75th Anniversary of Operation Crossroads
Prologue: August 1945
I’ll never forget the first time I heard the words: atomic bomb.
It was the evening of 9 August 1945. I was a Gunner’s Mate Second Class, U.S. Navy, stationed at the Naval Station Subic Bay in the Philippines. Hundreds of thousands of military personnel were there staging for Operation DOWNFALL, the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands, planned for later that year or 1946.
On this particular night, I was at the outdoor theater on base, along with hundreds of other bluejackets, watching Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo with a great cast… Van Johnson, Robert Walker, Don DeFore, Spencer Tracy, Robert Mitchum, and others.
Suddenly the base commander’s voice broke in over the PA system:
“Now hear this! Now hear this! The Twentieth Air Force dropped two atomic bombs on Japan… one, three days ago on 6 August over Hiroshima; the other, today on Nagasaki. This could shorten the war by a year. (Pause) Enjoy your movie, men.”
Cheering broke out. Everyone talking at once. I remember thinking, atomic bomb? What was the atomic bomb? Would it change the plans for Operation Downfall?
Three weeks later, 2 September, a radio report came over the PA. “Japan surrenders! The Japanese Domei News Agency announced on 14 August Emperor Hirohito and Prime Minister Suzuki accepted the Allies’ terms of unconditional surrender. Today they signed the Instrument of Surrender on the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) in Tokyo Bay.”
The war was over! Operation Foghorns, sirens, and every other noisemaking device were put to use. Work stopped. Strangers hugged each other. Sailors and soldiers raced to the canteen for beer. Operation Downfall was cancelled.
Little did I know then, this atomic bomb – new to me and millions of others – would figure prominently in my life in the not-so-far future.
Excerpted from Operation Crossroads, Lest We Forget! An Eyewitness Account, Bikini Atomic Bomb Tests 1946 by William L. McGee with Sandra V. McGee. Sign up for Sandra’s Occasional Newsletter to receive all the posts in your inbox.