70th Anniversary of VJ Day
by Paul Roberts

On September 2, 2015, I attended a very solemn ceremony of the 70th year that the Imperial Japanese Army gave up its fight against the combined might of the United Nations and signed its surrender on the decks of the USS Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Harbor. Lest we forget, this was the war that was provoked by the sneak attack of the Japanese armed forces on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. To me it is a dichotomy of joy and sadness. Joy that the slaughter has come to an end, and sadness that the memories of those years have indelibly etched themselves into my psyche, never really to be erased. However, time has eroded that sadness, and in its place, new generations have taken over and created a prosperous and strong friend and ally. The wounds have healed, the slate has been wiped clean, it is now a new ballgame.

The ceremony consisted of laying 17 wreaths, each one representing a nation or entity that was involved in this struggle. There was one for the United States, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, China, Taipei, Australia, Canada, India, Mexico, Nepal, Mongolia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Russia. The other two wreaths were for the Friends of the National World War II Memorial and the National Park Service, co-hosts of the event. There were two wreath bearers for each country, chosen from men and women who had actively served during the war in the South Pacific and Asia.

The master of ceremonies was the well-known author, Richard B. Frank, whose books on the Pacific War include “Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire,” and “MacArthur.” After noting that he and the senator both were native Kansans, he turned the mike over to Senator Dole, the star of the show. The first words out of his mouth were a declaration that “he was going to announce his candidacy for president but my friends thought I should wait till I got a little older.” He then asked all veterans and their relatives who were present to stand and take a bow. Driving home the stark figures, that of the sixteen and a half million who served in the War, we are now down to 850,000, with 600 dying daily. Citing the efficacy of having this memorial as a living reminder to future generations, he reminded everyone that this was the most popular tourist attraction in Washington.

Some of the visitors who came were World War II veterans, flown in from different parts of the country, on the popular Honor Flights. It’s a program that selects World War II veterans from different parts of the country and flies them in free, on quickie one-day flights, visiting memorials. It gives them a chance to pay homage to their military buddies at the War Memorial and military services, including the Changing of the Guards at Arlington National Cemetery. And every Saturday, like clockwork, rain or shine, the senator is the greeter-in-chief, many times with his lovely wife Elizabeth. It is a lovely experience for them, to be treated so graciously. He will empathize with them, sharing war stories, and never tiring.

On April 14, 1944, while leading his platoon on the Italian front, Lt. Dole attempted to rescue his radio operator stuck in a ravine. For his effort he took machine gun slugs to his right hand and back, spending the next three years recuperating in veteran facilities. The Italian residents near that Hill 913 have erected a plaque dedicated to Lt. Robert Dole’s bravery, and the senator will visit it later this year.

Another effort dear to his heart is the memorial commemorating President Eisenhower. It was authorized by Congress 16 years ago and has been delayed by his grandchildren many times over the years because of disagreement over the design. He is now involved in trying to raise another $150,000 to complete the project. Needless to say, Senator Dole considers Ike the greatest man in history, with President Truman a close second, for the tough decision he had to make to drop the atomic bombs, saving the potential loss of over 500,000 invading troops.
Ms. Karen Cucurullo, Acting Superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks; Josiah Bunting III, Chairman, Friends of the National World War II Memorial; and Major General John P. Herrling, USA each spoke. The culmination of the ceremony was a bugler from the Navy playing “Taps,” as a tribute to the fallen.

( Click photos to enlarge and view gallery )