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At History’s Elbow

Relief reigns after Japanese surrender aboard USS Missouri

With the war in Europe over after the Nazi surrender in May 1945, Allied forces were able to concentrate on defeating the Japanese in the Pacific theater. Those efforts reached fruition on Sept. 2, 1945, when Japan’s surrender was officially signed aboard the USS Missouri. The event signaled the conclusion of World War II.

Recently I traveled to New Orleans with my children, Susan Janssen Kah, Benno “Chip” Janssen III and Roger Patton Janssen, to donate the scrapbook of my time on the USS Missouri to the World War II Museum.

Witnessing the surrender of the Japanese to the Allied forces on Sept. 2, 1945, was one of the most memorable days of my life. I was fortunate to have been assigned to the USS Missouri after completing Naval ROTC at UVA in 1943, the same year that I received a degree in engineering.

Benno Janssen Jr. (Engr '43)

I was first assigned to Newport, R.I. After a brief time in Rhode Island, I was sent to Brooklyn Naval Yard, where the Iowa Class Battleship USS Missouri was being commissioned. I am what is known as a “Plank Member.” That means that I was assigned to the ship when it was commissioned. President Truman’s daughter, Margaret, christened the ship on June 11, 1944.

That same day we left New York and sailed to Trinidad and Tobago for a trial run before returning to New York to be supplied for the Pacific duty. The Missouri traveled through the Panama Canal. The Missouri was a large ship—887 feet long with a beam of 108 feet. Each lock on the Panama Canal was 1,000 feet by 110 feet—needless to say, a tight fit!

We then made our way to Pearl Harbor in time for Christmas Eve 1944. The Missouri was actively involved in the war in the Pacific. Fortunately, Japanese kamikaze pilots only attacked the Missouri once. A plane hit the back starboard side of the ship. The plane’s engine got stuck on one of the ship’s gun barrels, and the pilot was thrown onto the ship’s deck.

On Aug. 29, 1945, the Missouri sailed into Tokyo Bay. Silhouetted against a backdrop of Mount Fujiyama, preparations had begun for the formal and unconditional surrender of the Japanese to the Allied forces. On the morning of Sept. 2, the junior officers were asked to be escorts of the Allied force dignitaries. We wore gray uniforms with black armbands that were embroidered with a large white “E.” We were not preassigned to any particular person. I was fortunate to escort Gen. Jonathan Mayhew Wainright IV, who had been held as a prisoner of war in Corregidor for four years. He had been nicknamed “Skinny” Wainright.

After we escorted our dignitaries to their place on the bow, we were supposed to exit the area and join the other junior officers above decks in the viewing areas. Realizing that this was an event of great historical significance, I didn’t exit the deck, however, and instead found a place in the sea of khaki. I had a front row seat to history!

The card signifying attendance at the surrender was signed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers; Gen. Chester Nimitz, Fleet Admiral of the U.S. Navy; Admiral William “Bull” Halsey (who studied medicine at UVA from 1899 to 1900), U.S. Navy Commander; and Capt. Stuart Murray, Commanding Officer.

There was a general feeling of relief after the Japanese signed the treaty without incident—no one really trusted the Japanese military. Everyone who was aboard the Missouri for the historic signing received a card that stated that we were there. The day after the signing, we began to make preparations to return to New York. The Missouri again traveled through the Panama Canal on Oct. 13, 1945, before sailing into the Hudson River on Oct. 27. That day was officially recognized as Navy Day.

The USS Missouri made a goodwill trip through the Mediterranean after the war. I was a member of the ship’s basketball team, and we played teams from Greece and Morocco as part of our goodwill effort. In June 1946, I left my service on the Missouri as a lieutenant junior grade.

Benno Janssen now lives in West Palm Beach, Fla.