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Page A15


I Owe My Life to the A-Bomb
By William Lloyd Stearman

I was supposed to die 75 years ago. In June 1945, President Truman approved Operation Downfall, a plan to invade the Japanese Home Islands of Kyushu and Honshu. Operation Olympic was to commence on Kyushu Nov. 1, 1945, followed in March 1946 by Operation Coronet on Honshu.

I was the officer on a Navy landing ship who acquired classified documents for the ship, so I came back to the ship with operation plans involving our flotilla. I first checked to see where we were landing. It was at Kyushu’s east coast city of Miyazaki. Next I turned to the intelligence section, which described what we were facing. By the time I finished this section, I was deeply depressed. It was clear that I was on death row, due to die Nov.1.

I was shocked to read the Japanese had 5,000 kamikaze aircraft. Already our ship had come very close to being taken out by a kamikaze attack, and two others in our group had been sunk. It turned out that 5,000 had been an underestimate — there were actually 12,700 kamikaze aircraft. We were also very concerned about our landing beach’s facing a cliff that was honeycombed with gun emplacements. It is common doctrine to avoid being trapped close to a cliff in amphibious landings because it impairs rapidly dispersing troops.

When checking a map of the area, Army Maj. Gen. Hugh Casey said that “anyone sending troops ashore there was a murderer.” In any case we might not have made it to the beach without being taken out by one of the several thousand suicide boats. We knew the Japanese would fight back fiercely. In the spring 1945 Battle of Okinawa — the first Allied attack on Japanese territory — 12,613 Americans were killed in action lasting 83 days.

The Operation Downfall plan called for some 450,000 Allied troops on Kyushu two weeks after X-Day. Planners expected them to face around 300,000 Japanese troops. The actual figure, we learned after the war, was 917,000. The War Department estimated 400,000 to 800,000 Americans would die during Operation Downfall. Japanese officials estimated that 20 million of their countrymen would die defending the homeland.

But the two August 1945 atomic bomb attacks, against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, convinced Emperor Hirohito to surrender: “The enemy had begun to employ a most cruel bomb,”he said. “We should not continue fighting,”for that “would result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of Japan. ”Hirohito made the surrender official Aug. 15. I was spared my date with death, 2½ months later.

Mr. Stearman, who served on the National Security Council staff under four presidents, is author of “An American Adventure, From Early Aviation Through Three Wars to the White House” (Naval Institute Press, 2012).