Back in about 2005 I was fortunate enough to meet a genuine war hero by the name of Dick Wall. I had listed a golf cart charger on Ebay and Dick bought it and ask if I could just hold onto it for a month or two and he would be coming through the interstate where I live and he could just pick it up. I agreed and Dick called me one day to say he would be at the Flying J truck stop and could I bring the charger out to him. I gladly said yes and met him and his wife. My family was with me and Dick invited us all to come inside and eat supper although we declined the meal, we all went in and sat with them and had some coffee while they ate.
Dick was around 80 years old as I recall but was still in good shape. He and his wife were snowbirds and coming back from a winter stay in Arizona. He mentioned that he was going to the Nashville area shortly for a Naval Reunion. When asked about his service, I had no idea that I was about to hear a first-hand account of the surrender of Japan!
Dick joined the Navy after Pearl Harbor and went to a school for radio operators and was at the top of his class. Admiral Halsey and others like him were known for sometimes taking the pick of the litter from these schools to serve directly under them. Dick was chosen by Halsey and did serve under him in with some other hand- picked sailors for several months during the war. At some point as the war was winding down, Dick ended up on the USS Missouri, the “Mighty Mo”. Dick was on board in the boat in Tokyo Bay the day that the delegation from Japan boarded the ship to sign the Instrument of Surrender.
He said that hours prior to the ceremony that a mess hall table was placed on the deck for the signing and that they had wanted some green table cloth and that the whole ship was being searched from top to bottom for a green cloth to use. He watched the entire event from one of the upper decks and said it was elbow to elbow along to railing. Dick said that General MacArthur was visibly nervous about the whole thing, pacing back and forth constantly prior to the delegation arriving.
Once the delegation from Japan arrived some interesting things happened. First off the head of the Japanese delegation was Foreign Minister Shigemitsu and 10 others representing the Imperial Army, Navy, and government of Japan. But what was interesting and little known at that time was that Foreign Minister Shigemitsu had a wooden leg and this was something the Americans took into consideration because General MacArthur had laid it out that he wanted the delegation there at 9 O’clock sharp and he didn’t want them on the Missouri one second sooner than required. According to Admiral Murray’s account of that day, they took a group of young sailors about the size of the delegation and put a swab handle in their trousers so they couldn’t bend their leg and did several practice runs to time how fast the Japanese delegation would take from the time they got on board to make it to the verandah deck where the ceremony was going to take place.
To get onto that deck there was a small ladder that had to be climbed and Dick said that as the Foreign Minister was on the ladder and having some difficulty, one of the members of his delegation tried to assist him and Shigemitsu struck him with his cane for the gesture! Also according to one account, the sailors that were posted on either side of the delegation as they walked through were specifically chosen to be over 6 ft tall. This was done deliberately as to command respect and to intimidate the Japanese.
The ceremony required the presence of a representative of each of the Allied Nations. They were all on board prior to the Japanese. One last interesting footnote was that the Canadians might have botched the entire surrender in signing the Japanese copy of the surrender document. Colonel Lawrence Moore Cosgrave, being blind in one eye, actually signed his name on the line reserved for the French representative. When the other allied representatives came along next to sign, they all signed the next available line that was not their intended spot on the document. One of the Japanese actually spoke up in protest and MacArthur’s quick thinking Chief of Staff General Richard Sutherland scratched out the titles under the signatures and hand wrote in the correct titles adding his initials to each entry making the document correct. When he was finished he simply said “Now its all fine” and the Japanese were quickly "dismissed" from the ship.
Dick’s story really impressed me. I thanked him for his service and I realized this man was present at a pivotal time in world history and that he had somehow forever connected me to it and I felt blessed to have met him albeit brief as it was. I feel it is my job to pass on what I heard that day and in a small part keep the history alive.