Surrender seen close up

Col. Hervey Bennett Whipple was made logistics officer for U.S. Forces in the Southwest Pacific, operating from bases in Australia, in February 1942. In the following month he came to work for Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who had arrived in Australia after a daring escape from Corregidor in Manila Bay.

Over the next three years Whipple moved countless men and tons of war materiel across the vast Pacific in support of MacArthur’s drive northward. When the war ended, the task of making the arrangements for the surrender ceremony aboard the battleship USS Missouri fell to Whipple. Later he was amused that no one ever asked him what he did in the war; only about his role as “the Cecil B. DeMille of the Japanese surrender.”

In 1965, as if to answer their questions, Whipple wrote a brief memoir based on notes he made at the time.

His road to the Missouri started in Manila, which U.S. and Filipino troops retook in March 1945, and where MacArthur set up his headquarters. Japanese forces on Okinawa surrendered on June 21, 1945. Atomic bombs vaporized Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, respectively.

Whipple writes that the word in the staff circle then was that MacArthur had opposed the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and had been ready to call a press conference to denounce its use, but that “his better judgement [sic] prevailed.” [Editor’s note: In fact, two hours after Hiroshima was bombed on the morning of Aug. 6, MacArthur issued a press release that said, in part, “The devastation inflicted by the atomic bomb was an unnecessary tragedy that could have been avoided.”]

On Aug. 14, a message was brought to Whipple: the Japanese government had accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. The war was over. Of this momentous event, Whipple recalls:

Ours was not the kind of headquarters where even a message of this magnitude could shatter the routine. . . . I merely walked into MacArthur’s office and put the message into the “In” basket on his desk. Looking back, I’m certain that in this message was the first word that the general himself had of the Japanese surrender. . . . A bit later, I found the message with Gen. MacArthur’s initials on it in the “Out” basket. This is the kind of headquarters operations we had. I initialed the message. So did he. Business as usual.

Yet Whipple acknowledges the heady atmosphere in Manila in mid- and late August. There was the constant tapping of the telegraph flashing “eyes only” messages between MacArthur and the “great names of the world.” The traffic increased after Washington designated MacArthur as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, with instructions to receive the instrument of surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Some wires referred to geopolitics:

Messages came from the British stating that their policy required that they accept the surrender at HongKong [sic] and [should] fly the British flag in every port on the China coast. Washington made it clear that this was a matter between the United Kingdom and China and that we were to keep out of it. American headquarters in China reported that Chiang Kai-Shek [sic] was not so much worried about communism as he was about British imperialism.

Some messages concerned the Korean Peninsula:

There was one to the effect that the U.S. should try to reach Darien before the Russians did, possibly so the U.S. would have a little bit to say about the future of Korea. There were wires, too, indicating that if possible the U.S. should occupy ports in Korea to make the Darien occupation less pointed.

If the Americans had beat the Russians to Darien, and seized ports across the Yellow Sea on the Korean Peninsula, a mad hatter in Pyongyang might not be threatening an atomic Armageddon today. Soviet troops landed at Darien on Aug. 22, 1945. Russians also landed at Manila but in rather smaller numbers — 16 army officers in an exchange for American officers. Whipple recalls the Russians made a request for a draft of the surrender document, and, among other things, 16 bathing suits. “After their years on the Eastern Front, Manila Bay looked awfully good to them and they went swimming.” Japanese also arrived, at MacArthur’s behest, on Aug. 19, to discuss details of the surrender. Whipple watched them alight at Nichols Field, and later wrote:

Had the situation been reversed, had we been climbing out of an airplane in Tokyo not knowing what to expect, I know we would have had a very ominous feeling.

Whipple landed not at Tokyo but at Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Aug. 30. MacArthur had selected the waterfront Hotel New Grand in Yokohama as his headquarters, and Whipple soon found himself, as he put it:

. . . cast in the role of an angry hotel clerk. Top officers of Lt. General L. Eichelberger’s 8th Army had taken it over. They weren’t at all impressed with my pleadings that it had been reserved for the generals who were to take part in the surrender ceremony.

In Manila, Whipple had only read messages from great men; in Yokohama he saw them. Whipple vividly recalled the arrival of one man, Jonathan Wainwright. MacArthur, ordered to evacuate the Philippines by President Roosevelt, had turned over command of the Filipino-American forces on Corregidor to Wainwright. With his troops malnourished and disease-ridden, Wainwright surrendered on May 6, 1942. He was given up for dead at the end of the war, but found alive in Manchuria on Aug. 20. MacArthur ordered that he be flown to Japan for the surrender ceremony. Whipple described their reunion on Aug. 31:

Gen. MacArthur was having dinner when he heard that Gen. Wainwright had arrived in the hotel after a trip from the Japanese prison camp in Manchuria. MacArthur hurried from the dining room, threw his arms around Wainwright and neither said anything for several moments. Wainwright looked terribly worn and thin. MacArthur was sincere . . . in his affection for this old friend whom he had to leave behind — a man who spent these years in prison while MacArthur went on to glory.

At midnight, Whipple was called to MacArthur’s suite to discuss ceremony details. The general “viewed the Missouri as being ‘a field of honor’ and not a place for a formal boarding ceremony.” So no one would be piped aboard or receive other honors.

He indicated that Wainwright and British Gen. Arthur Percival, who had surrendered Singapore in 1942 and been a prisoner in Manchuria until the war’s end, would have places of honor at the ceremony. He also said he would use six pens for affixing his signature to the document.

On the afternoon of Sept. 1, the Americans received the names of the Japanese delegation to be led by Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu, Chief of Staff. The Japanese were instructed to be at the Customs House pier at 0645 on Sept. 2. Whipple woke at 0500 to news that the Japanese had not replied to the message giving instructions for the ceremony. “Had I messed up the arrangements?” he asked himself. “In a cold sweat,” he says he rushed to the pier. There was no sign of the Japanese. “It was sheer terror for me. Here was the biggest thing in my life and I was beginning to think the Japanese had decided not to surrender.” At precisely 0645 the cars bringing the Japanese hove into view. Their party boarded the USS Lansdowne.

A half-hour later the destroyer disembarked the party into a boat for transfer to the Missouri. Shigemitsu, a cripple, having lost his right leg in a terrorist bombing in Shanghai in 1932, struggled on an artificial leg up the ladder to the Missouri’s quarterdeck. Allied officers watched his plight with sadistic pleasure.

Then, as Whipple recalled:

MacArthur opened the proceedings: “We are gathered here, repre sentative of the major warring powers, to conclude a solemn agreement whereby peace may be restored.’

Whipple noted gestures of disdain directed toward the Japanese. As Shigemitsu signed the surrender document at the table on the quarterdeck, for instance, Whipple noted:

Australia’s Lt. Gen. F. H. Berryman leaned forward . . . and fixed Shigemitsu with a very deliberate and baleful stare. Shigemitsu caught that look . . . and I watched his eyes raise [sic] to Berryman then lower again to the document. Just then one of the ranking Chinese Nationalist Army officers . . . drew a handkerchief from his pocket and — quite loudly — spat into it. I took it as a gesture of contempt for the Japanese. Shigemitsu apparently thought so, too. For he picked up his tall hat and jammed it on his head before he completed the signing. I felt then and feel now that the Japanese official figured he would not be courteous if others were not.

Whipple had found his metier in logistics. He was obsessed with the nuts and bolts of whence things came and where they went. He spills much ink over the matter of the pens. MacArthur intended to give pens to Wainwright, Percival, the National Archives, West Point, Mrs. MacArthur and Gen. Courtney Whitney, a staff officer. MacArthur returned his wife’s small red fountain pen to his pocket as soon as he used it. He gave Wainwright and Percival their pens on the spot. He returned Whitney his Shaeffer fountain pen that evening. Two other pens he left on the table. When Adm. Fraser, “resplendent in tropical white uniform,” sat down at the table, he used both pens and presented them to two of his aides. Whipple overheard an American general, perhaps James Doolittle, whisper, “I see the British are still lend-leasing our equipment.” Maj. Gen. Willoughby got the pens back. Whipple breathed easier after MacArthur opened the ceremony. The “surrender man’s” job was over. He had leisure to reflect:

I thought as he spoke that Adm. Nimitz was probably glad MacArthur and not he had drawn the assignment of accepting the surrender and making that speech. I was convinced of it as . . . we filed off the USS Missouri. . . . There stood Nimitz . . . As each of us filed by he shook us warmly by the hand . . . I can still see him standing there, too, his face open and honest and resolute. His was a handshake to take with you and I’ve kept it always.

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