It is with a heavy heart that I celebrate this Memorial Day with my World War II destroyer escort sailors at the Naval and Military Park on Buffalo’s waterfront. This will be the 38th year these dedicated veterans have paid tribute to our nation’s service members on Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
We DE sailors were once 150,000 strong, serving aboard 565 Destroyer Escorts in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Today they are only a memory, ghost ships of a distant past with the youngest survivors around age 90. The trim and deadly DE was most effective when assembled in convoys with hunter-killer anti-submarine groups.
In the Atlantic and Mediterranean, the DE fought off Nazi U-boats and planes, while escorting troops, fuel, munitions and supplies to England and North Africa for the invasions of Normandy and Southern France.
In the Pacific, the DE participated in surface battles, island invasions and rescue operations while under the threat of kamikaze suicide pilots and deadly mines. Sadly, we suffered heavy losses, with the sinking of 17 DEs.
Locally, we once had some 150 DE veterans who participated in various events aboard the destroyer USS The Sullivans and the cruiser USS Little Rock. However, time has taken its toll. As the years progressed, the surviving old salts couldn’t navigate the ladders and gangplanks, and our ceremonies were transferred to the nearby museum.
Unfortunately, our days are numbered, and although there will be only four surviving members in attendance this Memorial Day, we will proudly gather to honor our fallen heroes of all wars, who sacrificed their lives so that we can enjoy life in a free nation.
Which brings me to a truly painful situation that is a slap in the face to those valiant GIs, many of whom were only in their teens when killed in battle. It is the unthinkable notion to extend to the Japanese people an apology for President Harry Truman’s decision to drop the deadly atomic bombs over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing thousands and ending the war.
Many historians have noted that in doing so, some 1 million lives were spared in both America and Japan because the Japanese never would have surrendered.
Case in point: At the time of the bombings, our Escort Group 35 and hundreds of warships were poised off of Eniwetok and Okinawa preparing for the invasion of Japan. The mission of our DE squadron was to enter Tokyo Bay and deliberately go aground in strategic locations and serve as communication guides for the invading forces.
A month later we were in the second wave of hundreds of ships and thousands of troops to enter Tokyo Bay, not as invaders, but as occupation forces.
At that point our skipper ordered all hands topside. We stood in awe at the hundreds of cannon jutting from both sides of the waterway as far as the eye could see. Captain Parkinson said, “We would have lasted five minutes.”
The late Navy historian Martin Davis, a former DE sailor, told me that Japan would fight to the end, and that it had built underground railroad tunnels and caves with bunkers, hospitals and command posts. It also had rocket-propelled aircraft and suicide battalions of bombers and submarines. He told me, “You would have been sitting ducks in Tokyo Bay.”
Apologize? Hell, no. Thank you, President Truman.