by Paul Roberts
Bob Enten has seen it all. Serving during World War II in the Pacific, on the battleship USS Missouri, (affectionately known as The Big Mo), as a Seaman First Class, he was part of a crew of 3,200 officers and men that participated in the first naval attack on Japan, on its main islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, destroying major manufacturing installations. On 9 August, the day the second A Bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, they resumed their devastating attacks on these main islands. Before that, they were engaged with other units of the Third Fleet in attacks on Okinawa and the airfields and installations of the adjoining islands of Kyushu, where the United States OSS (Office of Special Services) was preparing, after seizure of the islands, to establish an intelligence, listening and weather station in anticipation of a Marine invasion of southeastern China, the first step in rolling up the Japanese forces to Canton-Shanghai, and mounting the long sought invasion of Japan proper from there.
At one point Bob was assigned to loading the big 16″ guns, whose explosive noises has taken a toll on his hearing. He recalled, during the last gestation of a beaten nation, the Japanese attacking his ship with suicide Zeros, piloted by sacrificial kamikazes. Of the 15 planes that were shot down, most before hitting his ship, one managed to smash into and destroy a 40 mm quad anti-aircraft mount. The pilot’s body was severed, and the captain ordered the medics to patch him up and prepare him for burial at sea, with the traditional, honored 16 gun salute. “It was the skipper’s decision, recognizing and respecting, an enemy performing his duty,” Bob recalled. “At my age, this was an acceptable adventure, and taken in stride. Today, I don’t think I could handle it.”
He later learned the grim statistics of this kamikaze effort. Over 2,000 of these suicide pilots were shot down by both 40 mm anti-aircraft fire and fighter aircraft based on ‘flat tops’ (aircraft carriers). And, still more frightening, if there had been a troop invasion by the Allied forces, Japan had 6,000 trained, sacrificial lambs to attack both ships and ground troops.
After acknowledgment of defeat, the Missouri entered Sagami Wan (Tokyo Bay) with other units of the Third Fleet, and documents were prepared for the signing of the instrument of surrender. Bob was witness to this, standing at attention while the formalities went on. Present as witnesses were military officers from the other nations that fought the Japanese. One interesting sidelight was the prominent display of the 31-star flag that was brought ashore in 1853 by Commodore Matthew Perry after he sailed into Tokyo Bay, trying to force the Japanese to open their ports to trade with the West.
Also present was Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz and General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, the latter addressing the assembled crew and representatives, saying, in part, that “It is my earnest hope that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world dedicated to the dignity of Man.” Honored presence was the newly freed prisoner of war from the Mukden, Manchurian prison, General Jonathan Wainwright, who commanded the American forces captured by the Japanese 3 years before at Corregidor. The surrender was signed by the Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu.
The Missouri, after serving its historic role, was eventually destined for the scrap heap but, fortunately, after much protestation, was revived, and towed to Ford Island, Hawaii in 1998 and now has become a popular museum.
Post war, Bob went into the houseware wholesale business, sold it and went to work for his former competitor. His success was too much for the president, sometimes earning more than the boss, and so left the firm. Today he enjoys a peaceful retirement at Leisure World®, going to lectures and participating in many social events, devoid of stresses.
All photos courtesy of Paul Roberts – Resident of Leisure World® Maryland, unless noted otherwise.