Veterans mark 75th anniversary of V-J Day

Tony resident Elmer Wisherd speaks during a past Rusk County Historical Society Museum event honoring World War II veterans. 

Victory over Japan Day, marks the end of World War II, one of the deadliest and most destructive wars in history. 

The term V-J Day has been applied to both of the days on which the initial announcement of Japan’s surrender was made on Aug. 15, 1945, in Japan, and because of time zone differences, on Aug. 14, 1945, when it was announced in the United States and the rest of the Americas and Eastern Pacific Islands as well as to Sept. 2, 1945, when the surrender document was signed, officially ending World War II.

“I have just received a note from the Japanese government... I deem this reply a full acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration, which specifies the unconditional surrender of Japan,” said President Harry S. Truman at the time.

President Truman announced the unconditional surrender of Japan to reporters gathered at the White House at 7 p.m. on Aug. 14, 1945. When informed that Japan had surrendered unconditionally, war-weary citizens around the world erupted in celebration.

Japanese Emperor Hirohito broadcast the surrender to the Japanese people on Radio Tokyo on Aug. 15, 1945.

“This day is a new beginning in the history of freedom on this earth. Our global victory has come from the courage and stamina and spirit of free men and women united in determination to fight,” President Truman said.

This year, on Sept. 2,  it will be 75 years since Victory over Japan in 1945.

On. Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur signed the Instrument of Surrender for the United Nations, and Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz signed for the United States.

While China and Taiwan recognize Sept. 2 as V-J Day, the Philippines mark Sept. 3 as V-J Day, because on that date, Japanese Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, military governor of Japan to the Philippines, surrendered.

Army Col. Bernard Thielen presented the surrender document and a second imperial rescript to President Truman on Sept. 7, 1945, in a White House ceremony.

Japan entered World War II in September 1940. It drew the U.S. into the war at the end of 1941, after attacking its naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Victory in Europe (V-E) Day took place on May 8, 1945, following Germany’s surrender, but the war continued in the Asia-Pacific region for months.

Following the end of the fighting in Europe, the Allies told Japan to surrender on July 26, 1945, but the deadline passed without them doing this.

The war was brought to an end shortly after the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs over the Japan cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, on Aug. 6 and 9.

On Aug. 15, 1945, Japanese Emperor Hirohito was heard on the radio for the first time and announced an end to the fighting. The country’s official surrender was signed on Sept. 2 that same year.

By the end of the war more than 100,000 Americans and 71,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers, including more than 12,000 prisoners of war, had died in the Pacific. Millions more died during the Japanese occupation of China and South Korea.

After the 1941 attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor, Rusk County native Elmer Wisherd begged his mother for permission to enlist. At that time, his brother, Robert, already was serving in the military, stationed in Greenland as a truck mechanic. Instead of enlisting, he waited for his draft notice to arrive. When it did, he immediately went to Fort Snelling, Minn., entering the military on Sept. 12, 1942.

Wisherd, 99, who now lives in Tony, was a U.S. Army Air Force Troop Carrier Crew Chief during World War II and part of the Normandy Invasion on D-Day, had completed a tour in Europe. On March 17, 1944 Wisherd arrived in England at Balderton Field, where he was assigned to the 439th Troop Carrier Group, 91st Troop Carrier Squadron.

After Victory in Europe in the final year of the war, the Allies were preparing for what was anticipated to be a very costly invasion of the Japanese mainland. Declared essential to the war effort, the 91st Troop Carrier Squadron was also preparing to be sent to the fighting in the south Pacific.

While Wisherd was on a 30-day leave in the U.S., atomic bombs were dropped in Japan — Aug. 6 on Hiroshima and Aug. 9 on Nagasaki. Japan announced its surrender to the Allies on Aug. 15, six days after the bombing of Nagasaki 

“I was assigned to Santa Anna, California, and from Santa Anna you went to the South Pacific,” Wisherd said. “The dropping of the bomb saved many more Japanese lives and many more American lives than if we had invaded Japan.”

On Sept. 2, the Japanese government signed the instrument of surrender, effectively ending WW II.

For their honor

One year exactly to the day of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, a sniper shot nearly took the life of a young World War II soldier from Rusk County. Clarence Stine, now 99, has carried the scars from that nighttime shot through the New Guinea jungle for more than seven decades. The bullet shattered his face, but never his spirit. Not long after being honorably discharged from the service and upon returning home, he joined the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post in 1945. He served for a time as VFW post commander in Ladysmith. He and other past service men and women devotedly take part in special ceremonies commemorating Memorial Day, Veterans Day and other special observances honoring those who served and those who paid the ultimate sacriice in service for their country. Stine was nearly among the latter when he was shot on Dec. 7, 1942.

He received a bronze star medal for his meritorious service in the U.S. Army during World War II. A Purple Heart for injuries suffered when a sniper bullet struck Stine, shattering his face and blinding him in one eye one year to the day after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, is among many other medals and decorations Stine received.

Stine was placed on a stretcher and rushed to a field hospital where doctors treated his wounds before he was flown to a hospital in Australia. 

“They patched me up and took me back to Australia. From there it wasn’t long before I was ambulatory,” said Stine in a 2016 interview with the Ladysmith News. “I was all wrapped up. I was all under bandages so I couldn’t see anything.” 

He was transported back to the U.S. with a few dozen other wounded ambulatory service men on a Liberty Class ship, sailing through the Panama Canal and picking up more troops before docking in New York, N.Y.  He was among the first soldiers returning from the Pacific Theater. 

“We were just off the ship and glad to be home. When we come into New York you go by the Statue of Liberty, and if I could have reached out I would have kissed her,” Stine said.

 He was honorably discharged in December 1944, two years after being shot and slightly more than three years after being drafted.

 He received the following medals and decorations: Purple Heart for wounds received as a result of hostile actions on Dec. 7, 1942; Presidential Unit Citation, awarded to the 126th Infantry Regiment for service from June 23, 1942 to Jan. 23, 1943; American Defense Service Medal for active duty from Sept. 8, 1939 to Dec. 7, 1941; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one Bronze Service Star for service in one named campaign; World War II Victory Medal; Honorable Service Lapel Button-World War II; and Philippine Defense Ribbon with one Bronze Service Star. 

Joseph Nawrocki helped pilots flying in the Normandy Invasion find their way back.

 The Ladysmith man handed pilots silk maps of Germany in case they were shot down, crashed or forced to land in hostile enemy territory during some of the fiercest fighting of World War II. 

Nawrocki, now 93, served three years with the Air Force 442nd Troop Carrier Group, beginning in 1943. They carried the airborne infantry on D-Day. Each plane that went out towed two additional gliders behind.

In the early hours of June 6, 1944, the 442nd Troop Carrier Group launched 45 C-47 Skytrain transports, laden with 700 members of the 82nd Airborne’s 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, destined for the French countryside just northwest of the small town of St. Mere Eglise.

“At that particular time, everybody was on pins and needles because nobody knew how well they were going to make out when we dropped them because you never know what is going to happen at the other end. We all had our fingers crossed, Nawrocki said in a 2015 interview for the Ladysmith News.

 “The point was if they were able to land those planes and those gliders they would all be prepared with a map of Germany so if there was a possibility they could find their way back and get back home again. I don’t know how many of them made it. I never did find out,” Nawrocki said.

 In the days leading up to the invasion, all the U.S. planes were painted the same color so the troops could easily tell if a plane was the enemy or not, according to Nawrocki. The Air Force corporal was part of the supply ground crew handing out maps and other necessary equipment to pilots.

 A Sheldon area man played a major role in World War II, first training crews that armed planes with bombs before finally being sent overseas to load bombs and machine gun artillery on aircraft headed into battle.

Peter Debold, who lived his whole life in the town of McKinley in Taylor County, was drafted at the age of 21, just a few months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He served in the U.S. Army Air Force from 1942-46 as an airplane armorer in the Pacific Theater. He helped load, fuse and arm bombs aboard planes headed for combat. There were fragmenting bombs, general purpose bombs, incendiary napalm bombs and armor piercing bombs.

Debold said for a 2015 interview in the Ladysmith News, the type of bombs loaded onto planes depended on the mission, describing how the 22-pound fragmenting bombs were like giant hand grenades floating down on the enemy with parachutes. Those were used to attack enemy personnel and air bases, he said. 

Was it a dangerous assignment?

“Oh yeah,” said Debold. “They each had a mushroom fuse.”

 He served in the 383rd Bombardment Group that went through two incarnations during WWII, first as a training unit and then as a B-29 unit in the Eighth Air Force in the Pacific. The group was activated on Nov. 3, 1942 and was equipped with both the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator. It was used as an operational training unit, before becoming a replacement training unit later in the war. The group was inactivated on April 1, 1944. It was reactivated on Aug. 28, 1944 and equipped with the B-29. It was assigned to the Second Air Force while in training, but was then one of the units allocated to the Eighth Air Force when that organization began to move from Europe to the Pacific

“We were flying the planes to train the air crews for their gunning and bombing practice. When we had one trained the next one would be there waiting,” Debold said. “Three eight hour shifts. We worked around the clock. Twenty-four hours per day and 365 days per year. We were loading bombs, arming bombs and machine guns.”

Later in the war he was assigned to the South Pacific Theater, serving with the 38th Medium Bombardment Group, 71st Bomb Squadron “Wolfpack” in New Guinea and Philippines. He recounts the 10,000 mile ocean voyage that took 30 days followed by weeks of trying to catch a series of flights to reach Lingayen Airfield, Luzon, Philippines. The trip included a layover in Manila.

“That night we spent in Manila everything was under fire from snipers. They told us, after dark, don’t go out on the streets. Anything that moves gets shot,” Debold said. “All that night while I was there in Manila, that old artillery never stopped. It was pounding all night.”

Debold, who died in 2018, said he was not bothered by the hazardous duties assigned to his squadron.

“We delivered all the dangerous stuff. When we were out there loading bombs and arming them, the mechanics, they would leave,” Debold said. “It didn’t bother me a bit. The only thing is you better be on the ball all of the time. If you made one mistake, you probably wouldn’t be around to make another one.”

Rusk County Veterans Services Officer Erik Stoker cited the veterans as members of the “Greatest Generation.” This refers to the generation of Americans that came of age both enduring the Great Depression and bore the battle of World War II. 

“I would wager all of us knew, or know, someone of this generation.  That someone may have even endured and bears the battle scars of WWII,” Stoker said. “They truly are the Greatest Generation and have an earned respect that I’m not sure can ever be repaid.”

Wisherd, who was awarded invasion medals for his service at Normandy, Southern France, Holland, Bridgehead and Bastogne. He was honorably discharged on Sept. 16, 1945.  More than 70 years later, his eyes still tear up when recollecting his military service in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“I can’t tell you how lucky I am and how grateful I feel for what I did,” Wisherd said. “I was lucky, and happy to get out.”

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