8/14/45 They were there ... here is what they told us
A continuation of the stories published in the September Senior Life in relation to Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive.
Below are the stories of the people who were there on August 14, 1945 and recollections of what they saw with their own eyes. Whether they were service men or women who risked their lives or nursed the injured back from the brink of death, or children or adults who went without back home and risked or lost loved ones, these are the memories of the Greatest Generation.
Bob Bryce was on convalescent leave, walking the boardwalk in Ocean City, N.J. with his mother, when he started hearing chaotic rumblings around him.
“There were crowds of people and we started hearing rumors of Japan’s surrender,” Bryce said. “Then, we heard that Japan had not surrendered. Somebody confirmed it and we knew the war had ended. I was in uniform and people started trying to kiss me.”
Seventy years later, the emotional response from that excitement is still strong for Bryce, who said he just wanted to go home.
Bryce had been involved in the invasion on Iwo Jima. He received a Purple Heart and a medical discharge after three years of service in the Coast Guard.
“When I returned home, I thanked the Lord for getting me home safely,” he said. “My brother wanted me to go with him to Atlantic City the day after the war ended, but I’d had enough excitement. I just wanted to straight to bed and say a prayer for the boys who wouldn’t be coming home.”
Richard Waddel was on a picnic with his mom and dad and other family members when they heard the news of the U.S. victory.
“We were thrilled. I had several cousins in the war and I was so proud of them.”
Serving his country in a Navy shipyard, Jack Aragona was walking down the street in Washington D.C. when he heard the news.
“Before you know it, cars were honking and people were running up to you and if you had on a uniform they gave you liquor and congratulated you.”
He was married a month before, so that’s the 70th anniversary he remembers much more poignantly. He couldn’t wait to get home to her.
Retired bombardier USAF Capt. Caspar “Jack” Speciale was trained and ready to go to Japan when he heard the war was over.
“I was elated, because I lost some close buddies, some from birth, so I was glad to know the rest of my friends were safe, but I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to go do what I was preparing for.
And no, I didn’t get to kiss a nurse, or anybody else for that matter.”
Benjamin Rouleau was a boy of 13 sitting in class.
“It was all over. Everyone was talking about it. There was no way anyone was going to focus on their studies that day. I was really glad because close family members would be coming home from war,” Rouleau said. “It was an incredible day.”
As a member of the Army Signal Corps, Lew Ostroff intercepted messages by following closely behind the infantry. He was in Germany on Aug. 15, 1945 when he heard Japan had surrendered.
“I was happy it was over.”
Born near Kiev, Ukraine in 1913, Ostroff, who attributes his age to, “my lovely wife, Annie,” said he was discharged from the Army on a Friday and went to work for the Department of Defense the following Monday.
Bernadette Walsh Rose
Bernadette Walsh Rose remembers most poignantly the WWII European Theater war. In a small town in Essex, England immediately northeast of London, she was among the Britons who practically starved as German U-boats efficiently sunk ships carrying food and supplies to the island nation.
Strict rationing meant shops opened briefly only once a day to once a month. Windows blacked out to hide from nighttime bombing, her family slept in an air raid shelter.
Robert was only 2 years old when the war ended, but what many people don’t realize is that the war wasn’t immediately over for many soldiers.
Some had to stay for months to years helping to establish order in former enemy or occupied lands.
“I remember always doing things with my mom, but then the day came when I met my father and suddenly he was an everyday part of my life from then on. That was great.”
When she heard the war was over, Helen Truesdale married her sweetheart, who’d just come home from the war. They had three children together, like many of her contemporaries in the Greatest Generation who gave birth to the most populace generation. “In those days, we were just glad to get along.”
“We were on vacation in Liberty, N.Y, the Catskills, which was called the Irish Riviera or the Jewish Alps, because it was a very popular destination in those days. Our Jewish neighbors were banging pots and pans and I asked what was going on, and someone said “The Japanese have surrendered!
The war is over!” I ran back to our little cabin and told my mother the news. She was so relieved because my brother was in Germany and if the war had not ended, there was talk of sending him to invade Japan. So even though the war had been over in Europe, it really wasn’t over until Aug. 14, 1945.”
Bill Edwards was happy to hear the war was over, but there would be no celebration. He was among the troops that spent months to years in Europe “mopping up,” and establishing order in a new world. When he finally boarded a packed troop ship to return home, he took his blanket and slept on deck, the first good sleep in a long time.
He enjoyed American food served aboard ship for the first time in years, and when he finally set foot on U.S. soil, he drank his fill of milk. “I’ll never forget how good that tasted.”
James “Jim” Hadjin was on an LST Navy landing craft with a lot of Marines on board. He had been in on the invasion of Okinawa, Japan Easter Sunday April 1. Many of the troops he unloaded were killed by the Japanese via ambush.
He read directly from notes he took in a diary he keeps to this day, with a photo from the era of him and a buddy from World War II as a bookmark. Interspersed were details on the path to the 1945 World Series as “the Yankees dropped a second straight double-header to Detroit and even Chicago bypassed them.”
When he heard that the use of atomic bombs was likely going to curtail the war, he was relieved, because he was on his way to drop off more soldiers for the planned full invasion of Japan. It never received the final green light, and on Aug. 15 in that time zone word finally came across the ship’s PA system of President Harry S Truman announcing Japan’s surrender.
The LST remained in the area with 250 Allied war ships as Emperor Hirohito’s Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and Gen.Yoshijiro Umezuc signed surrender papers inside the USS Missouri before Supreme Commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur on Sept. 2, 1945 in Tokyo Bay.
Leslie Flato was among 50 people taken aboard a hospital ship for transport from the South Pacific toward San Francisco.
With Flato stationed at the ship’s sole gun port, a Japanese sub surfaced and he swung the cannon around and fired, eventually sinking the sub, but not before getting his leg blown off.
The war ended during the nearly four years he spent recuperating in a hospital, undergoing experimental surgical procedures that were precursors to today’s treatments.
Retired USAF Lt. Gen. Bud O’Connor was at what is now Edwards Air Force Base, a B-24 training base, having flown 50 B-24 combat missions over Germany and Austria.
“I’m a religious man, so when I heard, I said, ‘Thank God, it’s over. No more of us killed.’
Harry Truman was an idol of mine. A brave man. He made the right decision. It ended the war and saved a lot of lives.”
Born in Ireland, Michael Francis McGuire served in the Army 87th Infantry Division under Gen. George S. “Blood and Guts” Patton and his Third Army. The injured Battle of the Bulge veteran was in Germany assigned to the Second French Colonial Army of officers over a rag-tag bunch of toughs from North African countries when he heard the news of Japan’s surrender.
Because his job was long-distance telephone communications courtesy of his sole high school French class, he was the first to hear and relay the news.
“We breathed a sigh of relief, but there was no real celebration. The French didn’t even acknowledge it or say a word about it other than that perhaps they would be going home. The Algerians and the Tunisians didn’t want to go home, I don’t think. Me and the rest of my seven-member U.S. crew were happy, but mostly we sat around wondering when the hell we were gonna get out, and what were we gonna do when we got out. Turns out I was in a job that wouldn’t let me get out in a hurry.” He helped establish an American town in Germany.
Ruth P. Sheridan was a few weeks shy of her 18th birthday and already teaching first- and second-graders when she heard the news.
She was tapped to teach American children of U.S. soldiers establishing order in occupied Germany.
She met her husband and was the woman behind the man who became a two-star general. Their two sons live locally.
Lou Dorsey was known as the Morse Code Kid until he became a radioman for the Navy. He was 20 years old when his ship, a troop carrier, pulled in to Pearl Harbor.
“The day we landed, we heard guns and whistles and sirens. The war had just ended. They told us not to go downtown and it’s a good thing we didn’t. Five kids got killed the day after the war was over. The town was full of drunks and drugs, but we were smart and went to get a big banana split. It was crazy.”