WWII U.S. veterans recount victory over Japan

Updated 2017-08-15 10:38:00 Xinhua

On the island of Guam, Aug. 15, 1945, Dick Whitaker, a member of the Sixth Marine Division of the United States Marine Corps, learned the news of the Japanese surrender.

The end of WWII was also the end of China's war against Japanese aggression.

"I was training for the invasion of Japan scheduled for November 1945, in which I would very likely have been killed," he said. "The victory saved my life and properly avenged Pearl Harbor."

On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, an American naval base in Hawaii, killing thousands of American military personnel and civilians.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt described it as "a date which will live in infamy," and the United States declared war on Japan the following day.

Xinhua has interviewed U.S. veterans and their families over phone or email, who shared their memories of the victory and their hopes for the future.

THE BATTLE OF OKINAWA

"When I turned 16, I began to think about the possibility of serving in the military," Whitaker, now 91, recalled.

Upon graduation in 1942 and 1943, several of Whitaker's friends joined the military. Whitaker joined up in the summer of 1944 and landed at Guadalcanal with the Sixth Marine Division just six months later.

"My mission was to win battles, to defeat Japan, and hopefully to survive intact," he said.

"We sailed from Guadalcanal on March 13, 1945 -- my 19th birthday. On April 1, 1945, we landed in Okinawa," Whitaker said.

The Battle of Okinawa lasted 82 days and was one of WWII's fiercest. Whitaker's regiment suffered heavy losses, with 82 percent of his comrades wounded or killed. Last year, "Hacksaw Ridge," a film based on the story of the battle, was a hit with both Chinese and American audiences.

"After 82 days of killing Japanese soldiers, which was very satisfying at the time, I came to feel sorry for them," he told Xinhua.

"They were treated badly by their superiors. They were starving. They were fighting for a lost cause and instructed to kill themselves if defeated ... not much of a plan!" he said.

The Battle of Okinawa left over 90,000 Japanese soldiers dead; only 7,400 were taken prisoner. About 100,000 local civilians lost their lives.

"I weighed about 115 pounds, having lost about 20 pounds on Okinawa," said Whitaker, looking at a photo of himself taken on Guam in June 1945.

After WWII, Whitaker's division was dispatched to Qingdao in east China's Shandong Province to work on repatriating Japanese forces from north China.

"We were there for six months. I will never forget the welcome I received there. The Chinese are fine people," said Whitaker.

"The Japanese soldiers we rounded up and sent back to Japan knew we were marines and would take no crap," Whitaker said. "They were very aware of our reputation and our hatred of them. They were docile and seldom made eye contact."

On a Greyhound bus at 3 a.m. on Memorial Day of 1946, Whitaker arrived in Saugerties, New York, a town just 20 miles from Hyde Park, the hometown of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

"The Memorial Day Parade kicked off at 11:00. I went to the parade with my mom and dad and had my hand shaken a hundred times. It was a great day to get home from a war," said Whitaker.

Before retirement, Whitaker spent 28 years at Kent School in Connecticut as Director of Public Relations, Alumni Secretary and Assistant Secretary to the Board of Trustees.

He now volunteers on the carrier USS Yorktown in South Carolina and speaks at schools and retirement homes.

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