WWII: ‘Invasion Forces Headed for Japan’

The following article originally was published May 25, 2009, by Grand Junction’s Free Press.

‘Invasion forces headed for Japan’

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Theo Eversol, a long-time peach farmer from Palisade and grandfather to your younger author Ari, died in 2001. He used to say that he worked the three most dangerous jobs around: farming, mining, and soldiering. Theo served in the Pacific Rim of World War II, a war that within a generation nobody will personally remember. We remember it in the stories and legacies of those who served.

Theo’s army career posed the greatest danger. One night Theo decided not to attend a movie. The building was hit by “daisy cutter” bombs, after which Theo searched the field for body parts.

Theo recorded his opinion about the use of atomic bombs to end WWII. After Theo’s wife Ila died last year, Ari discovered a paper bag filled with copies of Yank Down Under and Yank Far East, Army publications for soldiers. On a page with a map of the Philippine Islands, Theo wrote, “Yank invasion forces headed for Japan in Sept. 1945. Thank God the bomb was dropped!”

Today President Obama wants “a world without nuclear weapons.” We worry that the price for such a world would be America’s military strength.

Theo actually heard a military leader rally the troops for a pending attack on Japan. We believe this took place on the northern most island of the Philippines; Theo wrote on the map, “Aug. 1945: We were at Luzon.”

If the U.S. military had invaded Japan, chances are good that one or both of Ari’s grandfathers would have been killed in battle. Instead, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9. Theo served on an occupation force, not an invasion force.

Theo used to tell his grandchildren, “War is barbaric,” an absolute horror. Yet, he added, if the other guy starts it, sometimes you’ve got to finish it.

Notably, after the United States decisively won the war, the occupation forces turned to the task of restoring lawful order, not fighting terrorists as troops are doing now in the Middle East. Indeed, Theo and his friends were invited to tea by the father of a boy lost in the Japanese military. Today Japan is a good ally to the United States, whereas the Middle East seethes with hatred and violence.

The copies of the Yank magazines, “by the men, for the men in the service,” offer a glimpse of military life during war. A cover dated June 23, 1944 features the story, “Noncoms Tell Replacements How To Stay Alive (Page 2).”

A cover dated November 24, 1944, features a photograph of Douglas MacArthur. After President Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to leave the Philippines for Australia in 1942, MacArthur said, “I came out of Bataan [a Philippine province] and I shall return.” Yank Far East reports: “He Returned: Attack Day in the Liberation of the Philippines.”

Some of you may know our local Sikhs. Corporal Ralph L. Boyce reported, “About 400 [Sikhs] were captured at Singapore and were kept there until May 1943, doing forced labor.” One prisoner said, “They give us only handful of rice a day… We are very weak now.” Boyce wrote, “[Corporal] Anup Singh closes his notebook [that recorded their imprisonment] and stands up. ‘And yesterday we [66 of the captives] were freed.’ He smiles, straightens his shoulders and adds, ‘By the Americans!'”

We imagine that the news and photographs from the states kept the boys a little homesick. We wonder what Theo was doing as he read this report from March 24, 1944: “A heavy snow, reaching 8 inches in Denver, brightened prospects for a good winter-wheat crop. Gov. Vivian declared that the special session of the General Assembly would be confined to legislation amending the state ballot law to permit Coloradans in the armed services to vote. Twelve of the 14 members of the La Plata County Rationing Board quit because they said policies were dictated by the state OPA office.”

The Army publications included entertainment news, but even that served as a reminder of the national scope of the war. One caption reads, “Frank Sinatra… and that old master Bing Crosby decided to bury the hatched as rivals for the swoon-croon vote, at least temporarily. They agreed to go into a duet together if someone would buy a $10,000 War Bond. And the buyer came through, at the Lakeside Golf Club in Hollywood.”

Strikingly, the magazines kept a high spirit. Sprinkled among the stories of bloody battles and executions are silly jokes and “Yank pin-up girls.” While Gene Tierney’s swim suit is modest by today’s standards, we imagine her photo gave the boys some reminder of the normal life they were trying to get back to.

On the back cover of a Yank Far East, Theo summarized his tour. Ten months state side. Eight months overseas in 1943, twelve months each for 1944 and 1945, and a month in 1946. Forty-three months of service. Many of us can only imagine. And say thanks.