconditional surrender, ending the war.

After the 23-minute formal surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri, Gen. Douglas McArthur spoke. “It is my earnest hope — indeed the hope of all mankind — that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice.”

A couple of years ago while walking in my neighborhood, I had a conversation with a World War II vet, Al Kuckhoff. Born in the later part of 1926, he was drafted by the Army in early 1945. Al completed his basic training after Japan’s surrender. He was assigned to our Occupational Forces in Japan. When Al was discharged, he enrolled and graduated from the University of Maryland and earned a graduate degree from Stanford University. This was an example of GI Bill investing in our GIs to build a great economic expansion. After battling cancer for six years, Al passed away in Carson City on Oct. 1, 2019. Thank you for your service, Al.

Every day 294 World War II vets pass away from the original 16 million men and women who served. On Sept. 1, there were 225,000 remaining World War II vets. The next time you see a person wearing a “WWII Veteran” ball cap, walk up to him or her, while wearing your face mask, with a smile in your eyes and sincerely say, “Thank you for your service!”