Harry Truman Saved My Life

001 MILITARY copySeventy years ago today, my father was on Okinawa, getting ready to be among the first allied fighting men in the invasion of Japan. Unbeknownst to him and the men who prepared with him, was the fact that Harry Truman had decided to use a new super weapon in the United States arsenal to bring Japan to total capitulation. As the day closed on August 9, 1945, my father, Sgt. Robert L. Beal, had absolutely no idea that in two daring bombing runs … Japan, in a matter of seconds, had lost over a quarter of a million people. Almost twice as many people were gone in a blink of an eye, than what the U.S. casualties were in Okinawa.

Robert was concentrating on his duties at hand of preparing for a beach landing in hostile territory. He tried to keep his mind off his fast approaching mission. He finished a couple letters and started another. Made sure his M1-Garand was cleaned and ready, made sure his men had checked and double-checked all of their equipment, trying not to think about what lay ahead. Everyone knew that Japan was not going to go down easily. Since taking the Philippines, the U.S. had been pounding Japan with B-17s and B-29s; the fire storms from those bombing runs had nearly wiped out whole cities, but still Japan fought on. Commanders had not held back when asked; they let the men know that this fight was going to be the toughest yet.

Robert was sergeant of a weapons platoon in the 187th Glider infantry of the 11th Airborne Division, the only U.S. airborne in the Pacific. Even though Robert was a glider soldier, he and everyone else in the 11th were parachute-jump qualified; a requirement the commanding officer of the division, General Joseph M. Swing, made on day one. General Swing wanted all of his men – including himself – to be ready to fulfill any role needed. Because of the nature of the invasion, paratroopers and gliders would be impossible to use because they would either be slaughtered on their way down, or run the great risk of getting cut off once down and not effective as a fighting force. So a landing from the sea, with naval bombardment and air support, was the only option.

The Japanese were ready to fiercely defend their homeland. Every man, women, and child would be called upon to fight. Weapons would be homemade clubs, staffs, shovels and axes, anything that could kill. The military leaders were not ready to surrender, and at his own peril, the emperor Hirohito reluctantly listened to his military advisers. They had been the ones in power. Hideki Tojo convinced the emperor that negotiations with the U.S. in 1940-41 were dangerous, and a military solution was the only option.

President Truman, of course, had been trying to find a way to get Japan to surrender without any more lives being lost, especially American. He thought after the taking of the Philippines and the advances of the British in China, that Japan could see there was no point in continuing. But Japan’s military leaders would not give up. They were content to stay where they were, and keep the allies off the main land of Japan. Truman would only accept total surrender and nothing else. After considering all options, looking at the invasion plans, and being faced with the possibility of losing one million Americans, he opted to use the atomic bomb.

For Tojo, total concern for the Japanese people was gone, and fighting to the death was the only honorable way to go on. But now in this pending invasion, it was no longer soldier against soldier … American fighting men, many in their teens and twenties, were going to be forced to kill face to face; old men, young boys, girls and women. I cannot imagine the horror going through my father’s mind, thinking that he may be forced to kill innocent lives face to face.

Of course this war killed innocent people, on both sides. It seems that is the way of war. My father was scarred for the rest of his life from what he did and what he saw. Friends lost right in front of him, people ripped and torn by man’s destructive devices. I do not know if he could have come home and lived with himself if he would have been forced to fight and kill civilians. I thank God he didn’t have to.

I have to say that had it not been for the decision that Truman took to use those two bombs … there is an almost certain chance that my brothers and I would not be here today. My father felt that Harry Truman saved his life with his fateful decision to choose American fighting men’s lives above all else. The days from August 6, 1945 to August 9, 1945 will forever be debated. The sad part is they will be debated by people who were not there, and have their view skewed by the looking glass of history. But my mother, my brothers and I, and our families, are all grateful that Harry Truman stood up and said “NO MORE.” Truman saved far more lives than were lost in those two attacks, and the rightful blame falls on the leaders of Japan, and their unwillingness to admit defeat and bend to the will of the world.

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