Unique memoirs saved by chance

It is one thing to witness history being made and quite another to stage-manage it. Such was the task entrusted to a 31-year-old U.S. Army colonel who was assigned by Gen. Douglas MacArthur to plan the Japanese surrender ceremony 60 years ago this coming week. It was, in short, Col. H. Bennett Whipple’s duty to organize the formal ending of World War II aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.

The army has manuals for just about everything, but there were no guidelines on how to conduct a surrender ceremony.

For Whipple, a logistics specialist on MacArthur’s staff at his headquarters in Manila, there was the fundamental logistical problem of how to get hundreds of high-ranking officers into war-ravaged Japan, how to accommodate them, and then ensure they got to the Missouri. Then he had to plan the ceremony itself in detail, right down to where each person from each country should stand.

Sleepless nights

But along with all that, there was the not insignificant matter of MacArthur himself. Never one to pass up a public relations opportunity, in a series of meetings with Whipple, some lasting into the early hours, MacArthur briefed his young colonel on exactly what he required.

After several worrisome days and sleepless nights, Whipple’s big day came; things went ahead as planned and, as they say, the rest is history.

Fortunately, a behind-the-scenes account of that historic episode has been preserved in the form of a memoir written by the young officer himself. That memoir — made public here for the first time — began to take shape with notes Whipple made as, two days after the ceremony, he flew back to Manila on Bataan, the personal plane of MacArthur who was then serving as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in Tokyo.

Twenty years later, in 1965, he used those notes to type up his 22-page memoir, which provides a fascinating and little-known perspective on the ceremony — as well as his personal recollections of his dealings with MacArthur and other dignitaries.

Born in New Jersey in 1913, Whipple graduated from the elite West Point Military Academy in 1936 and then served for two years in the United States before being posted to the Philippines. It was then that he first met Gen. MacArthur. In 1942, Whipple attended the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College, after which he was posted to Australia as logistics officer for U.S. Forces in the Southwest Pacific.

Whipple left the army in 1947 and went to work for Standard Vacuum and Oil before becoming president of the tire company Michelin Inc. in 1967. He died in 1978.

However, the fact that Whipple’s fascinating historical footnote — 22 pages he wrote on a manual typewriter in 1965 — survives to this day is due to a remarkable coincidence.

Decorated veteran

Back in Oct. 2002, while on a military history tour in the Philippines, I met a fellow General MacArthur Guard Association member, Lee Clifton, a 79-year-old decorated combat veteran of the Pacific War.

It was about 10 years before, Clifton told me, that his sister in Massachusetts was cleaning the house of an invalid widow (now deceased) by the name of Whipple. Clifton’s sister happened to mention that her brother served in Gen. MacArthur’s Honor Guard just after the war ended in 1945, whereupon Mrs. Whipple produced her late husband’s memoir, saying “your brother might be interested in this.”

Clifton, knowing of my interest in Pacific War history, sent me a copy and, right away, it was obvious that the document was genuine and of some historical importance.

Foremost authority

After consulting the foremost authority on the USS Missouri, Paul Stillwell (author of “Battleship Missouri: An Illustrated History”; Naval Institute Press, 1996) and the archivist at the MacArthur Memorial and Museum in Norfolk, Virginia, James Zobel, I was able to determine that Whipple’s memoir was previously entirely unknown.

It goes to show that history can surface in strange ways; in this case, through a cleaning lady who just happened to mention the name “MacArthur.”

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