Subic Bay, Philippines, 9 Aug 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 in Subic Bay, the Philippines. Thousands of military personnel were also there staging for Operation DOWNFALL, the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands, planned for later ’45 or in ’46.
On this particular evening, I was at the outdoor theater on base with hundreds of other bluejackets watching Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.
Suddenly the base commander’s voice broke in over the PA system: “Now hear this! Now hear this! The Twentieth Air Force has dropped two atomic bombs on Japan… one on Hiroshima on 6 August, the other on Nagasaki today, 9 August. This could shorten the war by a year. [He paused.] Enjoy your movie, men.”
There were shouts of joy. Strangers hugging. I remember thinking, what was this atomic bomb? What did it mean, if anything, 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 in Tokyo Bay.”
Finally, the war was over! Cheering broke out. Work stopped. Strangers hugged. Sailors and soldiers raced to the canteen for beer.
Foghorns, sirens, and every other noisemaking device were put to use. Fire and salvage tugs pumped hundreds of gallons of water into the air. Other ships broke out fire pumps and small, portable “handy billy” pumps to add more spray to the scene. Small craft and ships cruised in figure eights around the Bay.
Everyone was celebrating the end of fighting. And Operation Downfall was cancelled.
Little did I know, 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.