Surrender of Japan in WWII

Airdate: November 8

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Louis Mazé.

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the first use of a nuclear weapon in war. Two days later the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded the next day, August 9, the same day the US dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Collectively, these events brought an end to WWII.

Robert Packard, popular Baylor physics professor, served in army intelligence in Hawaii during the Second World War. He explains how they intercepted messages:

"We studied Japanese code so we could copy. The Japanese had very poor equipment, so what they would do is they'd send V's, ‘di-di-di-dah, di-di-di-dah,' for you to tune your circuit. I'm talking about Japanese receivers would set them up, but, of course, we'd pick them up. And what we'd do is just wait because when they got ready to send a signal, they'd send in International Morse Code, A-H-R, ‘di-dah, di-di-di-dit, di-dah-dit.' That meant 'message to follow.' Then it'd be in Japanese numbers or code in five-letter blocks. But the Americans had broken the Japanese—well, really, they captured a—a code and had worked it out so we could do it. But we didn't do the interpretation of the Japanese. We copied it in Japanese. But we had Nisei who would translate it."

Interviewer: "Oh, I see."

He recalls welcome information his group handled:

"We copied the surrender message. The Japanese actually sent the surrender message—I'm—my birthday is the thirteenth of August—on the twelfth they surrendered. Now, you won't find that's the correct date, but they surrendered. We sent it, but they didn't announce it until the fourteenth. But, of course, it's secret and we can't say anything."

He remembers the reaction to the news once it was made public:

"There was so much celebration, I stayed in. I didn't even go in to Honolulu, knowing that it would probably be very unsafe. They might be firing guns. That's what you could hear all night was people firing from guns—of course, in the air, but still it's scary because they didn't have blanks."

To the west of Hawaii on Saipan, Judge John F. Onion Jr. from San Antonio was training for the invasion of Japan in the weeks leading up to the war's end. He tells how he learned that the invasion was off:

"I can remember one night we heard a low, dull roar. And I personally didn't know what it was. It was in a distance, and it was strange noise. And then pretty soon it got a little louder noise. It sounded like—at first like some machine, and maybe the machine was coming this way. But then you said, No, it's—it's too loud. And it just started roaring and roaring. And finally, we were suddenly aware that it was someplace—somebody else on the island yelling and screaming. And then about that time, somebody rushed in and said, ‘The Japanese have surrendered.' Well, we started yelling, too. It was quite a moment to send shivers down your spine, to think that the war was over."

On Aug. 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito's pre-recorded "Jewel Voice Broadcast" announced to the people of Japan that the government had agreed to the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, which demanded Japan's unconditional surrender. The country soon after entered a phase of Allied occupation.

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