Archives for posts with tag: WWII

I am contemplating Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima as we shift into Memorial Day weekend, a time when Americans remember our fallen warriors. I have no issue with the president’s visit – we must always remember and never forget.

Obama said: “Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.

“We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war and the wars that came before and the wars that would follow. Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.”

It seems so long ago. Some 60 million people died over the years that World War II raged, including the final acts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet my own family to this day represents the past and present.

My father sailed into Yokohama Bay as part of the conquering force, having expected to fight his way into Japan but for Harry S Truman’s decision to deploy the first and only atomic weapon. “Everybody knew we were going to Japan,” Dad told me. Then Truman made the fateful decision. In the awful aftermath, the U.S. Navy sailed on to Japan. Dad’s convoy ported at Yokohama, the Imperial Japanese naval base south of Tokyo. Over the next few months, he helped transport the tortured and emaciated American soldiers who had been liberated from Japan’s notorious POW camps to U.S. medical ships for treatment.

Fast forward 70 years. Our nephew Kyle, a Marine, visited last weekend. He was recently posted in Japan, and expects to return. His memories of Tokyo are far different from my father’s, and I am struck by that. Kyle’s stay in Japan took him to Tokyo and Okinawa and Mount Fuji and beyond. He talked of the blinding lights of Shibuya, the Japanese equivalent of Times Square, part of the long resurrection of Japan’s economy after the war years. He’s also stood sentinel at the DMZ in Korea, an ongoing symbol of the uneasy East-West relations.

Yes, Kyle is today’s face of our long military relationship with Japan. As was my father long long ago. Separated by seven decades, yet the mission eerily similar: Keeping the peace.

May we never forget.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, Va.

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Sixteen million Americans served in World War II. My father was one of them, plucked fresh out of high school into the Navy. The Navy liked boys from the wide-open prairie because they weren’t bothered by the endless horizons of the ocean.

Dad trained as a ship mechanic and shipped off to the Pacific front aboard LST-1081. He vividly recalled Pearl Harbor, where the carcasses of the eight battleships sunk by the Japanese in 1941 steeled the soldiers for the fight ahead.

Destination: Japan, for an assault that was expected to claim tens of thousands of American lives. “Everybody knew we were going to Japan,” Dad told me.

Crossing the Pacific, his LST landed troops and equipment at Kwajalein, Roi Namur in the Marshall Islands, Guam, Ulithi, Okinawa and Saipan. Visualize the crude boats that landed troops in “Saving Private Ryan” – only this was reality. His war was on the seas, where the horror was nothing like that encountered by the Marines and Army infantrymen on those islands. But he saw kamikaze planes destroy dozens of U.S. vessels, ships riddled by bombs and torpedoes, ships sinking with young sailors aboard. His was spared.

George Walter Johnson

George Walter Johnson

Then Truman made the fateful decision to drop an atomic bomb on Japan, killing thousands of civilians but ending the war. The U.S. Navy proceeded to Japan. Dad’s convoy ported at Yokohama, the Imperial Japanese naval base south of Tokyo. The next few months, he helped transport American soldiers who had been liberated from Japan’s notorious POW camps.

Then his war was over; he resumed his quiet life on a South Dakota farm. He never talked much about the war, unless prodded by one of his children.

Fast forward to 2005. Dad had died the year before. Business took me to Tokyo. After checking into my hotel, I took the subway straight-away to Yokohama. In a restaurant overlooking the port, I ordered a glass of wine and silently saluted my dad.

I carry his dog tags with me always.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.