HONOLULU (AP) — Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japanese military leaders climbed aboard the battleship, packed with U.S. sailors eager to see the end of World War II.
On Wednesday, the 75th anniversary of the surrender, some of those same men who served the United States will not be able to return to the Missouri in Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor because of the world’s new war against the coronavirus.
The commemoration initially was supposed to be a blockbuster event with parades through Waikiki, movie premieres, galas and thousands of people gathered to honor the veterans, some who may be marking the historic milestone for the last time.
Now, only about 50 people will be on the ship that hosted the surrender in 1945, all local veterans and government officials. Defense Secretary Mark Esper will give the keynote address.
Organizers limited the ceremony less than two weeks before the anniversary because of a surge in coronavirus cases in Hawaii and other parts of the nation. That leaves dozens of veterans who are in their 90s or beyond preparing for what could be their final salute from afar.
Jerry Pedersen, 95, was a U.S. Marine on the deck of the Missouri witnessing the end of World War II. But on the 75th anniversary, Pedersen and his surviving comrades who live on the mainland will be watching a livestream of the event from their homes instead of seeing it in person on the ship as they had planned.
“Well, I was very disappointed, yes. I was hoping to maybe see a friend or two,” he said. “I think we’re going to go ahead and have a little thing for ourselves here, and I just want to share with at least my family and a couple of other folks some of the feelings that I was going to express when I got there.”
Those feelings are complicated, said Pedersen, who dedicated his life to peace after the war ended.
“War must not happen again,” he said, recalling the words uttered by Gen. Douglas MacArthur on the day the Japanese surrendered. But “we’re still oscillating on many of the things that are necessary to bring us peace.”
The Associated Press will join Pedersen and his family Wednesday at their home in California as they watch the livestream of the ceremony.
The USS Missouri battleship on August 5, 2016 in Pearl Harbor. Site of the treaty signing ending WWII between the US and Japan, is now berthed in Pearl Harbor.
The U.S. entered the war after Japanese warplanes attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“The clouds of war were gathering all around the United States, and the world for that matter,” said Daniel Martinez, Pearl Harbor National Memorial chief historian. “The United States had claimed neutrality. And that neutrality ended on the morning of December 7th, when Japanese forces … launched an all-out assault on the island of Oahu.”
The result was thousands of dead and wounded, about half of which died on the USS Arizona, which still sits submerged in Pearl Harbor next to the USS Missouri Memorial, a floating museum.
Four years later, after massive losses on both sides that included the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese indicated they would surrender on Aug. 15, then met with Allied forces aboard the Missouri on Sept. 2 to sign the Instrument of Surrender.
“The jubilation of the country was convulsive,” Martinez said. “Pictures that you see in Manhattan, pictures here in Honolulu, which had an incredible celebration of peace. Young men and young women knowing they would not be risking their lives out there in that war. … And the euphoria here went on for days.”