V-J Day remembered by those who served 66 years ago

By Rob McIlvaineSeptember 6, 2011

V-J Day remembered by those who served 65 years ago
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V-J Day remembered by those who served 65 years ago
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V-J Day remembered by those who served 65 years ago
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V-J Day remembered by those who served 65 years ago
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V-J Day remembered by those who served 65 years ago
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WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 2, 2011) -- Sixty-six years ago, World War II ended on what became known as V-J Day, or Victory over Japan Day. The term is applied to both the initial announcement of Japan's surrender, Aug. 14, 1945, and the formal ceremony performed in Tokyo Bay, Japan, aboard the battleship USS Missouri, Sept. 2, 1945.

Of the more than 1,200 survivors of the Army's 88th Infantry Division, about 40 were invited to help commemorate the end of the war at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., Friday, Sept. 2. During the event, veterans of both theaters and those who served on the home front were honored.

Known as the "Blue Devils," a name given them by the German soldiers who were impressed by their fighting ability, they were the first all-draftee division to enter combat in WWII.

Generalmajor Karl-Lothar Schulz, commanding general of the famed 1st Parachute Division and one of only 159 recipients of the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaf and Swords, told his interrogators, "the 88th Division is the best Division we have ever fought against."

A written estimate of enemy unit effectiveness prepared by German intelligence echoed Schulz's sentiments. It rated the 88th, "a very good division with excellent fighting material."

The division spent 344 days in combat and sustained 15,173 killed, wounded or missing, during the period of Feb. 27, 1944 to May 2, 1945.

"This is our 64th reunion," said Tom Hanlon, 88, who came from his home near Pittsburgh, with his wife of 62 years, Eileen.

"I went over to Italy on July 15, 1944, where I worked as an electrician -- that's what I did in the civilian life. I was also in graduate school at Carnegie Tech, for electrical engineering," Hanlon said, adding he was trained as an infantryman but also received special training in intelligence and reconnaissance.

"I saw my share of Germans who were easy to spot in the winter because they wore long coats. When I went on line, our division had 1,400 new replacements. We were green -- my grandmother used to say it's a wonder the cows didn't eat us," Hanlon said, smiling.

In his keynote speech, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli, said that the 88th Division's efforts during the war were often referred to as the "quiet war."

"[Their efforts were] overshadowed, in many ways, by more publicized events in other parts of Europe and the Pacific front," Chiarelli said. "But every account of the their actions, in Italy, reads like a war novel [with] episodes of intense fighting, heroism, gallantry and crucial victories won."

Friday's commemoration honored the 16 million men and women who served in uniform during WWII on land, at sea, and in the air.

Retired Lt. Gen. Claude "Mick" Kicklighter, chairman of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial, talked about a speech President Franklin Roosevelt gave in 1936.

"To some generations, much is given; to other generations, much is asked; but to this generation of Americans, our World War II generation, they have a rendezvous with destiny," Roosevelt said.

"And they did," said Kicklighter. "They fought the most destructive war in history. An estimated 60 million people lost their lives -- mostly women, children and the elderly -- millions were murdered in concentration camps and death camps and prisoner of war camps. Over 400,000 Americans never came home."

The veteran said it's important for all to remember what was learned during that war.

"We must ensure that we never forget the lessons learned and the united spirit that was so much required on the battlefield and on the home front that preserved our freedom and preserved our way of life," Kicklighter said.

Retired Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Reuben J. McNair, now 85, served Jan. 17, 1944 to 1946. Then he reenlisted. He retired April 1966 and now belongs to a Washington, D.C., Marine Corps chapter that was invited to the commemoration.

"It's an honor to be here," said McNair, who also served in Korea with the 1st Marines.

"But people coming here today should remember that freedom doesn't always come easy," he said.

Terry Shima, currently executive director of the Japanese American Veterans Association, agreed.

"One of the lessons learned from WWII is that freedom is not cheap. We've got to fight for it, and we've got to defend it," Shima said.

Joining the Army in October 1944, Shima served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

"When we got out in August 1946, President Truman reviewed us after we paraded down Constitution Ave.," he said, noting how today is different from the time when he served in that segregated unit.

"I was living on one of the outer islands of Hawaii when I was 16 when Pearl Harbor was attacked," Shima said. "We didn't feel the bombing, but we felt the discrimination, the hatred. [We] had our friends turn their backs to us."

In WWII, the highest rank that could be obtained by a Japanese-American was major, he said. But by the time the Vietnam War came about, Japanese-Americans could hold sensitive war planning positions.

Robert Kline, now 85, was a medic with the 88th Infantry Division and trained at Camp Blanding, Florida. He came to the ceremony a day early with his wife, Ann.

"I was absolutely impressed with this ceremony," Kline said. "A couple of tears dropped when I heard the speeches delivered by the generals."

Kline quit high school and enlisted in the Army when he was 17 and got out Dec. 1, 1946.

"In 1951, I went to Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia. I was a general practitioner and a coroner, and was the physician at Lebanon Valley College for 30 years, and I was also a physician for the Lebanon Valley Correctional Facility, so I enjoyed that, too," he said.

Kline started his military duty in Italy and went north to Naples with the Blue Devils. The division's history, "The Blue Devils in Italy," sums up what these men knew, first hand:

"All the time up in those mountains north of Florence was just borrowed time," the history reads. "The terrain was so rough the Germans figured that no troops in the world could get through the few heavily-defended mountain passes. But the Blue Devils made it, through the passes or over the mountain tops.

"The weather was so bad that the Germans thought no foot-Soldiers or vehicles could possibly operate in the mud and slime. But the Blue Devils walked and rode through the worst of it."

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