#8 War’s end
As we steamed back to join the task force in the war zone it was announced over the “squawk box” that Japan had surrendered. The entire crew responded with cheers and yells. We couldn’t believe our luck, we figured our luck might run out on a second tour of duty. We had no idea what an atomic bomb was but were glad that our side had it. There are some today that think we were wrong to drop such terrifying bombs. I do not believe those who criticized after fought in the Pacific. We had seen how [the Japanese] defended small islands to the death. And how fanatical they were in their kamikaze air strikes. If we had to invade the Japanese home islands it would have been a slaughter. Thousands of people on both sides would have been killed and Japan might never have recovered. I was there and I believe what we did was right.
The Halsey Powell was one of several destroyers ordered to lead the fleet into Tokyo Bay. Admiral William “Bull” Halsey and Captain Halsey Powell were classmates at Annapolis and became good friends. Captain Powell as I mentioned commanded a destroyer in World War I. The admiral had a fondness for the ship named after his buddy. We were not sure if the Japanese really were going to surrender or whether it was some kind of a trap. We stayed at general quarters and kept a sharp lookout for anything suspicious such as floating debris or small boats. The carriers stayed offshore and flew wave after wave of planes over Tokyo. The B-29s from Saipan, the island we helped capture, joined in also. They would circle out to sea and possibly refuel; however, the Japanese saw only thousands of planes, of course, they were the same ones making return flights. It must have been a frightening sight to them.
We anchored in Tokyo Harbor a couple of hundred feet off the starboard quarter of the battleship USS Missouri. The next day we witnessed the signing of the surrender. We had the best view of any of the other ships. General MacArthur and Admiral Halsey and other officers of our armed forces as well as those of our allies attended. They were in their “undress” brown uniforms without neck ties, very casual. The Japanese Prime Minister and his staff were dressed in formal clothes including top hats. When the ceremony was complete I realized my fighting days were over and I thanked God I had made it through in one piece.
That afternoon half the crew were given liberty with the other going the next day. I was scheduled for the second day. Late that afternoon my gunnery officer notified me that the Navy had adopted a system that anyone with the required number of years of service and sea-duty could go home for discharge. I met the requirements. He told me a ship was leaving that night and I could leave if I wanted to. Although I wanted to see the city of Tokyo and that I soon would be promoted to Chief Gunner’s Mate I decided I had my fill of the navy life and I wanted to go home.
I rushed to pack my sea-bag and was transferred to the cruiser USS Vicksburg. When I got aboard I looked up the Chief Gunner’s Mate to see if he needed me for any duties. He did not and he showed me where I could sleep. The ship was crowded with other men heading home.
We used a system called “hot bunks”. This meant that every eight hours another man would get a chance to sleep in the same bunk. Luckily I did not have to do this. The chief showed me to a pipe berth in the after fire-control tower where I could sack out for the entire trip. No one knew I was there and with no duties to perform it was like a pleasure cruise.
Meals were served around the clock and the ship band played on the fantail every day. Movies were shown over and over each night to accommodate those who slept odd hours. “Deck Apes” kept the ship clean and others did scullery duty to feed all the men. Each night the ship was lit up and everyone was in a good mood in spite of the crowded conditions.
We stopped at an island, maybe Okinawa, to pick up a large group of Sea-Bees (Construction Battalion) that were also headed home. We stopped at Pearl Harbor and headed for San Francisco. A day out of port dysentery broke out. In spite of all the efforts to control it, it spread rapidly. Handrails on all the ladders were constantly being wiped down with alcohol and the sick were put in separate compartments. Even their eating utensils were disinfected after each use. In spite of all the precautions many got sick including myself. I spent the balance of the trip in sick-bay. I had never felt as sick before.
I started to feel better when we reached San Francisco [and] although I was very weak I managed to get on deck as we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge. By now there were several ships and we entered the harbor with all the signal flags flying and the people on the bridge cheering and waving. The Vicksburg was new and had seen limited action and was in good shape. I thought about my ship and the cans that were dented, patched and rusty. The real navy!
Transportation was arranged for the people going home. Liberty boats were being called away with various groups heading for troop trains to take them to cities all across the country. Unfortunately, I was testing positive for the disease and although I felt good I had to go to the Oakland Naval Hospital. It was a nice place consisting of several one-story buildings connected to a main building by covered walkways. There were a lot of sailors and marines that had been liberated from Japanese prison camps. None of us were really sick and we played baseball and volley ball to pass the time. There was even a stock of liquor and beer in the day rooms. We were treated like heroes.
Finally I was cleared to leave and I headed for Boston. I arrived at the Fargo Building which was the USN Separation Center around the first of Nov. 1945.
Finally arriving back in Boston I was discharged and I resigned from the Naval Reserve. This proved to be a good move as five years later reservists were called up to serve in the Korean War. The Halsey Powell fought in this war and was awarded two Battle Stars. After the cease-fire she was given to the South Korean Navy and renamed the Seoul.
Massachusetts gave me $125.00 as a mustering out bonus. As my mother had sold my 1937 convertible Olds, after it sat on blocks for four years, I used this check to buy a 1935 Plymouth.
Upon discharge every service man was given this patch plus a lapel pin of the same design. We named it “The Ruptured Duck”.
This was officially called the Honorable Service Lapel Button and was given to all service men who were honorably discharged. The patch was worn on the right breast of your uniform. Service men were not allowed to own civilian clothes so this patch was created so they could continue to wear their uniforms (usually not allowed), while at the same time signalling that they were no longer in the military. Cloth was rationed during the war and new clothing was hard to come by. With the influx of millions of returning service men, the clothing industry needed time to ramp up production of new civilian clothes, and allowing men to to continue to wear their uniforms eased this pressure.
Strange as it may seem because I had enlisted before the draft I was required to register. Note it is marked DISC. under my name.
Discharged 1945. Still wearing the hat wrong. Looks like I need some good home cooking.
The government had a program to assist veterans. It was a check for $20.00 for 52 weeks. We called it the 52/20 club. Many guys took a year off figuring 20 bucks a week would buy enough beer. I got a couple of weeks worth of check but decided I better get a job. I needed more money to keep my car running. Also with more and more men being discharged and the Boston Navy Yard and Fore River Ship Yard laying off skilled workers I figured I better not wait. I landed a job which, as I think back, probably only paid $25 a week. Warren Jacobson came home. I had not seen him since we took the picture in my yard. He served on some type of tender and became a Boatswain’s Mate 1/c.
So this is the end of the tale of my Navy experience. Some men might prefer to forget it. I doubt many can.
C.F.L. Nov. 1990