Villages Daily Sun
Veterans in The Villages reflect on significance of Victory in Japan Day

Posted: Sunday, August 14, 2011 8:00 am










At his home in the Village of Sabal Chase on Thursday, Ken Taylor shows a model of the B-29 bomber he flew in over Japan during World War II.

THE VILLAGES — The news that came on 1st Lt. Kenneth Taylor’s 22nd birthday was unexpected.

Stationed in Guam with the 20th Air Force 29th Bomb Group, the Village of Sabal Chase resident had just sat down to write a letter to his parents when he heard the broadcast from Tokyo Rose reporting that there was an inkling the Japanese would surrender.

“It was a surprise,” Taylor said of the news, explaining that since the atomic bomb was dropped, he was not sure what the Japanese would do.

“I was within 200 miles of the Hiroshima bomb when it was dropped. I did not know what the reaction would be with annihilating those two cities,” he said.

But because the official surrender had not come through yet, the 20th Air Force received orders to fly B-29 bombers in one final combat mission to bomb four cities.  In all, 20,000 pounds of ordnance were dropped.

“We had been directed if the official word came through the Japanese were surrendering, they would call us on the intercom to come back,” Taylor said.

Merely half an hour after the bombs were dropped, Taylor, who served as a bombardier and nose gunner said, “The word came through that the surrender was official.”

Today marks the 66th anniversary of Victory in Japan (V-J) Day, when Japan surrendered to the Allies, ending World War II.

President Harry Truman announced the news of Japan’s surrender from the White House, stating: “This is the day when fascism finally dies, as we knew it would.”

On Sept. 2, 1945, the Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu; Yoshijiro Umezu, chief of staff of the Japanese Army; and Gen. Douglas MacArthur signed the official surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

Taylor remembers vividly his time serving as a bombardier and nose gunner before and after the surrender.

The 88-year-old’s blue eyes sparkle as he speaks about his service to his country during a war that forever transformed the world.

A call to serve

At the age of 20, Taylor entered the Army Air Corps, where he received training before heading to Guam on April 5, 1945.

In all, Taylor flew 30 missions over Japan, each lasting 16 to 18 hours, where many cities were bombed. Overall, he said his aircraft alone dropped 600,000 pounds of ammunition.

“The incendiary missions we flew were basically to burn the cities out,” he said, explaining how much damage the bombs could indeed produce. “The other missions bombed factories and oil refineries.”

On each mission, Taylor said his squadron received fire from enemy fighter planes and anti-aircraft flak.

There was one mission that was a close call for the Sequim, Wash., native.

On May 29, 1945, Taylor flew in the Great Yokohama Air Raid, where 80,000 people were killed in the city.

During the mission, Taylor’s B-29 was hit by flak, and caught fire.

“They had a hard time getting the fire out,” he said, explaining the fire extinguisher was empty because it had been used earlier to cool beer.

As a result, Taylor said he prepared for the inevitable, standing on the threshold of the exit of the aircraft, ready to bail out.

“I had my foot on the bottom ladder, ready to go, and the navigator tapped me on the shoulder and said they had the fire out,” Taylor said, explaining if he would have jumped, he would not have survived being captured by the Japanese.

For his part, Taylor received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the highest award the Air Force gave at the time, and later also received four air medals.

Serving his country was something Taylor said he did not think twice about.

“To be able to help our country in wartime …  it was just a natural thing to do,” he said. “It was a privilege to serve and I would do it over if I had to do it.”

A duty to serve

The Japanese surrender also was a vivid memory for Robert Harner, who was serving with the U.S. Army’s 3017th Engineer Maintenance Co., where he was a member of the 4th Engineer Special Brigade, which supported the 544th Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment in support of the 6th Army.

Harner’s role was to maintain the invasion craft.

When the Japanese began negotiations to surrender, Harner moved with his organization to Aringay, La Union, Philippines, where they were preparing for “a large scale assault on the home island of Japan,” according to Harner’s certificate of meritorious service.

“The United States was going to make a massive landing at Japan, somewhat similar to what happened in Normandy,” the Village of Belle Aire resident said. “If that would have happened, there would have been hundred of thousands of deaths of Japanese and Americans.”

Harner said when they learned of the official surrender, his company instead served in Japan as an occupational force.

During his time there after the surrender, Harner described the Japanese as hardworking. It was a turn in the war that he remembered well.

It also was a time of great relief when the surrender occurred, because Harner said, “I knew we were heading in for the main part of the war by attacking Japan.”

In particular, Harner credited Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb with leading to the surrender and saving the country from thousands of deaths.

Asked what he was most proud of during his time serving and Harner immediately points to the time a month before the surrender when he was chosen, along with 19 other men in his company, to go to northern Luzon where there still was some resistance from the Japanese.

He remained there four months, maintaining the invasion craft.

“I did all the welding while in northern Luzon,” he said. “I was proud of that.”

By all measures, one of Harner’s greatest achievements occurred seven months before the Japanese surrender, when “his unit was the first American troops to arrive at Navotas Rizal … where they built a Marine railway in what was formerly a Japanese shipyard, helping maintain small boats that unloaded large ships in the harbor,” according to his Certificate of Meritorious Service.

The unit’s efforts made the Philippine campaign a success, according to the certificate.

One month before the surrender, Gen. Walter Kreuger of the 6th Army awarded the unit the Meritorious Service Plaque.

Harner also received four Bronze stars for his efforts in several campaigns in the Pacific.

The war’s success was important, not just for the United States, but for the world.

“It was real important as far as democracy is concerned,” he said.

Like Harner, Ted Majusick, who served in the Navy in the Pacific as a machinist 3rd class, was relieved when the Japanese surrendered.

At the time, the Village of Rio Ponderosa resident who had served on the USS Humphreys, receiving the Bronze star, was on a subchaser, which was in a convoy ahead of merchant ships to protect them from being attacked by Japanese submarines. He was returning to Hawaii from Guam.

“I was surprised,” he said. “I figured the war would continue for awhile. I thought we were going to land in Japan.”

“You are so stunned,” he continued, explaining his reaction to the news. “All of a sudden there is no war. We saved the world for democracy.”

Livi Stanford is a reporter with the Daily Sun. She can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9245, or livi.stanford@thevillages