Sunday, June 6, 2021

The War Isn’t Over for Us: A Soldier’s Post-War Experiences in Occupied Japan, August 1945 – January 1946

 

The War Isn’t Over for Us: A Soldier’s Post-War Experiences in Occupied Japan, August 1945 – January 1946

 

Dad was a jeep driver. Although he entered the Army in 1942, he never saw active combat. His Division was being held back and was being trained for a much larger mission in what was then called the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of Operations (or APTO).

 

Dad’s Army training took him from basic training at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, to “Tennessee Maneuvers” at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, to Camp Rucker, Alabama, to Washington State, and finally to Oahu, Territories of Hawa’ii. 

 

In 1944-1945, the Division learned that they were to be engaged in bringing the war to Japan, with the invasion of the Japanese homeland itself.  After the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese government capitulated, forcing the unconditional surrender of the Japanese military. Rather than being sent home, Dad’s Division was immediately re-deployed from a combat invasion force to an occupation force, and was sent to Japan as the first wave of the U.S. occupation of Japan.  Not knowing what kind of reception would be awaiting the men upon their arrival at the Japanese homeland, the Division was combat-deployed in anticipation of possible combat. There was none, and the peaceful occupation of Japan was begun.

 

Eugene Major, Jr. (Dad) was assigned to the U.S. Army 98th Infantry Division, 391st Regiment during World War II. He was inducted on October 20, 1942 and entered active service on November 9, 1942. He was in Company “C” while stationed at Fort Breckinridge during basic training and was attached to HQ Company while in occupied Japan as a jeep and truck driver. He was discharged on January 5, 1946 with the rank of Tec 5.

 

The 98th Division was being groomed for the invasion of Japan, although few knew it at the time, though Dad informed Mom (Faith Constance Rogers, the future Mrs. Eugene Major) in a letter (September 16, 1945) prior to the occupied landing, that had not the Japanese surrendered, they were to be among the invading U.S. force: If the war didn't end, I would have been in the invasion of Japan. It would have been a very bloody battle. That's what I had all that stuff on my jeep for. We knew a long time ago that we'd be in the invasion and were hoping for the war to end when God answered our prayers”

 

After 18 months of training at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky; Camp Forrest, Tennessee; and Camp Rucker, Alabama, Dad was deployed to  Oahu, Territories of Hawa’ii on 19 April 1944.

 


                                    Top: Dad at Camp Breckenridge KY, 1942. Bottom: Dad at
                                     Oahu, Territories of Hawa’ii, 1944. 

 

Slated as a participant in Operation Olympic, scheduled for 1 November 1945, one of two planned invasions of Japan, the war drew to a close before the 98th was deployed to an active combat zone. Instead, the 98th Division arrived in Japan on 27 Sep 1945 and served in Osaka, Japan as part of the occupying force until 16 February 1946 when the unit was inactivated. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/98th_Division_(United_States))

The 98th in Planning the Occupation of Japan

The 98th Division was engaged in Phase I, Baker Ten, Operation Blacklist (which were part of the plans for Operation Olympic) and landed in Wakayama Bay on the island of Honshu with the objective of occupying and establishing control over the Osaka area including the prefectures of Osaka, Nara, Wakayama, and Miye.  For details of Operation Olympic see (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Olympic).

Reaction to the Atomic Bomb and Surrender of Japanese Forces

My Dad writes to (future Mom upon hearing of the atomic bombs and the surrender of the Japanese.

August 10, 1945

Friday, 7:00pm

Well, this Sunday morning I left here and the week went by pretty good. I was hoping that by the time I got back there'd be some big news and there was more then enough. First of all, that new Atomic bomb got us all stirred up and when [someone?] came in, that was all. The fellows were all excited and kept saying, it won't last much longer now.

The Friday morning at 3:30, one of the guys yelled out that the war is over. Boy, talk about excitement, you can imagine….then all day we kept listening to the news and there isn't an official yet, but there probably will be soon.

 

August 14, 1945

Tuesday, 3:00pm

..if this isn't a happy and glorious day. The one the world's been waiting for, the Jap surrender. It's a wonderful moment and I can imagine whats going on at home. Everyone is just overjoyed here. Gosh hon, now all I hope is we have peace until the end of time.

….it's just a matter of time before the services head for home but that could be any length of time. Just keep your fingers crossed.

I'm wiring now for we all just heard the news and I just have to talk to you.

 

We're going to have a parade in Honolulu tomorrow. I'm getting my equipment ready now.

 

However, the excitement was short-lived.  Sometime between the 15 August and 26 August, 1945, the troops were informed of a mission, though at the time, they did not know of their destination (though Dad surmised where they were going) until departure from Oahu. The following letter was the last Dad would be able to write and mail until September 16, 1945.

August 26, 1945

Sunday

.... a friend of mine is transferred from our convoy to an outfit on the Island. I gave him your letters to mail for me as I can't take it with me. If it wasn't for him, I'd have to leave them, which I just couldn't do. I'm going down under, probably to Japan as an occupation force. No telling when I'll get home but it's got to be within a year. This letter will be mailed by him as soon as censorship is lifted.You probably won't hear from me for a long time, until I get to my destination. You better tell Jen and the folks, but please don't worry about me. 

Indeed, the 98th Infantry Division was shipping out as the US occupying force in Japan. Elements of the Division embarked on August 31, 1945 and September 4, 1945. The reinforcements of the Division embarked at Pearl Harbor on September 5 and 6, 1945. The main convoy departed for Japan on September 7. Dad reported to his ship on September 6, 1945. From later documents, he was on board the USS Logan.


Landing in Japan 

The 98th Division convoy left Saipan on September 22, 1945. On September 25, the troops were issued orders as to uniforms to be worn during the landing and types and quantities of each weapon. The troops were ordered not to carry flamethrowers, rocket ammunition, and demolitions.

 

On September 27, 1945, the convoy arrived at Wakayama, Honshu, Japan. The latest details of the landing was held aboard the Command Ship on September 27 including beach conditions, roads, and location of initial bivouac areas. The landing was on schedule, but the Division was told that their objective was now to proceed immediately by rail to Taisho Airfield near Osaka. The commander stated that the Japanese were fully cooperating and had already gathered arms and ammunitions into assembly areas and were waiting for the troops to take them over.  

 

The landing was filmed by Ettore Porreca in 1945 as a 24 year old GI and narrated by him in 2011, aged 90. The film is available on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5amOkRxbYrE

Army photographers never saw processed images of what they shot in the field. The film seen above was discovered by the historian of the 98th Division, Jack Greene, and he sent it to Ettore 66 years after it was shot. Of all the thousands of feet of film Ettore took when in the army, this is the only footage that he has ever seen.

 

 Dad wrote afterwards:

...from Thursday morning the 27th [September]. We pulled into Japan Thursday morning ... and the weather and the trip was perfect right up to then. When we anchored, it started to rain. There were ships all over the place. Next, we got ready to hit the beach. I was in a small craft myself and the jeep. I was soaked from the rain as well as the spray coming into the boat. We hit the beach and I took off. I didn't get stuck anywhere even though it was sandy and muddy. I waited a few moments and found some of our boys and we got together, that is our Company. Boy, what confusion on the beach landing as you can imagine. There were trucks of all types, tanks, ships. As far as the eye could see, there were all sorts of ships. It was miserable on the beach, raining and we were soaked and no dry clothes. Gosh, what a spectacle that was. I can just imagine what the Normandy beach head was like. Boy, and this was a mere drop in the bucket too. [?] Japan have never seen anything like it. There was everything imaginable there. I won't forget that sight for a long time. We waited much of the day, built a fire, but couldn't get dried because of the continuous downpour.





D-Day Landings at Wakayama, Honshu, Japan, 27 September 1945.


The Occupation of Japan, 391st Division report, provides a few more details as to the objective. The men were to form on the beaches and march to the railroad station at Wakayama and set out for Yai on the outskirts of Osaka. The intention was to bivuac at Taisho Airport that night. A train departed every hour or so for Yao and the 391st and 389th alternated using the trains. An advance party was to go by vehicle convoy to Osaka, but were delayed by “narrow, muddy roads" that were congested with Army and Navy vehicles, and the usual inquisitive Japanese. The airport was about 9 miles from the train station. Dad was in the convoy that advanced to the airport ahead of the trains.

 

The conditions at the airport were less than what was expected.

 

 

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Tashio Airfield. This is what the landing force had to live in upon arrival.

 

The 98th Division describes the airfield as being in a “state of deterioration. It had not been used for approximately a month prior to the occupation….buildings and hangers had been neglected and were in various stages of disrepair.”  Dad wrote:

 

After being miserable all day, cold & wet and to a place like that, well that was too much. I wouldn't sleep on that ground for the world. I got my feet dry by the fire and went out to the jeep and bundled up.

It wasn't exactly what you call comfort but it beat sleeping on the ground. It was still raining too. Morning came, Friday the 28th and then what a sight beheld us. The area was vacant for a long time, everything was bombed, and the place was filthy, bugs, fleas, lice, and everything you could imagine. It stopped raining and we looked around. Planes were scattered all over the field, wrecked. Hangers, wrecked and filthy, and we had to live here. 


By October 5, 1945 the troops had been relocated to other areas in nearby Osaka. Dad's unit was relocated to the  Osaka Commercial College by October 11, which was relatively  undamaged.

 

Much of the mission of the 98th was to locate muntions stores and stockpiles of weapons. The living conditions of the people of Japan were horrific. He describes various travels, without going into details as to where he was going.

 

One one occaision, he writes:

October 16, 1945

Tuesday 7:30 pm

Hotel Numagi, Japan

We got back late last night and boy, was I tired. It was a rough trip. The roads were terrible and were made for cattle, not cars. Boy, it was bumpy and it shook me all up. My can still hurts.

I've never seen such roads before. The weather was nice all the way. We started early Friday morning and I drove 220 miles the first day. We were pretty well beaten. ...the roads are all dirt and holes. We saw several cities and you should see the destruction. Every city was flat. Boy, what ruins and the people were all walking back and forth with their belongings. Well, that night we stayed at a Japanese Hotel of which I have some cards. You see we had an interpreter with us and he did all the talking. It was a very clear plan. When I get home, I'll describe actually what it's like. The people

were swell and we even had some beer. Their beer is the first I've ever drunk. We cooked our own rations and had a swell meal. You sleep on the floor but the floor is matted and is soft. They put quilts down on top of that and that's the way we slept. It was very comfortable. In the morning we started off again. I drove another 110 miles. We reached our first destination, Numagi, where we stayed in the Shizia Hotel. 

 

Guess what, I took a hot bath in a tub. Yep! It's almost 2 years since I was in one. It felt good. We had supper there and I went to bed around 8:00 o'clock because I was tired. The three of us were because it was a bouncing ride and shook the dickens out of us. Oh did that bed feel good.  Got up the next morning and we decided to take the train over to our next town. We left my jeep at the hotel and off we went. It was swell riding on the train.  All the Japs were looking at us. We got to Atami in a half hour and linked up on our troops. [Atami is a city located in the eastern end of Shizuoka, Japan].

Took a shower and had supper and had some Jap whiskey. It too was good and also their Saki. It's like wine. Very tasty.... Gee, we were even told that the place was 140 miles away and it turned out to be 385. We took the last 35 miles on the train. We didn't get into Taki ? even close to it. Gosh, everything is flat. Boy, our bombers didn't miss a thing. Lot of the scenery was beautiful. We had to drive over 3 mountains. It wound up and I drove the whole 330 miles back. Boy were we traveling. That jeep is ready to fall apart. I didn't have any trouble at all.

 

In another letter he dscribes going to Kyoto to see the Imperial Palace.

 

October 28, 1945

Sunday 8:00 PM

We went for a ride to Kyoto, a city almost 40 miles form here and one of the only cities that wasn't bombed....Then we went to see a shrine building on the Imperial Palace. It was beautiful. I can't describe it, but I'll tell you about it when I get back.

 

 



 

Some photos of civilians that my Dad too while in Kyoto.
















In November 1945, my Dad went to Hiroshima on a mission, which I think affected him.



November 23, 1945

Friday 6:50 P.M.

Been driving most of the day. I had a little trouble with the jeep but got it fixed this afternoon. It still isn't right yet.

Tomorrow morning, I'm leaving for Hiroshima. I'm anxious to see it and just what the Atomic Bomb did. I'll tell you all about it when I get back.

 

November 26, 1945

Monday 6:30 P.M.

Hiroshima is worst than I've ever seen. You had to get a special pass to get in. There's dead all around and the stench is terrific... I'll tell you everything. when I get home. I've really seen Japan more than anyone else now, and there isn't much left.  

 




After over 3 months in occupied Japan, my Dad was able to get enough points for a discharge and was sent home. He did not see any combat action in WW2, but if he had, he would not have come home. His unit was being trained specifically for the invasion of Japan and he knew that since 1942, but could not tell anyone.  Fortunately, the Japanese surrender ended plans for the invasion, yet he had to stay on (as many troops did in Europe and Japan) and begin the transition of these nations to peace.

 

The War Isn’t Over for Us: A Soldier’s Post-War Experiences in Occupied Japan, August 1945 – January 1946

  The War Isn’t Over for Us: A Soldier’s Post-War Experiences in Occupied Japan, August 1945 – January 1946   ...