It was a heart-stopping sentence buried in the last paragraph of a mimeographed letter that was handed out on our trip home from Europe in July, 1945:
“After furloughs, we will meet again at Fort Benning, Ga., to begin a brief but strenuous period of training before we once again sail to foreign lands to aid in the final defeat of our remaining enemies.”
That deeply-resonant sentence, which was fated to be only partially implemented, was distributed on July 11, signed by Maj.. Gen. Frank L. Culin as the 87th Infantry Division steamed home aboard the S.S. West Point. Incorporated into the congratulatory “Golden Acorn News”, it was received by the troops, all hardbitten survivors of the Battle of the Bulge and two other European campaigns, in one of two ways.
Most of the infantrymen acted resigned, and after 154 days of front-line duty cited by Gen. Culin, silently prayed for some kind of miraculous deliverance from more blood. Others acted defiant, swearing that “one war is enough,” and rebuffing any suggestion that they would participate in the Japanese invasion/war.
Even though they didn’t know what they faced if the invasion took place, some of the GIs implied, but few stated outright, that they would desert while home on furlough. Would they have?
A miracle intervened, so we will never know:
The miracle consisted of two massive, unheard-of bombs dropped on Japan.
And the war ended. Just like that.
If not for those atomic bombs, it is now known officially, the 87th Division had been selected to wade ashore at Sagami Bay, south of Tokyo, on the following March 1, about eight months after Culin’s mimeographed letter was distributed aboard the West Point.
As revealed in a book entitled “Top Secret” most of whose contents were published in the February, 1995 GAN, the 87th would have participated in the second planned invasion. The first, scheduled for November, 1945, was to take place against the heavily-fortified island of Kyushu, sending ashore 14 Army and Marine divisions.
In size, every one of those invasions would have dwarfed the horrific D-Day landing in Europe. In just the initial Japanese landings, one of the admirals involved in the planning foresaw 250,000 American casualties. Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s chief of staff, however, went much farther — predicting one million casualties by the end of 1946, including the 87th’s planned participation.
There are historians who dispute these casualty projections. According to these sources, the Japanese were starving not only for food but for strategic materials to continue prosecuting the war. In fact, say these critics, the Japanese had begun extending numerous feelers to negotiate a cessation of hostilities.
But even the most dire projections overlook one overriding fact: That is, the invasions would have been just the opening chapter of a long, savage, and grueling operation against not only the Japanese Army but against the Japanese people, whose dedication to defending their homeland no one should ever question. One can’t help but recall the ferocity described by the Marine infantryman, Eugene Sledge in his brutally frank memoir, “With the Old Breed.” Nor can one who was designated to fight in the Pacific overlook Sledge’s forecast that “Japan would have to be invaded with the same gruesome prospects” as the fighting for the Pacific islands.
Clearly, Sledge recalled the suicides off the cliffs of Okinawa, the last-ditch defenses of Guadalcanal, Pelelieu and Saipan, and certainly demonstrated by the Zeros crashing into American ships.
I can’t bring myself to believe that, without the atom bombs they wouldn’t have proffered a conditional — and unacceptable — deal to the Allies. Throughout the war, the cry on the Allied side was “Unconditional Surrender”, meaning, in Japan’s case, not only overthrowing the Emperor, but discarding the Bushido — the military rulers.
Culin was ultimately accurate in predicting that the division would reassemble at Fort Benning, but providentially it was not fated to resume training and to see more than the five months logged in Europe. Instead, once furloughs were over and the division reassembled at the Ft. Benning training center, ours became the first veteran division to be deactivated, its members, most of whom possessed too few points for immediate discharge, reassigned among separation centers throughout the nation.
Were those bombs Divine Intervention?
It still seems that way to me after 55 years. What do you think?
Previously published in
The Golden Acorn News
An ASTP cadet in 1943-44, Mitchell Kaidy joined the 87th Division in March, 1944, serving until its demobilization. After the war he received a journalism education and has worked for three daily newspapers, a television station and public radio in Upstate New York. In 1963 he contributed articles to a Pulitzer Prize-winning series, and in 1993 he won a Project Censored award for free-lance investigative journalism. He was an active member of the association and served as division historian. Mitch passed away on 10 January 2013 at the age of 87.