Going back almost half a century, months before
the end of World War II, I recall a Top Secret Bulletin from the “Flag” of
the third fleet with whom my ship, the Daly (DD519 – Destroyer Squadron
24, Code name Bulldog) was cruising. The encoded message was decoded by
the communications Officer and hand delivered to the Captain, the
Executive Officer, and the Gunnery Officer, each of whom read it,
initialed it, and proceeded with whatever task had previously occupied
The bulletin spoke evasively of some new weapon
capable of enormous destruction, developed by the U.S. and soon to be used
against Japan to hasten the war’s end and assure surrender. My reaction to
this ”cheer-up” message was one of total disbelief. If we had such a
weapon why postpone its use to stop the slaughter, for no day passed that
the Bulldog did not witness the destruction or sinking of a destroyer on
picket duty by a Japanese Kamikaze plane.
I skip now to several months after surrender.
Bulldog was still attached to the Third Fleet, now greatly reduced in size
as ships and squadrons were detached. We cruised idly some four hundred
miles south of Japan’s southern islands when a TBS message arrived.
“Bulldog, Bulldog, this is Fleet Headquarters.
(Our TBS response): “Fleet Command, this is
Bulldog. We receive you loud and clear. Over.”
“Bulldog, detach yourself immediately and proceed
on course to rendezvous with Samaritan Hospital Ship, cruising at fourteen
knots to intercept you. You will escort Samaritan to Sasebo Harbor. All
further instructions will come from Samaritan. Acknowledge receipt."
We responded, “Message received and understood.
Willco (will comply). Out.”
I was Officer of the Deck and immediately gave
orders to Steerage: “Standard Starboard Rudder, ease your course to
three-two-zero.” Next instructions to engineering: “Light off three and
four boilers, report when we are able to sustain flank speed.”
Then a huddle over the navigator’s maps. We found
Sasebo, reconfigured our course and speed to intercept Samaritan.
Some five hours later we picked up on our C.I.C.
radar what we believed to be Samaritan, just a dot sailing at
approximately twelve, not fourteen knots.
As Samaritan hit the horizon we needed no
confirmation. Using main-battery optics we could actually see an
enormous, all white ship with every deck light ablaze, and a huge Red
Cross painted amidships.
We contacted Samaritan on TBS, confirmed our
identity and asked the captain for instructions. We got them. “Lead us
into Sasebo Bay. We will follow your lead, one-half mile astern.”
“A question, Captain. Whom do you communicate
with at Sasebo?”
Answer. “Marine Headquarters Sasebo.”
Another question, “Do you anticipate any rejection
of our entrance?”
Answer. “I don’t know.”
Another question, “Is the entrance to Sasebo Bay
Answer. “I don’t know. I suggest, Bulldog, that
you establish the security of our entry.”
Answer. “Aye, aye, Captain.”
At our captain’s instruction, I called Marine
Headquarters on TBS Circuit, identifying Bulldog and asking the same
Marine Headquarters responded that they expected
no Japanese objections to our entrance. The answer to “Are there armed
Japanese ships within the Bay?” was “No”. Then “How do you know?”
Answer, “Marines have dumped all enemy ammunition into the bay. Also we
have boarded every armored ship and with sledge hammers have rendered the
firing mechanisms inoperative.”
Question, “Is the entrance to Sasebo Bay mined?’
“Yes, but a tender will meet you at the entrance
with a pilot, a navigator, and maps of the mined entrance.”
The tender met us and two Japanese, a navigator
and an interpreter, boarded. We took them to the bridge where the
interpreter explained maps. As instructed, the tender led us through the
entrance of the bay. The Samaritan followed and was guided alongside the
dock. We dropped the hook outboard of the Samaritan.
Now for a few hours sack time. I went to my
cabin, kicked off my shoes and fell across my bed only to be awakened by a
message with Captain’s orders to meet him on the bridge.
His urgency came from the Samaritan’s request for
fifty stretcher-bearers. The captain volunteered the entire “O” Division,
my Division- all the men who manned the ship’s weapons. I disagreed and
requested that we leave a skeleton crew on each main battery gun or a full
crew on half of the battery guns, getting the remaining stretcher-bearers
from the other divisions. He agreed, telling me that I was responsible
for satisfying Samaritan.
We proceeded ashore using the captain’s gig and
the motor whaleboat. A short wait brought the sounds of the train
bringing American prisoners of war who came from heaven knows where they
had been imprisoned to the waiting U.S. Marines and the Samaritan.
The train was narrow gauge and grimy. Some of the
windows had been smeared clean enough for us to see the faces of the
emaciated men who stared out. Their faces looked like a white sheet with
two burned holes for eyes. I cannot describe the prisoners except to say
that they were pitiful, grossly mistreated, deathly weakened, totally
unaware of where they were or what was happening. We witnessed a travesty
of inhuman treatment administered by some Japanese prison authority. Each
prisoner was carried or assisted from the train, moving to a cleaning area
where he was stripped, hosed and scrubbed, then wrapped in a new US Navy,
woolen blanket, placed aboard a stretcher and carried up the gangway to
disappear within Samaritan’s waiting hull.
Our work completed, I told the chief gunnery mate
to take charge and return to the Daly before dark. I sought out the
Marine officer in charge, a colonel, who answered my questions.
How far is Sasebo from Nagasaki and the A-bomb
“Some 40 miles approximately. Why?” he
Curiosity and a desire to see the sight where
surrender was sealed. Is there any transportation available, like a Jeep
that I could borrow?”
“My jeep and driver must be kept available for
official business, but I’ll authorize a ride on a sentry truck.”
I was escorted to an army truck being loaded with
armed marines, and put on the front seat with the driver, who was
instructed to show me his sentry area and return me to point of origin. I
carried no arms, only the small pocket camera I had commandeered from the
ship’s photographer before leaving. He had told me that no film exposed
to light or radiation would develop. I took the small camera anyway and
am glad I did.
The truck’s driver was a mad speed demon. He
covered the miles from Sasebo to Nagasaki in record time, talking
incessantly and completely oblivious to pedestrian or wheeled traffic. He
stopped at his first sentry post, deposited two relief sentries who had
previously manned the post. The stop-start continued, and with half of
his relief sentries posted, I asked to get out for a moment at his next
stop to take a picture.
He agreed, saying that the landscape improved as
we progressed around the bombed area. As I stepped to the ground my foot
met with a thin layer of glass. It shattered under my weight, and I was
reminded of the thinly frozen mud puddles I enjoyed invading as a child.
Apparently, the truck driver explained, the heat from the exploding bomb
had melted the earth into a thin cover of glass even at this point, which
he surmised was five miles from the bomb-center. The crackling of the
thin, melted-glass earth underneath my feet was eerie and disturbing, and
I re-boarded the truck quickly after each picture.
The scenery at each stop varied, but all had the
same characteristic. It appeared that some giant, irresistible force had
pushed the earth down upon itself. No buildings remained, just rubble
compressed debris. There were some piles of this rubble where a masonry
building had been toppled, then compressed. Factory chimneys were bent to
a 45-degree angle, ready to fall flat but not doing so. The metal
reinforcing from the same buildings was left unseparated but melted and
now configured as a melted wax candle with its wax congealed and hardened
into some grotesque shape.
The color of the landscape looking toward the
center of the blast was indescribably peculiar. I never saw a color like
it. It was not gray. It was not brown. It was not black. If death has
a color, this was it, spread as far as the eye could see and with
absolutely no penetration of a sun’s ray. Forty, fifty, even one hundred
thousand met their deaths here in a city now leveled and burned to a
crisp. Was it necessary? Horrible, but YES!
My ride back to point-of-origin was made in
The pictures all developed perfectly. They are
now my son’s property, glued to the blank pages of the book, which was
written on the war record of the USS Daly – DD 519, Desron 24, one of the
most decorated DD squadrons of the U.S. Fleet. Out of the original seven
ships in our squadron, we were one of the five ships, which returned from
the cold Pacific, two ships having been sunk by Kamikazes. May they and
their un-rescued crews rest in peace. They gave their all.
I wish to comment on an associated controversy,
which boils and roils the waters of our nation’s Capital.
The Japanese, after a half-century has passed, now
claim that our aggression and threats provoked the Pearl Harbor attack on
December 7,1941, and that Japan never surrendered but joined us in an
agreement to terminate hostilities. Unfortunately, there are some
politicians and revisionists that agree with this historical untruth. The
end of World War II was marked by unconditional surrender insisted upon by
President Harry S. Truman and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The Pearl
Harbor attack was a sneak attack launched as the Japanese in Washington
was negotiating a peaceful settlement of differences. Yes, it is now over
fifty years later, and will forever remain, A Day of Infamy.
The dropping of two A-bombs at Hiroshima and
Nagasaki – three days apart- brought about that unconditional surrender.
It was right, proper, and celebrated. The Japanese objections to a stamp
showing the explosion of the bomb as well as the controversy over the
“Enola Gay” exhibit in the Smithsonian and Washington’s capitulation are
to me unconscionable.
I often regret that our Manhattan Project was
unable to perfect atomic weapons three years sooner. This acceleration of
schedule would have kept me out of our great U.S. Navy and allowed me to
remain with my beautiful wife and my two year old son. He was five years
old when I next saw them. Now at 82 years of age, I pray we continue to
remind Japan that the dropping of the two A-bombs was indeed proper. It
brought unconditional surrender and the saving of the lives of perhaps a
half-million young Americans who would have died as they continued to
defend our country.
August 1995 Lt.jg R.H.Owen III
Return to top