The Things They Saw
After the Navy sent Dad to Harvard and MIT for the advanced engineering training that would be required to be a master electrician on a state-of-the-art warship, he spent the winter of 1944-45 freezing his butt off in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, as the Navy worked night and day to commission more ships for the Pacific. Ask about Brooklyn, and you will certainly be treated to the story of how he had to escort the big shots back and forth across the windswept Navy Yard in an open Jeep.
Finally, in March 1945, equipped with the latest high-tech radar and electronics, the USS Waukesha sailed into the Pacific theater. Arriving in Pearl Harbor mid-April, they took on troops and supplies and headed for Okinawa, facing Japanese bombing raids and typhoons that kept all hands on alert constantly. She was preparing to return to Pearl Harbor for more men and material when the news of the A-bombs rocked the world. Rumors of Japan's capitulation circulated throughout the Pacific fleet. In fact, her course might have been entirely different if officers aboard the Waukesha had not somehow missed a routine newsletter declaring the Japanese surrender official.
Instead, they steamed for Guam, there taking on the Marine 14th Regiment for transport to Japan, where the Marines were to become part of the postwar occupation force. Upon arriving in Japan, the Waukesha became part of the naval escort that cleared bomb-scarred Tokyo Bay in preparation for General MacArthur's return, when MacArthur and General Tojo signed the armistice, officially ending WWII.
The war may have been over, but the work wasn't. The Waukesha immediately departed for Saipan, taking on the 2nd Marine Division, and returning to Nagasaki, where the effort to clear the devastated city and open the POW camps was under way.
Dad doesn't talk too much about these days.
Upon entering the camps, they found prisoners who had been severely mistreated - legs broken, faces and heads beaten, malnourished, shackled. It was apparent that much of the torture had happened after the official end of hostilities.
They saw a city burned to cinders, destroyed by a force that had never been seen before. They saw bodies stacked outside of hospitals because there was no more room inside. They saw the consequences of one of the most horrific decisions ever made in the course of human history. They did not feel like heroes.
Nagasaki lies in a valley, and I remember Dad telling me once how the entire bottom of the valley was ash-colored. The trees were blackened half of the way up the surrounding mountainsides, and then green again above the circle of destruction.
Dad was among the lucky ones who came back from that war. Even the lucky ones paid a price.