At 2:00 AM on 6-AUGUST 1945, a B-29 named Enola Gay lifted off Tinian Island in the Mariana Islands bound for the Japanese homeland.   At 8:15 AM the first atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima.  On 9-AUGUST a second atomic bomb detonated over Nagasaki. Together, the aerial bombings killed between 130,000 and 225,000 people, most of whom were civilians. Just days before, the Allies called for the unconditional surrender of the Imperial Japanese armed forces in the Potsdam Declaration on 26-JULY 1945, or face “prompt and utter destruction.” The Japanese government ignored the ultimatum.  Few people remember, the incendiary fire-bombing of Japan on 9–10 MAR 1945, was the single most destructive bombing raid in human history and killed about the same number.

The war in the Pacific was costly for both sides. Years of island-hopping fighting brought the U.S. armed forces closer and closer to Japan.  The Japanese were vicious fighters. The last major battle, the fight for Okinawa, lasted almost three months and took more than 100,000 Japanese and American lives.  After nearly 12 weeks of fighting, the United States secured the island on June 21 at a cost of nearly 50,000 American casualties; one out of three participants were wounded or killed.  Japanese casualties were staggering, with approximately 90,000 defending troops and at least 100,000 civilians killed.

The American military considered Okinawa a dress rehearsal for the invasion of the Japanese home islands. Truman and his military advisers assumed that a ground invasion would “be opposed not only by the available organized military forces of the Empire, but also by a fanatically hostile population.”   Truman’s memoirs say that General George C. Marshall had told him an invasion of Japan “would cost at a minimum one quarter of a million casualties, and might cost as much as a million, on the American side alone, with an equal number of the enemy.” The Allies desperately wanted to avoid invading Japan.  Meanwhile back at home, many of the veterans on leave from the European theater prayed for a swift end and they wouldn’t be redeployed to the Pacific.

The Japanese agreed to surrender on 15-AUG 1945.  Following the formal surrender on 2-SEPT 1945, Americans overwhelmingly supported the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  If you were Truman, what would you have done?   This remains the only use of nuclear weapons in an armed conflict.  We pray for those lost their lives and hope we’ll never see the bomb used again.

Please contact the St. Charles County Veterans Museum Oral History project at sccvetsmuseum@gmail.com or call 636-294-2657 for more information and lets’ talk. We want to hear from you because we know…Every Veteran has a story.