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Leonard Owczarzak: World War II

Remembrances of V-J Day: August 14th, 1945

"It took almost a week to convince the six to seven thousand Japanese on Cebu that the war was really over."

Contributed by Leonard M. Owczarzak

In the later part of July, 1945, our unit, the 746th Gun Battalion of the Americal Division, was engaged in patrolling and manning road blocks in the north and north central part of Cebu Island in the Philippines.

The seven to eight thousand Japanese who had survived the initial battle for the island, which began in April, 1945, were engaged in a game of hide and seek, seeking to elude American forces which were attempting to corner or capture them. They were still a potent force capable of extracting high casualties on anyone they came in contact with. Even after the war ended, Japanese servicemen had held high hopes to the very end that their government would come to their rescue and evacuate them from the island.

In the later part of July 1945, we were told by our commanders that we would soon be given amphibious training for the planned invasion of the Japanese homeland. We already had received new tracked vehicles that were to pull our new 120mm anti-aircraft guns that had been delivered to the docks of Cebu City.

Our original unit had been at Pearl Harbor and had experienced the Japanese attack. The majority of us now had almost 30 months of overseas duty, and had earned several battlestars in our journey across the South Pacific, the Solomon Islands, and the Philippines. We were aware of the heavy bombings of Japan by the B-29's, and that we were approaching the final phases of the struggle, but were completely unaware of the atom bomb, what it was, or what it could do.

The day the Japanese announced their surrender, we first heard ships in Cebu City harbor firing their guns and sending rockets up into the evening sky. When all the local churches started to ring their bells, we then knew something important was happening. Our first sergeant went through our area announcing that the Japanese had accepted the surrender terms.

Our first reaction was overwhelming joy at the thought of not having to be involved in the invasion of Japan and the knowledge of our being able to return to our loved ones, after serving our country thousands of miles form our homes for almost two and a half years.

It took almost a week to convince the six to seven thousand Japanese on Cebu that the war was really over. They had to be provided with radio communication to hear their Emperor declare it was so.

There were some very delicate arrangements that had to be made by the commanding general of the Americal Division to specify where the surrendering Japanese troops were to appear and bring along their weapons.

When this was arranged, the Americal Division left the island for occupation duty of Japan. A section of our unit was given the task of collecting the weapons the surrendering Japanese troops were bringing in, then searching the troops for any hidden weapons, papers, money, etc., after which they were loaded on trucks for transportation to the base's P.O.W. camp, several miles south of Cebu City.

Battery D was given the assignment of running the P.O.W. camp. Newly arriving Japanese prisoners were given the opportunity of showering, given clean clothing, assigned a tent, and issued cots and blankets. Medical treatment was also provided.

They were then given a hot meal, prepared by their own cooks. They were given orientation talks as to what the camp rules were and what their duties would be. They were not required to work, but could volunteer to work loading ships at the Cebu City docks, for which they would be paid a small salary. They were advised as to when they might be expected to return to their homes in Japan.

The camp usually had a population of nearly 2,000 to 2,500 prisoners at a time. We never experienced any problems with the prisoners. No one tried to escape; they seemed to be very happy that the war was over and that they were going home. We had one incident where a Japanese officer was attempting to force fellow prisoners to perform close order military drill, but our commanding officer reminded him that the war was over and only physical exercises, "calisthenics," would be allowed.

While on duty as Corporal of the Guard one day, I had a very interesting experience with one of the Japanese officers. As I was checking the barbed wire fencing around the camp, an officer came out of his nearby tent and motioned to me that he wanted to talk. I cautiously approached the fence near to where he was standing and asked him what he wanted. To my surprise he answered in perfect English, "Could I have a cigarette?" I said yes, but told him I would give him a whole pack for his naval belt buckle that he was wearing. He agreed and the exchange was made; another souvenir for my collection. When I questioned him about his excellent English, he said he had studied at U.C.L.A. in California during the early 1940s. He returned home in early 1941 to visit his parents in Tokyo. A few days after returning home, there was a knock at his door. Several Japanese officers standing there advised him that because of his studies in the United States and his knowledge of English, the Emperor desired his services. The prisoner further explained that there was no choice about accepting, especially when one officer made a gesture of drawing a knife across his throat if he refused!

He then questioned me about where our group had been located while the fighting was still in progress on Cebu Island. I described our road block position near a bridge in the very northernmost part of the island. To my surprise he took a stick and, in the dust at his feet, drew an exact sketch of our road block position, our patrol activities and even the number of G.I.'s at the location. When I asked him how he could possibly know all of this, he coolly remarked, "We were dug in on the next ridge of hills, watching you!" I then inquired why they hadn't attacked or even fired on us. He said, "We knew we were outnumbered, and if we had fired on you, we would have divulged our position. We still had hopes of our government sending reinforcements or evacuating us."

When most of the Japanese troops had been processed for their return home, our group was loaded aboard L.S.T. ships and taken to Tacloban, Leyte. We disposed of all of our equipment there and were processed for our return to the U.S.

On December 17, 1945, we boarded the U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson for our trip back to the Golden Gate and San Francisco. A very happy group of G.I.'s arrived in San Francisco on January 2, 1946, ready and willing to resume civilian life again, thanking God again and again for allowing us to arrive home "safe and sound."

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