My almost always trusty VFW calendar that lists significant military events the U.S. has participated in since 1775 had two entries for today.
One was the subject of today’s column, the unconditional surrender of Japan on Aug. 15, 1945, and the beginning of Operation Dragoon on the same date, but a year earlier in 1944. Operation Dragoon is the subject of Saturday’s column.
Visitors to the National WW I Museum in Kansas City are invariably surprised to find that during WW I Japan was on the side of “the good guys,” aka the Allies, along with the United States, France, Britain, and a host of other countries.
A question from almost every tour group is “Why did Japan change to the other side in WW II?” The answer is varied and complex and includes international relations, politics, money, territory, and about any other reason one can think of.
Japan formed an “axis” with Germany and Italy prior to WW II, and when the war began the three were known as the Axis Powers. As all students of military history are aware, it was Japan that brought the U.S. into WW II by its sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.
Due to the axis alliance, we also became at war with Germany and Italy. The Big War was on, and lasted until today, but 67 years ago.
Two veterans with a local tie were quite happy 67 years ago when they heard the news. Ben Lohman, a Lansing native, had been a Marine stationed in China until November 1941 when his unit was moved to “the safety of the Philippines.” He became one of the thousands of American fighting men who were surrendered to the Japanese forces. He then spent 44 months as a prisoner in the Philippines and Japan, and today is the longest serving ex-POW in the greater Kansas City area.
He lives in Fairway and, at 93, can’t drive anymore but can still proudly wear his Marine Corps class A uniform he wore home in 1945. Those who haven’t met him can do so at the Veterans Salute inSmithville, Mo., on Oct. 20. More about that in future columns.
At last year’s Veterans Day parade a car passed by with a sign stating “Oldest veteran in Leavenworth County,” or words to that effect. I didn’t see his name on the car, but it didn’t take much digging to identify him as Larry Land of rural Kickapoo, north of Leavenworth.
He was an Army medic, 30 years old, with the 694th Field Artillery Battalion that served in the Pacific. His unit was near Manila, capital of the Philippines, when the war ended. He proudly stated he turned 97 in June, creeping toward that century mark.
Allies in WW I, the enemy in WW II, today Japan is our strongest ally in the Pacific. The first post-war Japanese student came to CGSC in the mid-1950s, retired a major general, and returned for a visit to his “Leavenworth roots” about 15 years ago.
The Japanese liaison to the Combined Arms Center is one of 11 liaison officers at the fort for two or three years, and Japanese CGSC graduates are in the International Officer Hall of Fame as having been promoted to the top position in the Ground Self-Defense Force.
The Japanese liaison officer hosts an annual national day in September which I’ve been proud to attend for many years, although I was never stationed in Japan. Since 1978 I’ve gotten to know all the liaison officers and many of the students, and am always pleased to meet those who return for a visit.
So today is an important anniversary in military history as the biggest war finally ended, and POW Lohman, medic Land, and the other servicemen from this area could finally return to Leavenworth County. Hope to see many of them at the Veterans Salute, so they can be saluted.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.