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WWII vets recall Japan's surrender

  • 5 min to read

Germany had surrendered, and Frank Lambiase had gone home.

But World War II wasn’t over for the New Castle native.

“We came home on 30-day leave because the war with Japan was still on,” the 98-year old Army veteran said. “I was scheduled to go into Japan for the invasion of Tokyo Bay.

“They projected 4 million casualties and 800,000 fatalities. So we were happy they surrendered.”

WWII vets recall Japan's surrender

Servicemen, reporters, and photographers perch on the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945, for the onboard ceremony in which Japan surrendered in Tokyo Bay, ending World War II. 

Lambiase belonged to the 13th Armored Division of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army. Like the fire of the tanks in which he served, his figures were on the mark. According to militaryhistorynow.com, a planned, two-pronged invasion of Japan “would have dwarfed the D-Day invasions and been the bloodiest chapter of the war.” The U.S. military, the website says, “made preparations for between 1.7 and 4 million casualties with up to 800,000 dead. Between 5 and 10 million Japanese deaths were projected.”

The invasion never happened.

The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug 6, 1945, and another on Nagasaki three days later. On Aug. 8, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and quickly sent more than 1 million soldiers into Japanese-occupied Manchuria.

On Aug. 15, Japan had seen enough, and announced its surrender.

The formal surrender was signed 75 years ago today aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

“I don’t know what the hell we did,” Lambiase said of hearing news of Japan’s surrender. “ I’m sure we celebrated. That would have been the thing to do.”

RELIEF

Navy veteran Pete Masello, 95, served on a sub-chaser that escorted tankers to South Pacific islands that had no other way of getting fuel for their planes and motor vehicles. He remembers returning to Pearl Harbor after one trip to find everyone celebrating.

“We didn’t know why, then they told us the war was over,” he said. “We just celebrated like you-know-what on the ship.

“I was on a smaller ship, but some of those bigger ships that were down further in Pearl Harbor, they opened up with some of their guns and just blew the hell out of the sky.”

Like Lambiase, Masello had heard about plans for an invasion of Japan.

“The rumor was that we were going to invade in November of that year,” he said. “Thank God that the war ended because if it didn’t end then, and we tried to invade Japan, a lot of military men would have gotten killed -- maybe even me.

“The possibility was that some of our smaller ships that didn’t have the military power with guns and stuff, they were going to use us as communication ships. The battle wagons would be 12 or 14 miles out, and they would be bombing, and we would have to relay to them just where they were hitting, and what you have to do to hit something.”

Masello, who served in the South Pacific for 17 months, had been sent to radio school to learn Morse code and was a radioman second class petty officer. He figures he’d have been front and center on one of those communication ships.

“Thank God,” he said, “it didn’t happen.”

CELEBRATION

Navy medic Mike Ferraro, 95, was on the island of Leyte on Aug. 15, 1945, watching a movie. With only one projector available, there was always a break in the continuity of the film while reels were changed.

During one such break, the public address system came to life, asking for everyone’s attention.

“The crowd finally got quiet,” Ferraro recalled, ‘and they said, ‘Japan has surrendered.’ For what seemed like an eternity, you could have heard a pin drop. It was total silence. I think it was total shock, out of the clear blue sky in the middle of a movie, you find out the war’s over.

“Then came the outburst, and there were three words that were shouted: one was “I made it!” The other was, ‘I’m going home!’”

Ferraro recalls the celebration becoming “total chaos,” and officials quickly shutting down the base to prevent anyone from moving the party into the nearby town of Tacloban.

“If those guys would have gone in there,” Ferraro said, “they’d have torn the town apart.”

WWII vets recall Japan's surrender

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander, and General Wainwright, who surrendered to the Japanese after Bataan and Corregidor, witness the formal Japanese surrender signatures aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. 

As for Ferraro, he had no intention of leaving the base.

“Those of us who were medics, we used to get the alcohol in five-gallon containers,” he said. “We used to take the first gallon and chalk it up to evaporation.

“So those of us who were medics went back to the medical quonset hut and we got out the gallon that we had set aside and went down to the galley to get any kind of juice they had, from pineapple to tomato to whatever. And we just sort of had a little celebration.”

DUTY STILL CALLS

Although the war ended formally on Sept. 2, 1945, it wasn’t yet time to go home.

Navy veteran Jack Camerot -- who enlisted, only to get seasick for 13 days when he was assigned to his first ship and heading to the Philippines -- was back in San Francisco awaiting orders when news came that the war was over.

“Everybody went crazy,” he said. “In downtown San Francisco, when we heard the war was over, we celebrated. We were out in the streets.”

He doesn’t know what might have happened to him had an invasion of Japan proceeded. But he does recall being part of the effort to help China rebound from Japanese occupation.

Camerot -- who at 94 still serves as New Castle Area School District treasurer -- was dispatched to Tsingtao, which had been a home port for the U.S. Navy Asiatic Fleet in the 1930s and which would become headquarters of the Western Pacific Fleet of the Navy from 1945-49.

After Japan’s surrender, the Marines were ordered to participate in the occupation of certain areas of China to assist Chiang Kai-shek’s government in dealing with the surrender and disarmament of Japanese troops. That included Tsingtao, which Japan had occupied from 1938-45.

At war’s end, Camerot said, “I was assigned to San Diego, and I got on a ship to go out in the islands to replace draftees that had enough points to get discharged.

“I ended up in Tsingtao, China. We built a signal tower on top of a hotel, and we lived in the hotel for nine months.”

Masello also remained on duty in the Pacific.

“The rest of September and the first part of October, they used us to tow targets in the ocean for these guys that just came out of Air Force training, dive bombers, and they would practice trying to hit the target,” he said.

“We got back to the states, I think it was around the 15th of October.”

Ferraro remained on duty until early December, when he was at last told he could head home. Thinking he’d be home for Christmas, he instead encountered several obstacles along the way, including the Merchant Marine vessel that had him nearly home before being ordered to turn around and head to South America to pick up a load of oil. It wasn’t until two months after he departed the Philippines that he finally walked through his parents’ front door.

Lambiase, Camerot, Masello and Ferraro each admitted that the 75 years since the end of the war have passed more quickly than they could have imagined.

“It’s gone so fast; it seems like it was yesterday, Ferraro said. “The only thing that gives it distance is trying to remember.

“Seventy-five years to remember -- but usually, all you have to do is relax and close your eyes and you remember.”

d_irwin@ncnewsonline.com