Sept. 2, 1945: A historic day in Japan, and for an Army Air Corps man in Texas

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Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Instrument of Surrender under the watchful eye of General Richard Sutherland (left). The ceremony took place aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.  Photo courtesy of the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum

By Betty Gordon

© 2016 text and letter. All rights reserved.

It is September 2, 1945. At four minutes past 9 a.m., aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japan’s Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, pen in hand, is leaning over a green cloth-covered crew mess table. On deck, surrounded by other Japanese representatives, military men, the Missouri’s crew and a bank of photographers and reporters, he formally signs the eight-paragraph Instrument of Surrender, marking the official end of World War II.

His signature is followed by that of General Yoshijiro Umezu, who had wanted Japan to fight on even after the two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the previous month. Umezu is at the ceremony under direct orders from Japanese Emperor Hirohito.

The third and fourth paragraphs of the document, prepared by the U.S. War Department and approved by President Harry S. Truman, read: “We hereby command all Japanese forces wherever situated and the Japanese people to cease hostilities forthwith, to preserve and save from damage all ships, aircraft, and military and civil property and to comply with all requirements which may be imposed by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers or by agencies of the Japanese Government at his direction.

“We hereby command the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters to issue at once orders to the Commanders of all Japanese forces and all forces under Japanese control wherever situated to surrender unconditionally themselves and all forces under their control.”

General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied powers, is the first Western signature, “on behalf of the United States, the Republic of China, United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and in the interests of the other United Nations at war with Japan.”

Also signing for the United States is Admiral Chester Nimitz, and eight Allied representatives. The ceremony takes about 30 minutes.

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President Truman (right) displays the Instrument of Surrender on September 7, 1945. From left: Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, Secretary of War Henry Stimson and General George C. Marshall. Photo courtesy of the United States Navy and the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.

The crew and others on board this day also receive a souvenir, a small card with a red Japanese rising sun background, “certifying the presence of (NAME typed in) at the formal surrender of the Japanese Forces to the Allied Powers” aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945.

USS Missouri Captain Stuart S. Murray, later an admiral, has the cards printed aboard ship. The cards also feature the signatures of MacArthur, Nimitz and Admiral William Halsey, commander of the Third Fleet.

Another historical item of note is also present: The American flag that flew atop Commodore Matthew Perry’s ship when he sailed into Edo Bay (as it was then called) in 1853, marking the beginning of Japan’s opening to the West. That flag contained 31 stars and was flown out specially in its glass case from the Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland.

Sept. 2, 1945 2
This is the last letter Lois Simon receives as a single woman from her Army Air Corps sweetheart, Elliot Gordon. The next one is addressed to Mrs. E. Gordon. With the war over, Elliot and Lois married on September 12, 1945.

Thousands of miles away, at Aloe Army Air Field in Victoria, Texas, Corporal Elliot Gordon is writing to Lois Simon, his teenage sweetheart.

They have been corresponding for about 18 months at this point, as I’ve detailed in my unpublished manuscript, “Fondly with All My Affection: A World War II Love Story,” based in part on my parents’ letters.

After meeting at a party in late 1943 — before Elliot is inducted into the service and Lois is still in high school — the pair exchanges more than 1,200 letters, cards and notes during the war. And dozens of photographs, too.

With the war over, he has many decisions to make, among them, whether to remain in the military. And in the back of his mind, he seems to be trying to resolve Lois’s role in his life going forward.

“Good morning darling,” 20-year-old Elliot writes to 17-year-old Lois, at home in Passaic, New Jersey, on Sunday morning, September 2, 1945.

“Received your very blue letter darling; that coupled with a very grave and important decision still pending has caused untold confusion in my mind. There are few things I really want darling, few objectives I hold in life and now I’m on the threshold of a rather grave decision, a choice of either of two paths that threatens permanently or temporarily the few objectives I have. One of my aims darling is to be with you as soon as possible and for the longest period of time; primary as this wish may be, we both realize that it must be relegated to a secondary position when I consider my choice of courses. How I wish I never had to choose.

“… Conditions to consider: delayed return to college, a possibly tour of duty overseas, a hitch in the army and you and me. If I don’t remain in the army, then what will happen to us as ex-trainees? Will we as very low point men get a tour of duty overseas anyway with no appreciable training? [When the war ended, men with the highest point total, based on length of service and other considerations, were generally the first to be demobilized.]

“If I remain in the service, then soon I would go to Pre-flight and commence my navigational training [Elliot has been awaiting advancement to Pre-flight since mid-1944]. Upon the completion of my courses I would be commissioned and the[n] serve a tour of duty here or abroad as the case may be, but probability has it that it will be overseas — for at least one year anyway. One good year that we would still be apart darling! … When I did have my hitch completed after being commissioned darling, no doubt I would have quite a bit of money saved up, but years wasted or spent learning the Orient, navigation and loneliness of life away from you. All of which don’t jive — so which way shall I turn? Soon I’m going to call you up darling, hope you’re home. …

“The call to you darling was very enlightening. Really you said just what I expected you to say — that makes my decision even more important! You know darling that I want the best for you always; what I plan for myself has and will have you as a point of consideration. Still my mind is undecided darling. It has been made up many times, thousands of times one way or another — but still my decision is not definite.”

Just days after writing this letter, Elliot is unexpectedly in New Jersey on furlough. While there, he does settle one matter: In a judge’s chambers in New York City, Elliot and Lois marry on September 12.

Quick reference: To see the surrender documents, housed at the National Archives, go to http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/japanese_surrender_document/

For a lively behind-the-scenes description of the events leading up to the document signing, see Admiral Murray’s reminiscence from 1974: https://ussmissouri.org/learn-the-history/surrender/admiral-murrays-account

To see a copy of the USS Missouri souvenir card: http://www.nationalww2museum.org/media/end-of-wwii.html

The USS Missouri was decommissioned in 1992. It is known now as the Battleship Missouri Memorial, anchored at Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. https://ussmissouri.org

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