Column By John Murray
September 2nd is a big day in history, and a special day in the Murray Family. 77 years ago, on September 2nd, 1945, the Japanese signed a peace treaty onboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, ending WWII.
My grandfather, Stuart S. Murray, was the captain of the USS Missouri that day, and was the host of one of the significant moments in world history.
Captain Stuart S. Murray hosted the historic surrender ceremony 77 years ago.
My grandfather used to puff on his pipe and tell his eight grandsons what it was like that day in Japan. He spoke with a drawl he picked up from his childhood in Texas and Oklahoma, and he painted word pictures for us, often pausing in mid-sentence to take another puff on his pipe.
He was an enormous man, 6’6″, and weighed 240 pounds, and everyone called him “Sunshine”. With the war concluding (expedited by two nuclear bombs being dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima), a question loomed about the impending surrender ceremony – where would it be?
For safety reasons it was decided to conduct the ceremony onboard a US navy ship, but which one? Higher ups in Washington D.C. wrangled with the question, and after much waffling and indecision, President Harry S. Truman intervened and declared the surrender would take place onboard the USS Missouri, not coincidently named after Truman’s home state.
Truman had been present at the commissioning of the battleship a few years before when his daughter, Margaret, had shattered the champagne bottle across its hull. Deciding where the surrender would take place might have been the easiest decision of the Truman presidency.
The decision was made, and articles appeared in newspaper around the world, but no one told my grandfather. He first learned about it when my grandmother sent him newspaper clippings of the big announcement.
My grandfather loved to tell us about the fear and uncertainty he felt steering the USS Missouri past enemy guns, around minefields and into the heart of Japan. His greatest fear was a possible attack from a diehard Japanese soldier refusing to surrender – a kamikaze pilot diving at the battleship from above, or a two-man submarine blasting the Missouri from below.
The air of uncertainty heightened the tension for the historic event and the crew maned anti-aircraft guns throughout the ceremony.
The USS Missouri was the most powerful battleship in American history.
On the morning of September 2, 1945, General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Allied Commander, came by plane, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz came by destroyer, and arrangements were made for foreign dignitaries from China, Australia, Russia, Canada, France, New Zealand, and the Netherlands to board the battleship. Japan sent a delegation of 11 headed up by Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, who added extra drama to the ceremony because he had a wooden leg from a bomb explosion in 1932.
In several pre-ceremony drills my grandfather had a sailor tie a wooden broom stick around his leg and measured the time it would take Shigemitsu (pictured in cover photograph) to board the Missouri and make his way up a small flight of stairs to the surrender deck. Then my grandfather doubled that time because he figured the Japanese dignitary would be the least-motivated participant at the surrender, and he turned out to be right.
One story my grandfather used to get a chuckle out of telling involved the actual table the surrender was signed on. He said the British wanted to be involved in planning the ceremony and sent over a beautiful mahogany table and chair to be used for the signing.
The official peace documents didn’t arrive until minutes before the surrender and they turned out to be too big for the mahogany table. With time running out my grandfather grabbed a couple of sailors, went down to the crews’ dining hall, and confiscated a mess table. In an attempt to cover the table’s ordinariness my grandfather snagged a green tablecloth, (complete with cigar burns and coffee stains), and managed to get everything in position seconds before the formal ceremony began.
Supreme Allied Commander General Douglas MacArthur signed the surrender documents atop a sailor’s mess table covered with a coffee and cigar stained green tablecloth.
It was a wild and exhilarating day for grandfather, but one of my favorite stories about his command of the most powerful battleship in American history, occurred seven weeks later in New York Harbor.
After the peace ceremony onboard the ship, the Missouri was ordered back to Pearl Harbor to pick up Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, deliver him to Virginia, and then proceed up to New York City for a massive Navy Day celebration on October 27th.
President Harry S. Truman made his way up from Washington D.C. to watch the Navy Day event onboard the USS Missouri.
All navy ships were “dry”, and not allowed to store any alcohol onboard. President Truman had other plans that day. When he arrived on the Missouri, he officially declared the ship to be “wet”, and immediately asked to go to my grandfather’s stateroom for a drink.
Back at the stateroom a small group of men sat around and drank a bottle of Kentucky bourbon whiskey with the President of the United States. This photograph captures the small entourage as they emerged from my grandfather’s stateroom. President Truman (in the middle) is absolutely beaming. My grandfather, on the right, looks slightly buzzed.
President Harry Truman, center, and my grandfather, Captain Stuart S. Murray, right, leaving the captain’s stateroom after downing a bottle of Kentucky bourbon in NYC.
It was a wonderful moment, and this picture hangs on a wall in my house above an old wooden desk owned by my grandfather, who went on to become the Inspector General of the Navy and retired as a three-star admiral.
So, here’s to you Granddad, and the millions of brave men and women who helped destroy the German and Japanese dream of world conquest. And here’s to Harry S. Truman, a blunt common man who once shared a bottle of whiskey with my grandfather.