Short URL for this page:
An old Navy precept runs, "Put down the sword and take up the paintbrush." The Third Fleet's cheers at the news of Japan's surrender had hardly died away when I ordered all ships to turn to and spruce up. I was mindful of our morale as much as of our appearance. The sudden change from war to peace can be dangerous at sea; men accustomed to ceaseless vigilance and strenuous duties can become flaccid instead of relaxed, if abruptly left idle. General MacArthur, the newly appointed Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in the Pacific, desired all forces and all services to make simultaneous landings on Japan, and since the Army troops could not be transported in less than ten days, we had that much free time ahead.
Aboard the Missouri, which had been designated as the scene of the surrender ceremony — she was named for President Truman's native state, of course, and had been christened by his daughter — holystones began to scour through the gray battle paint to the white teak decks beneath; brass also emerged from its dull coat; slipcovers were broken out for our chairs and transoms; and when the fleet entered Sagami Bay, at the mouth of Tokyo Bay, we were smart and shining.
Meanwhile, my staff's preparations went forward. The landing force was put aboard transports. We started a series of reconnaissance flights over Japan to locate the prisoner of war camps and to drop food and medicine. Our task groups massed for an aerial photograph — Exercise Snapshot, then our planes had their turn — Exercise Tintype. We organized a special task p275 force to furnish fire support during the occupation, if needed. Signatories came aboard for conferences: my old friend from the South Pacific, Air Vice Marshal Leonard Isitt, of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, who would sign for New Zealand; and Adm. Sir Bruce Fraser, Commander in Chief of the British Pacific Fleet, who would sign for the United Kingdom.
Every man jack among us was looking toward one moment, the moment we would anchor in Tokyo Bay. Our first anchoring in Japanese waters, at Sagami Bay, would be an appetizer. MacArthur had set this for August 26, but two typhoons formed to the southward, and he postponed it for forty-eight hours on behalf of his air‑borne troops. Many of my ships were small — patrol craft, subchasers, and the like; and even if they had not been crowded and short of stores, I would have been reluctant to keep them at sea in typhoon weather, so I requested and received his permission to put in on the twenty-seventh.
We raised the coast at dawn that morning. The Japanese navy had been ordered to send us an escort through the mine fields, and to deliver officers empowered to arrange the surrender of the Yokosuka Base. When the escort came into view, we identified her as the destroyer Hatsuzakura. As stipulated, her guns were depressed, their breeches open, her torpedo tubes empty, and no crew was topside except enough men to handle a small boat. Mick Carney and I watched her from the Missouri's flag bridge. She was so frail, so woebegone, so dirty, that I felt ashamed of our having needed four years to win the war.
Mick pointed toward her. "You wanted the Jap Navy, Admiral. Well, there it is."
The fourteen emissaries were first put aboard the destroyer Nicholas for "processing." Not until their side arms had been confiscated and they had been made to bathe and undergo a medical examination, did we distribute them around the Fleet. Two captains and an ensign interpreter were then transferred to the Missouri. Here they were searched again, photographed, and marched under guard to Captain Murray's cabin, where the conference was to be held.
Our attitude may sound like a petty attempt to humiliate a beaten enemy, but it was not. It was part of a policy which grim p276 experience had taught us. We would not have omitted our precautions any more than we would have allowed the Hatsuzakura to approach us without our crews at quarters, our guns manned, and our planes overhead, ready to go into action at an inkling.
Mick presided over the conference, assisted by Oscar Badger, commanding our landing force. Also present were our Japanese language officer, Comdr. Gilven M. Slonim (known as "Tokyo Mose"), and several other officers of my staff. I did not attend, so I have asked Mick to describe what occurred.
Captain Otani, representing Naval Headquarters, was a caricature of a treacherous Japanese brute. Captain Takasaki, representing the Yokosuka Command, was also a caricature, but of Bugs Bunny; I half expected him to greet me with, "Hiya, Doc!" The young ensign spoke cultured English with an American accent. Gil Slonim told me later that he may have belonged to the Imperial family, because his manner of address to the two captains was curt and condescending.
It took only a few minutes for us to obtain the information we needed and for Oscar Badger to issue his instructions, but during that time two incidents happened which may be worth mention. The first was when Otani lit a cigarette while my attention was elsewhere. As soon as I saw it, I took it away from him and told him firmly that he was not permitted to smoke in our presence. The second was when Otani requested the return of his side arms, as a requisite part of his uniform. I made it quite plain to him that we were prescribing his uniform from now on, and that side arms were not included in our prescription.
Following are two paragraphs from orders which Admiral Carney issued to the staff at this time:
"8. With reference to the Japanese, an attitude of cold, impersonal formality will be maintained at all times; they are required to obey the orders of the forces of occupation, and such obedience will be demanded and enforced; but every effort shall be bent toward the avoidance of conduct not in keeping with the prestige of our traditions. . . .
"10. And finally, it must be remembered that these are the same Japanese whose treachery, cruelty, and subtlety brought about this war; we must be continually vigilant for overt treachery, and equally vigilant that we not become blinded by outward subservience and docility. They are always dangerous. . . ."
p277 By late afternoon the whole fleet was at anchor in Sagami Bay, in full view of beautiful Kamakura, the Japanese Riviera, where the Summer Palace stands. We also had a view of Fujiyama. Its peak is usually cloud-capped, I am told, but that evening was clear, and the sun seemed to sink directly into the crater.a Although the symbolism was strongly suggestive, we did not rely on it to the extent of not stationing picket boats and destroyers on the perimeter of our anchorage, nor did we light the ships. We were still being prudent. We had assigned targets to the heavy ships before we stood in, and our guns were not only loaded but trained. Moreover, we had left all but one of our carriers outside, in open water.
The Third Fleet's first night in Sagami Bay, August 27, 1945,
My apprehension lessened next day. We lighted ship at dusk and showed movies on the weather decks. (The staff officer who had the dogwatch wrote in the flag log, "At sunset, 1815/I [Tokyo time], all ships turned on anchor lights — 'The lights came on again in Sagami Wan.' " [Wan is Japanese for bay.]) But we were at general quarters when we steamed into Tokyo Bay on the twenty-ninth — the supreme moment of my career — and it wasn't until September 3 that we began to stand at ease. Even then we still posted lookouts, our radars continued to search, and our ships maintained their high state of watertight integrity.
Admiral Halsey's caution was justified, according to an Associated Press story in The New York Times for August 18, 1946, which says in part, "[An Army] report on the psychological warfare campaign against Japan . . . discloses that several hundred Kamikaze pilots plotted a mass suicide attack on the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay."
The story does not explain why the attack was canceled.
Meanwhile, on the twenty-eighth, elements of the Army's 11th Air‑borne Division had started landing at Atsugi Airfield, near Tokyo. Navy ships had guarded their line of flight from Okinawa, and as they deplaned, I am told that the first sight to catch their eyes was a large sign, "Welcome to the U. S. Army from the Third Fleet." A brash young pilot from the Yorktown had dropped into Atsugi, wholly against orders, and had made the Japs paint it and post it.
MacArthur had directed us not to begin recovering POW's until the Army was ready to do so, but — as with the landings — circumstances p278 forced us to jump the gun. Our first night at anchor in Sagami Wan, a picket boat patrolling close inshore heard a yell from the beach and picked up two British prisoners, whom it delivered to Commo. Rodger W. Simpson, commanding the rescue operation. The Britishers told Rodger a tale of such inhumanity as we found almost impossible to believe, until it was corroborated the following day by a Swiss doctor, representing the International Red Cross. Listening to these men convinced us that now was no time to defer to protocol. I ordered Rodger to take his task group, which included the hospital ship Benevolence, up to Tokyo and to stand by for a sudden signal. Chester Nimitz' plane arrived from Guam at 1420 on the twenty-ninth, and he had no sooner broken his flag on the South Dakota that I was explaining the urgency of the situation.
"Go ahead," Chester said. "General MacArthur will understand."
Rodger went ashore immediately with his rescue detail, which included Harold Stassen, whom I had lent him as his chief staff officer, and Commo. Joel T. Boone, who had relieved Piggy Weeks as my medical officer. Planes from the fleet guided their small boats up estuaries landing to the prison camps. One was the infamous Omori 8, whose commandant made a show of demanding credentials.
"I have no authority to release these men," he said.
Harold, unarmed as was the rest of the party, told him, "You have no authority, period!"
Our plan for Operation Swift Mercy was first presented to the Admiral before the capitulation was confirmed. He read it over, approved it, and returned it with this comment, "Those are our boys! Go get them!"
His directive echoed in my mind throughout the days of the actual operation. Whenever a camp commandant refused to admit us, as at Omori 8, we told him, "We are under Admiral Halsey's orders, and those are the only orders that count in Japan now!"
His name was an immediate open-sesame wherever we went. As soon as our interpreters spoke it, all resistance crumbled, and we walked straight in. I will never forget a certain bluejacket prisoner at the Kawasaki p279 Bunsha camp, when he learned who had sent us. His haggard face lit up. "I knew it!" he shouted. "I told these Japs that Adm. Halsey would be here after us!"
There can be no question but that his decision to fetch out these men at once and give them medical treatment saved countless hundreds of lives.
At 1910 that evening, the first POW's, or RAMP's (Rescued Allied Military Prisoners) as they were now designated, were put aboard the Benevolence; by midnight, 794 had been brought out; and within fourteen days, every one of 19,000 Allied prisoners in our area, the eastern two‑thirds of Honshu, had been liberated, docketed, bathed, examined, and either hospitalized or sent off for a quiet, comfortable convalescence.
The unspeakable brutality which they had endured at the hands of the Japanese Army — the Navy disclaims any connection with the camps — has been amply described by correspondents; besides, I still can not discuss the subject temperately. But before I leave it, I want to set down the only happy association that it has for me. Rodger Simpson's splendid record in the South Pacific included a daring destroyer raid on Simpson Harbor, at Rabaul; so, in answer to a query of his in Tokyo Bay, we replied, "Roger to Rodger Simpson of Simpson Harbor. If it had not been for that Rodger in Simpson Harbor, we might have been delayed in sending roger to Rodger Simpson in this harbor."
H Hour for our landing forces was 1000 on the thirtieth. Spearheaded by the 4th Marine Regimental Combat Team, British bluejackets occupied Azuma peninsula, U. S. Marines occupied Yokosuka Air Base, and U. S. bluejackets occupied Yokosuka Naval Base. The Japanese seemed anxious to avoid friction, and we met no opposition at any point. Mick Carney, as my representative, accepted custody of Yokosuka from Vice Adm. Michitare Totsuka at 1030; headquarters of the Third Fleet and of the landing force were established there at 1045, and my flag was raised over the station. (Chester Nimitz gave me hell for breaking my flag ashore in the presence of a senior officer and ordered me to haul it down; all the same, it is the first United States admiral's flag to fly over Imperial Japanese territory!)
Another flag incident had occurred earlier that morning, when p280 one of our nucleus crews had boarded the battleship Nagato, and the American commanding officer directed her captain to haul down his colors. The captain tried to delegate the job to a bluejacket, but the American told him, "No. Haul them down yourself!"
This flag, along with the Japanese flag that had flown over Yokosuka, I presented to the Naval Academy Museum at Annapolis. A third Jap flag, from the old battleship Mikasa, I passed along to Ernie King, with a request that he present it to the Russians, since the Mikasa had been Togo's flagship at the Battle of Tsushima Straits.
I visited Yokosuka that afternoon. Despite the Japs' reputation for cleanliness and the fact that one of the surrender terms stipulated that "on delivery to the Allies, all facilities will be cleared of debris, scrupulously clean, and in full operating condition," the filth that I saw was appalling. The officers' club, which had been evacuated only a few hours before, was overrun with rats of an extraordinary size and character. They ignored our presence in some rooms but squeaked angrily when we entered others. They probably had a special membership which reserved certain parts of the club for themselves alone.
The civilians were also dirty. Worse, they were apathetic; I was told that their principal employment was walking up the streets on odd days and down on even. We found occasional evidence of malnutrition in urban areas, but the country folk looked well fed. I had heard from many sources that the average Jap considered me his personal archenemy, so I watched for signs of hatred. There were none. I was never accosted, and I doubt if I was ever recognized.
The only recalcitrance we met was on the part of the civil police. Possibly because we had allowed them to keep their side arms as a badge of authority, they gradually arrogated the privilege of not saluting Allied officers. This annoyed me. I directed Scrappy Kessing, whom I had appointed COMNAVBASE Yokosuka, to pass the word to the mayor that his police were to salute all Allied officers without exception, and that this order would be rigidly enforced.
The mayor protested, "How will they know who is an officer and who is not?"
p281 Scrappy told him, 'If they don't know, they'd better play safe by saluting every foreign uniform."
Now I come to our focal day, September 2, the day of the formal surrender. Supervised by Captain Murray, Bill Kitchell had worked like a Hong Kong coolie to organize the ceremony. He rehearsed every step of it, provided for every nuance of etiquette, and smoothed away even the possibility of a bobble. The result was the best job of its sort I have ever seen. No court chamberlain could have improved it.
The first guests, correspondents and photographers, arrived at 0710. Next came Navy representatives, then Army and foreign representatives, then Chester Nimitz and his staff, then General MacArthur and his party, and finally the Japanese envoys. Since Chester was SOPA (Senior Officer Present Afloat), I had shifted my personal flag to the Iowa near by; Chester's five stars were broken at the Missouri's aftermast, and as General MacArthur stepped aboard, his own flag was broken alongside.
The sight they made together was unique, but on the Missouri that morning was one flag that outshone them both. Washington had sent it by special messenger — the flag that Commodore Perry had flown in 1854 at almost our identical anchorage.
The destroyer bringing the Army men had not yet moored to us when old friends began calling back and forth. I shouted to Nate Twining, whom I was seeing for the first time since he had been my COMAIRSOLS, but when I spied Skinny Wainwright, whom I hadn't seen since War College in 1933, I could not trust my voice; I just leaned over the rail and grabbed his hand.
Chester and I were at the side to meet General MacArthur. As always, his manner to me and my staff was heart-warming. He greeted us by our nicknames and he remarked to Mick Carney, "It's grand having so many of my side-kicks from the shoestring SOPAC days meeting me here at the end of the road!"
Bill Kitchell escorted him to my cabin, with Chester following and me bringing up the rear. I imagine that history was fairly begging for something quotable from our conversation, or at least something dignified and sonorous, but what we actually said was this:
Halsey: "General, will you and Chester have a cup of coffee?"
p282 MacArthur: "No, thanks, Bill. I'll wait till afterwards."
Nimitz: "So will I, Bill. Thanks all the same."
I had just added, "God, what a great day this is! We've fought a long, long time for it," when Bill Kitchell notified us that the Jap envoys were aboard. I had sent a signal to the destroyer fetching them that she was not to offer coffee, cigarettes, or any other courtesies, but I had been directed to revoke it.
A table with the two sets of surrender documents stood on the starboard veranda deck, almost in the shadow of No. 2 turret. MacArthur and Nimitz took their places behind it, and I joined the line of Navy officers. The ceremony opened with a short address by MacArthur, beautifully phrased and forcefully read. His voice was clear and firm, but his hands shook with emotion. When he had finished, he pointed to a chair at the opposite side of the table and almost spat out, "The representatives of the Imperial Japanese Government and of the Imperial Japanese Staff will now come forward and sign!"
(My flag log records it thus: "0903. Jap envoys were asked to sign. They did.")
Official USN photo
The surrender ceremony, aboard my flagship U. S. S. Missouri, September 2, 1945
1, General MacArthur; 2, Chester Nimitz; 3, myself; 4, Forrest Sherman; 5, Slew McCain;
[A larger photo, with the callouts, opens here; and an even larger photo, with no callouts, opens here.]
The Foreign Minister, Mamoru Shigemitsu, who was to sign for the Emperor, limped toward the table, leaning on a cane. He had lost his left leg to a grenade thrown by a Korean in Shanghai; Nomura, later Ambassador to Washington, lost an eye at the same time. (I have been told that Hirohito presented Shigemitsu with an artificial leg which he has therefore had to wear ever since, although it doesn't fit.) He took off his gloves and silk hat, sat down, dropped his cane, picked it up, fiddled with his hat and gloves, and shuffled the papers. He pretended to be looking for a pen — an underling finally brought him one — but I felt certain that he was stalling for time, though God knows what he hoped to accomplish. His performance made me so mad that when we returned to my cabin after the ceremony, I told MacArthur, "General, you nearly had a contretemps this morning."
"How's that?" he asked.
"When Shigemitsu was stalling out there, I wanted to slap him and tell him, 'Sign, damn you! Sign!"
MacArthur said, "Why didn't you?"
The second Jap, Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu, who was to sign for the p283 Imperial General Staff, did his job briskly; he didn't even sit down for it.
MacArthur was next, as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, then came their various representatives, led by Chester. His war plans officer, Rear Adm. Forrest P. Sherman, and I were invited to stand behind his chair while he signed. Newsreels show MacArthur putting his arm around my shoulders at this moment and whispering to me, and many of my friends have asked what he was saying. Again we fell short of the solemn occasion. MacArthur said, "Start 'em now!"
I said, "Aye, aye, sir!"
He was referring to a mass flight of 450 planes from TF 38, which we had ordered to orbit at a distance until we gave the word. We passed it to them now, and they roared over the Missouri mast-high.
Col. L. V. Moore Cosgrave, representing Canada, signed one line too low, so Len Isitt's signature was pushed down to the bottom of the page. He told me afterwards that he was "an humble footnote to the document."
The ceremony was finished by 0925, and all the Allied representatives came to my cabin. If ever a day demanded champagne, this was it, but I could serve them only coffee and doughnuts. I had a long talk with Skinny Wainwright and chatted, through interpreters, with Gen. Hsu Yung-Chang of China and Lt. Gen. Kuzma Derevyanko of Russia. General Hsu remarked that he was glad to see me alive, because the Japs had often reported me killed. General Derevyanko was more interested in the mass flight.
I was surprised to notice an aviation rating in the assembly until someone reminded me that a number of RAMP's had been asked to come. This one was an exceptionally husky lad, so Mick Carney remarked, "You look as if you could step into the ring and win the welterweight championship of the fleet. How did you manage to keep in such good shape in a prison camp?"
The lad grinned. "Sir, they had me working in the railroad yards that all their food passes through. Those bastards were lucky to get anything to eat at all!"
When the party broke up, Slew McCain lingered a few minutes. Since early August, he had been under orders to be relieved as p284 CTF 38 by Vice Adm. John H. Towers, the relief to take place when we put into Eniwetok. These orders made Slew thoroughly sore; he considered it an insult to be removed from his command in the middle of a campaign, and as soon as we received official news of Japan's capitulation, he requested immediate detachment. "I don't give a damn about seeing the surrender," he said angrily, "I want to get the hell out of here!"
I told him, "Maybe you do, but you're not going. You were commanding this task force when the war ended, and I'm making sure that history gets it straight!
He returned to his flagship cursing and sputtering, but now he told me, "Thank God you made me stay, Bill! You had better sense than I did."
He left for home that night. Four days later he was dead of a heart attack. I want to quote my last dispatch to him as a memorial tribute: I have given you well done so many times for individual achievements that this fine traditional Navy expression of approval is inadequate to express my feeling for the sum total of your contribution to victory × Your resourcefulness, ingenuity, stamina, and fighting spirit have been superb × Inadequate though it may be, I give you one more rousing farewell, well done × Halsey.
Slew's own last dispatch to his command is characteristic of his regard for his men: I am glad and proud to have fought through my last year of active service with the renowned fast carriers × War and victory have forged a lasting bond among us × If you are as fortunate in peace as you have been victorious in war, I am now talking to 110,000 prospective millionaires × Good‑bye, good luck, and may God be with you × McCain.
It grieves me bitterly to realize that this great friend and fighting man is gone. I will never forget anything about him — his curses, his jumping-jack behavior, the leaky cigarettes he rolled, scattering tobacco all over the deck. Once I arranged for a steward's mate to follow him around with a brush and dustpan.
"What the hell's this for?" Slew demanded.
I told him, "So you won't dirty up my clean ship, that's what!"
p285 Most vividly of all will I remember his cap, which not only was an affront to Navy regulations, but was the most disreputable one I ever saw on an officer. It was a green drab fatigue cap to which he had had his wife sew a "scrambled eggs" visor. Each part was bad enough by itself — the crown was threadbare, and the visor was crusted with verdigris — but together they were revolting. Yet Slew was as proud as if it were a royal diadem. Like most sailormen, he was extremely superstitious, and this was his "combat hat." He never wore it outside the combat zone; in the zone he was never without it.
When I visited Amon Carter at Fort Worth, he asked me to give him a cap of mine for his collection. There is nothing notable about my caps except their size, which is monstrous, but any collector who obtains that cap of Slew's will have something unique in naval costume.b
Mention of Slew reminds me of another friend and fighting man whom I was soon to lose: Ping Wilkinson. I had seen him last at Peleliu almost exactly a year before. Now his famous Third Amphibious Force was bringing the 1st Cavalry Division to Yokohama. In fact, even as Shigemitsu was signing, Ping's flagship steamed past at the head of his transports. I had sentimentally given him his old SOPAC designation, CTF 32, and had urged him to attend the surrender; his fine face belonged at the ceremony to which he had contributed so much. But duty came first with him as always, and he refused to take time out until he had disembarked the troops. The following February, at Norfolk, Virginia, Ping's automobile plunged overboard from a ferry. He succeeded in freeing his wife, but he himself was drowned. His death was a blow to me and a loss to the whole Navy.
Even as I write this farewell to Slew and Ping, word comes that the fourth of my great task force commanders is dead: Pete Mitscher. All four were supreme in their lines, and I say it in full awareness that Pete's line and Slew's were the same: commanding the fast carriers. Not only was there nothing to choose between them as strategists and leaders, but their resemblance went far beyond their equal abilities. Both were small, brown, and wizened. Both had tremendous fighting hearts. Both were beloved by the men who served under them. Both were high-strung to tension hardly p286 endurable. Almost their only difference was that where Slew blew off his pressure in curses and fidgets, Pete kept it bottled up inside. He never lost his temper and never raised his voice, but when he spoke, everybody listened. I would give much if I could hear him speak again.
Chester returned to Guam on September 3. Before he shoved off, he told me that a big celebration was being planned for Navy Day, October 27, in the principal ports of both coasts of the United States and that ships were to be detached and sent back as quickly as possible. I was to stay at Tokyo until September 20, when Ray Spruance would relieve me in command of the remaining forces; these would then become the Fifth Fleet, and the designation Third Fleet would be transferred to the ships proceeding to the West Coast ports in my charge. The Missouri would not be among them, Chester said; she was destined for New York, so that President Truman could broadcast his Navy Day speech from her bridge. I was disappointed not to be going home on my flagship, but I had no choice. I shifted my flag to the South Dakota and sat down to wait for my relief.
We continued to demilitarize enemy installations, to rescue and evacuate prisoners, and to arrange the quick return and discharge of men with sufficient points, but all this my staff handled. I had nothing to do, no decisions to make, and time would have dragged if I hadn't been able to get ashore for sight-seeing trips and reunions with my Army friends.
General MacArthur courteously invited me to accompany him to the formal occupation of Tokyo on September 8. We drove in together from his temporary headquarters at Yokohama, so I had a good view of the two cities. What impressed me most about the devastated areas, besides their vast extent, was the presence of iron and steel safes among the ruins; dozens and dozens of them stuck up from the ashes in every block. MacArthur told me that an edict had been issued, months before, requiring all safes to be turned in for conversion to war purposes, and when the B‑29's incendiary raids laid them bare, Tojo had felt so humiliated by the people's noncompliance that he apologized to the Emperor.
The American Embassy was intact, but the Chancellery had p287 taken three bombs and had suffered slightly. MacArthur pointed to it and nudged me. "Your fliers did that, didn't they, Bill?"
The Third Fleet didn't want credit for this trivial damage. "No, sir," I said. "Not my boys. Barney Giles is responsible." The B‑29's based at Guam had been part of Lieutenant General Giles' command.
Later we drove past the Imperial General Headquarters, which had been bombed almost flat. "But my boys did that," I said.
The next time I saw General MacArthur, I called on him to protest against his order forbidding confiscation of Jap officers' swords. I considered this order unwise for two reasons. The first was that the sword was a universal symbol of militarism and tended to keep its spirit alive. When I was in Germany shortly after World War I, I visited a great many German homes; in almost every one I saw a bust of Napoleon on the mantel with a sword reverently hung above it. What Germany's militarism has cost us is sadly obvious.
"That's true," the General said, "but I was thinking of Appomattox, when Grant allowed Lee's troops to keep their side arms."
I said, "that brings me to my second point. Grant was dealing with an honorable foe. We are not."
MacArthur paced his office for a few moments, then said, "You're right! You're right! I'll revoke the order." And he did.
My most interesting day ashore I owe to Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, commanding the Eighth Army. Bob had invited me to make a tour of the Yokohama jail, where the war criminals were in custody, and had given me permission to bring along my Filipino steward, Tulao. One of the first cells we visited held the notorious Colonel , the former "Butcher of Warsaw," who had later become chief of the German Gestapo in Japan. Everybody is familiar with the phrase "arrant coward"; Meisinger is the only one I ever saw. He had lost all control; his huge frame was shaking with fright, and we could hardly understand him for his blubbering.
Bob asked, "Well, Colonel, how are things going with you?"
Meisinger moaned, "Awful, General! Simply awful! I can't sleep or eat, I can't rest, I can't sit still, I'm so nervous!"
p288 "Cheer up!" Bobb said pleasantly. "Things will get much worse before they're better!"
Next we stopped to see Bob's fine collection of quislings — the former President of the Philippines, Laurel, and his son; the former Philippine Ambassador to Japan, Vargas; two Burmese, a Dutchman, and others. Young Laurel, an officer on the staff of an American general when war broke out, had deserted to the enemy, taking along an assortment of secret orders and operation plans. He had been educated at a Japanese university, but his father did not have even this slight mitigation; he was a graduate of Yale. His classmates should have seen him — no shirt, no socks, and filthy shoes, trousers, and undershirt.
Vargas, on the contrary, was wearing a neat khaki suit and khaki tie. He talked volubly about his "many acquaintances" in the American Army. When he began to run down, I brought Tulao forward and told them, "I want you to see what a loyal fighting Filipino looks like. This man was on the destroyer Porter when she was torpedoed by your friends the Japanese, and many of his relatives have been tortured or killed by those same friends of yours. His name is Benedicto Tulao, and he's a damn fine man. Take a good look at him!"
They looked, but they said nothing. Tulao just glared. The prison captain remarked loudly, so that the quislings could hear, "If the regulations would let me, Tulao, I'd certainly love to give you three hours here by yourself!"
Incidentally, several of the American guards were of Polish descent, and I rather imagine that the Butcher of Warsaw dreaded the long, dark nights.
The most pathetic prisoner was an American sergeant.c His story, which he told us in the voice of an educated man, was that he had been a novice in Buddhism before the war. After he was captured — I don't remember where — he declared his religion to the Japanese and eventually agreed to broadcast for them. At the time, he said, he sincerely believed that he was moved only by his Buddhistic desire for international peace, and it wasn't until after being taken into our custody that he realized what a crime he had committed against his native land. He assured us that he was not p289 telling us this in any hope of clemency; he simply wanted to unburden himself, the poor devil!
Another renegade American was also there, a civilian captured on Wake Island. I have forgotten the details of his treachery, but I recall that he was said to be defiant and to have no sense of guilt. He looked at us curiously as we passed the exercise pen, then resumed his furious pacing.
As we left the prison, the captain of the guard showed Bob a Jap who had been freshly delivered — a small, fat, nasty little colonel. Bob talked with him through an interpreter and called me over. "The colonel here was with General Homma during the occupation of the Philippines."
I said, "So? Was he staff or with combat troops?"
When the interpreter asked him, the colonel hesitated to answer. Finally he admitted that he had been Homma's provost marshal general. He might as well have admitted that he had personally given Skinny Wainwright the "water cure," because a provost marshal general is charged with maintaining discipline, and all prisoners come under his direct command. What happened to Americans captured in the Philippines can be laid at the door of this same swine. If he hasn't been hung already, I would be glad to hold the other end of the rope.
My last tour of Tokyo was at the invitation of Maj. Gen. William C. Chase, commanding the 1st Cavalry Division. His message had merely mentioned lunch, so I was taken aback when he met me in a tin helmet and whisked me out to his camp in a car escorted by MP's and four tanks. In my innocence, I thought that all this martial display was for the benefit of the Japs, who can understand force if nothing else. My childlike trust took no alarm even when my host asked me to inspect his troops — as magnificent a body of men as ever I've seen. But presently the ugly trap was sprung: they led out the White Horse.
Someone has said, "Like poor relations, public relations is always with us." When I had been in Washington the preceding spring, the Public Relations section of the Navy Department dragooned me into giving an interview, and among the questions asked me was, "Is the Mikado's palace a military objective?"
p290 I replied, "No. If by chance the B‑29's or somebody came over there in an undercast, they might hit it by mistake, but it would have been a mistake." Instead of letting well enough alone, I added with thoughtless flippancy, "I'd hate to have them kill Hirohito's white horse, because I want to ride it."
The White Horse promptly jumped into the headlines, and soon I found myself connected with it as inseparably as if I were a centaur. The Chamber of Commerce of Reno sent me a beautiful saddle. The Lions Club of Montrose, Colorado, sent another, with a bridle, blanket, and lariat, and offered to ship me a mustang if the Imperial horse proved unavailable. The Military Order of the World Wars sent a toy horse. A Texas sheriff sent a pair of spurs. My cabin on the Missouri began to look like a tack room.
Now, seven months later, my sin was catching up with me. There was I, and there was a white horse — not the white horse, but a reasonable facsimile.d I was relieved to see that, far from being a fiery stallion he was old and sway-backed (a tiny spark of mercy burned in Bill Chase's black soul), so I managed to climb aboard. The horse had only two speeds, very slow ahead and stop, and he was as glad as I when our short cruise was over. However, it lasted long enough for me to conceive an ambition: I want to take Bill across the North Sea on a destroyer in midwinter.
The White Horse, with me aboard, and Bill Chase, commanding the first Cavalry Division; Tokyo, September, 1945
My war diary for September 19 says, "At 1500/Z [Greenwich time, or Tokyo midnight] Com Fifth Fleet relieved Com Third Fleet of all tasks and responsibilities for naval operations in Empire waters," and next day, "At 0630/I [Tokyo time] Admiral Halsey departed by air for Pearl Harbor."
I had already paid my respects to General MacArthur, whose farewell words I shall always treasure: "When you leave the Pacific, Bill, it becomes just another damned ocean!" Now he sent me a dispatch that I treasure even more: Personal for Halsey × Your departure leaves all your old comrades of the Pacific War lonesome indeed × You carry with you the admiration and affection of every officer and man × May your shadow never decrease.
At Pearl, we formed TF 30 and sortied for the West Coast on the morning of October 9. After a parade past Diamond Head, the task groups separated and proceeded independently to their various p291 ports. TG 30.2, which included my flagship, the South Dakota, was assigned to San Francisco. I quote from my war diary for the fifteenth.
TG 30.2 in full parade dress entered San Francisco Bay. The South Dakota passed under the Golden Gate Bridge at 1300. Following in column were the [submarines] Puffer, Baya, Kraken, Loggerhead, Pilotfish, Stickleback, [the destroyers] Dehaven, Samuel N. Moore, Blue, [the light cruiser] Vicksburg, [and the battleships] Alabama, Wisconsin, Colorado. The South Dakota, with Governor Warren, Mayor Lapham, and Admiral [Royal E.] Ingersoll embarked, left formation to anchor in position to review the remainder of the column, then proceeded in to anchorage assigned.
I was home again.
My flagship, the U. S. S. South Dakota, leads TG 30.2 under Golden Gate Bridge, October 1945
Not for weeks did I learn that Chester Nimitz was only •50 miles away that afternoon. When friends asked him why he didn't come into town for the celebration, he told them, "Bill Halsey has done such wonderful work in the Pacific, the day ought to be his exclusively."
For generosity of spirit, I give you Fleet Admiral Nimitz!
Two days later the Department sent me out on a five weeks' speaking tour, but just as I was raising a bellow of complaint, I was gagged with a sugarplum — a Gold Star in lieu of a fourth Distinguished Service Medal.
The citation follows in condensed form:
"For exceptionally meritorious service . . . in a duty of great responsibility as Commander Third Fleet, operating in waters off the Ryukyus and Japan from May 28 to September 2, 1945. Returning to the helm of the Third Fleet . . . Admiral Halsey placed in action the greatest mass of sea power ever assembled and initiated attacks on the enemy's naval and air forces, shipping, shipyards and coastal objectives. . . . In operations conducted with brilliant military precision and characteristic aggressiveness, [his] ships and planes . . . bombarded Okinawa, Okino Daito, and Minami Daito in the Ryukyus; they blasted every industry and resource which enabled Japan to make war; gallantly riding out the perilous typhoon of June 5, they effected repairs and went in to knock out remnants of the once mighty Japan Fleet hiding in camouflage nets. . . . His professional skill and inspiring devotion to the fulfillment of a mission vital to lasting peace reflect the highest credit upon Admiral Halsey and the United States Naval Service."
p292 I returned to my flagship at Long Beach on November 20. The last entry in the last war diary I will ever keep appears under the twenty-second: "Admiral W. F. Halsey, USN, relieved this date by Rear Adm. H. F. Kingman, USN, as Commander Third Fleet."
The end of my sea duty. I am piped over the side for the last time, by Mick Carney, at Long Beach, California, November 20, 1945
Before I left Tokyo, I had requested retirement as soon as I was relieved of command. Chester Nimitz gave my application a damn nice endorsement, and Ernie King put on one as complimentary as he ever puts on anything; but instead of being released, I was given a sugarplum — promotion to fleet admiral — and kept on active duty until April 1, 1947. Now, at long last, my story is done. I have nothing more to add except to repeat what I told the South Dakota's company as my flag was being hauled down for the last time:
"I am terminating a seagoing career of slightly over 45 years. This is far from a pleasure, but I deem it necessary for men of my age to step aside so that younger men can take over the greatest Navy in the world. . . .
"You have heard the nation say, 'Well done!' I say it again and again: 'Well done! Well done! Well done!' May you all have happy careers! Godspeed and God bless you!"
Home again, to a welcome from two of my grandchildren, Margaret and Halsey Spruance.
I receive my fifth star, December 11, 1945. Left to right, Ernie King, Secretary Forrestal, myself, and Chester Nimitz
a This is the kind of thing I check — novelists almost invariably, but historical writers pretty frequently too, put the moon or sun at some impossible place — but Adm. Halsey's recollection is a true one, as we would expect from so memorable a sight on so memorable an occasion. Mount Fuji is WNW of Sagami Bay, and in late August, the sun as seen from the bay, especially near the shore, must appear to set into the mountain.
b Here's the best photograph of the famous cap I've been able to find:
U. S. Navy photograph in the public domain: Department of Defense files
c John David Provoo (1917‑2001), in later life Nichijo Shaka.
d See Judi Daly's interesting piece, "Equestrian Deception The Mythical Capture of Emperor Hirohito's Horse".
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
World War II
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 26 Oct 18