MOUNT VERNON — Sixty-six years ago today, on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri, Japanese representatives signed the surrender documents formally ending World War II.
Mount Vernon resident Walter Speece was not in Tokyo Bay, but he was at another historic location — Pearl Harbor, where U.S. involvement in the war had begun.
Fresh out of basic training, Speece had recently arrived from San Francisco and was at a facility overlooking Pearl Harbor that housed sailors waiting to ship out. When it was announced that the surrender had been signed, he recalled, it seemed like everyone celebrated.
“I think everything that could fly was in the air,” he recalled.
It had been an eventful month for Speece. He was on a train from the Great Lakes training facility headed for San Francisco when word was received of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima.
“We expected to be in the invasion of Japan,” Speece said. “The bombs saved our lives.”
Most of the country celebrated the surrender when it was announced on Aug. 14 (Aug. 15 in Asia), but Speece was probably on board ship heading for Hawaii.
Of course, the war being over didn’t mean everyone’s duty was over. Speece was shipped to Guam, where he guarded Japanese prisoners.
“I was a dry-land sailor,” Speece chuckled. “I was never assigned to a ship.”