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From the Star archives: Star publisher Mathews witnessed Japanese WWII surrender
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75th anniversary of Japanese surrender

From the Star archives: Star publisher Mathews witnessed Japanese WWII surrender

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William R. Mathews

Every possible inch of space on the USS Missouri had been measured and assigned for the formal surrender of the Japanese on the battleship in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. Arizona Daily Star Editor William R. Mathews “was one of the seven lucky publishers who had a ringside seat.”

Editor’s note: Star Editor William R. Mathews reported from the USS Missouri during the war in the Pacific in World War II. His reports were sent by airmail, so they were often delayed. He was a witness to the official surrender of the Japanese on Sept. 2, 1945, and sent this report:

ABOARD FLAGSHIP MISSOURI, TOKYO BAY, Sept. 2. — When the Japanese delegates came aboard the USS Missouri at 0855 this morning to sign the unconditional surrender of their government, and their emperor’s authority, my thoughts went back to the 4th and 5th of July 1937 in Moscow. At a 4th of July party, given by Ambassador Davies at Spaso House, I met the Japanese ambassador. When he learned that I had come in from China and Japan via Siberia, he asked me in good Yankee English to call on him the next morning.

The next morning I went to see him. Several times when I arose to go he would ask me to be seated. During the 45-minutes’ conversation I had a good opening to remark that if the policy — at that time — of Japanese secrecy over naval construction continued, it would probably generate enough distrust in America ultimately to foment hostilities.

Will Be Tragic

When I said that, this little man, who talked such good American English and walked with a stiff wooden leg, remarked with slowly measured words, “Oh, it will be a tragic day for Japan if she ever goes to war with the United States; you would be able to overwhelm us.”

That same man was the leader of the Japanese delegation that came to sign the unconditional surrender. When Gen. Douglas MacArthur called upon the Japanese delegates to sign, this same little man, dressed in the old-style diplomatic frock coat and holding a silk hat, limped forward on his artificial leg to sign. He was the new Japanese foreign minister, M. Shigemitsu, former ambassador to Moscow and London. He was signing the surrender he forecast eight years ago. He was one of the few Japanese who could appreciate the latent industrial strength of the United States.

Right Kind Of Day

The weatherman staged just the right kind of a day for this historic occasion. The waters of the bay had subsided to the smoothness of a bathtub full of water. Clouds screened the sun but were high enough to leave good light and a good ceiling for our planes. The weather was pleasantly cool. All of us were able to wear our best starched khaki without having it ruined by rain or water from choppy seas in the bay.

From a front-row seat on top of gun turret No. 2, much of the bay could be seen, with giant battleships, cruisers, destroyers and transports riding at anchor and scores of small boats carrying ticket holders to the ceremony on the Missouri. Admirals’ barges, with their white trimmings, came racing up to the Missouri while open landing boats came gliding up to discharge their cargoes of less notable personnel.

All Spaces Assigned

Every possible inch of space on the Missouri had been measured and assigned. From the quarter deck and platforms built over smaller gun mounts, up all topside decks and bridges to the radar screen on top of fighter control, white-uniformed sailors and khaki-clad officers and correspondents clung to their places to watch the show. By 0800 the spaces were nearly filled and then just to add a touch, a long line of transports, 12 of them, came steaming in through Uraga Straits to provide some of the men at the surrender the will required to enforce it.

As they steamed in, “colors” sounded. Men of all ranks stood at attention and faced aft. “The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Save the King” were played, because only Britain and ourselves had ships in the harbor.

Nimitz Arrives

A few minutes later Adm. Chester Nimitz arrived. As he came up on the gallery deck where officers of all ranks were gathering, he was respectfully saluted and cheerily greeted by his own admirals. British, French, Dutch and Chinese generals and admirals were now mingling with one another and checking on their official positions.

At 0845 Gen. MacArthur accompanied by a few of his staff came up and strode across the deck. The general went into Adm. William Halsey’s cabin. At 0850 an admiral’s barge pulled up with the Japanese delegates. Five minutes later they reached the official deck and silently took their places facing the table with its big leather-bound collection of official documents. It was my old acquaintance from Moscow, Shigemitsu, in his long black coat and wearing a silk hat, who was the first to take his position.

A conspicuous silence broken only by the click of movie cameras followed as everybody trained their eyes on this delegation from the nation they had been fighting so long. At last the signing of surrender had come.

MacArthur Speaks

A few seconds before 0900, MacArthur came out and took position before the radio mics which were standing before the official, green-covered table.

A few seconds after 0900, MacArthur started speaking. Dressed in plain, somewhat faded but newly starched khaki open at the collar and his faded old cap, he was impressive in his simple attire and his eloquent, few words. He spoke not more than three minutes and then called upon the Japanese delegates to sign. One of the Japanese delegates stepped forward with what appeared to be official documents recorded in Japanese. He arranged papers on the table. One minute later Shigemitsu limped forward, took his seat, and picked up a pen slowly as he looked at the document. As he finished signing one copy, his assistant laid out the duplicate. Shigemitsu arose and bent over to sign this second one. As he finished, the second Japanese delegate, Gen. Y. Umezo, stepped forward with a vigorous stride, took out his spectacles, and signed both copies standing up.

Called for Wainwright

At 0908 Gen. Richard K. Sutherland, MacArthur’s chief of staff, came forward from a group of officers and turned the documents around. MacArthur called for Gen. Jonathan Wainwright and Gen. Arthur Percival to stand behind him. He signed once and gave the first pen to Wainwright, the second to Percival. He used several pens to add something to his signatures and then brusquely reached into his left shirt pocket and pulled out a red fountain pen of his own, took off its top and signed something more.

When MacArthur asked for the delegate representing the United States, Adm. Nimitz responded. He called to Adm. Halsey and Adm. Frederick Sherman, his chief of staff, to stand behind him. Nimitz used two pens. Wearing their tropical whites, the British followed and then in succession the other belligerents, each of them asking certain of their staffs to stand behind them.

The Canadian delegate, Col. L. Moore Cosgrave, asked MacArthur where he was to sign. The general leaned down and put his finger in what he thought was the place. The Canadian signed. Right there one of those accidents of history took place.

Signed Wrong Line

Instead of signing above the official printing set for the official position and name of his country, the Canadian had inadvertently been instructed by MacArthur himself to sign below the printing. Others followed suit, but the last delegate, the one from New Zealand had no official place to sign, but he signed anyway.

The Japanese saw the mistake and politely challenged the correctness of the signatures only after MacArthur had declared the proceedings closed. Confusion followed. Gen.Sutherland finally opened the books, crossed out what was wrongly placed and inked in the correctly described representation.

Darkened by Planes

As the press was told to go to their boats in order to move the news to meet early Sunday morning editions at home, the sky almost darkened with Navy planes in formation, and way above them formations of graceful B-29s. Their roar added an impressive demonstration to the role they had contributed in bringing about the surrender, which had just been officially completed.

V-J Day had come at last, and I was one of the seven lucky publishers who had a ringside seat at the ceremony in Tokyo Bay.

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