SECURING THE SURRENDER: Marines in the Occupation of Japan
by Charles R. Smith
When not engaged in renovating the air base or on air
missions, liberty parties were organized and sent by boat to Tokyo.
Preference was given to personnel who were expected to return
to the United States for discharge. Fraternzation, although originally
forbidden by the American high command, was allowed after the
first week. "The Japanese Geisha girls have taken a large share of the
attention of the many curious sight-seers of the squadron," reported
Major Michael R. Yunck, commanding officer of Marine Fighter Squadron
311. "The Oriental way of life is something very hard for an American to
comprehend. The opinions on how the occupation job 'should be done'
range from the most generous to the most drastic all agreeing on
one thing, though, that it is a very interesting experience."
Prostitution and the resultant widespread incidence
of venereal diseases were ages old in Japan. "The world's oldest
profession" was legal and controlled by the Japanese government;
licensed prostitutes were confined to restricted sections. Placing these
sections out of bounds to American forces did not solve the problem of
venereal exposure, for, as in all ports such as Yokosuka, clandestine
prostitution continued to flourish. In an attempt to prevent
uncontrolled exposure, all waterfront and backstreet houses of
prostitution were placed out of bounds. A prophylaxis station was
established at the entrance to a Japanese police-controlled "Yashuura
House" (a house of prostitution exclusively for the use of occupation
forces), another in the center of the Yokosuka liberty zone, and a third
at the fleet landing. These stations were manned by hospital corpsmen
under the supervision of a full-time venereal disease-prevention medical
officer. In addition, a continuous educational campaign was carried out
urging continence and warning of the dangerous diseased condition of
prostitutes. These procedures resulted in a drastic decline in reported
cases of diseases originating in the Yokosuka area.
New 4th Honors Members of the Old 4th
On 6 September 1945, more than 120 4th Marine
survivors of Bataan and Corregidor, who were freed from Japanese prison
camps and were physically able, were invited to a regimental guard mount
at Yokosuka Naval Base, the fallen bastion of Japanese naval might.
Their hosts were the officers and men of the new 4th Marines.
Reactivated in February 1944, the new regiment was composed of men from
the four Marine raider battalions; men who could carry on the name of
the old 4th the legendary China Regiment which protected American
interests in the Far East from 1927 to 1941 and caught the first full
impact of the Japanese in the Philippines.
Alighting from trucks they were met by a huge sign
which read: "Welcome, Old 4th!" Overwhelmed, the older men immediately
threw their arms around the new in their first display of emotion since
being rescued. A number said that the Japanese had marked them for death
in the event another atomic bomb was dropped.
Liberated 4th Marines enjoy a steak dinner to the
accompaniment of jazz tunes. National Archives Photo 127-N-133749
Looking thin but fit in newly issued dungarees and
canvas sneakers or fabric split-toed shoes purchased from Japanese
civilians, they quickly lined up three deep in parade formation in front
of the base's wooden naval barracks where each was given a small Marine
Corps emblem. "We're damned glad to have you here," said Brigadier
General William T. Clement. "Some of you have changed a bit since I last
saw you, but this is the happiest moment of my life just to be able to
bring you back to the Fourth Marines."
Clement chats with Cpl William R. Linderfeld, who was captured on
Bataan. National Archives Photo 127-N-134481
In a mess hall where Japanese suicide pilots ate less
than a month before, members of the new regiment treated members of the
old to an American-style steak dinner with tomatoes, mashed potatoes,
gravy, oranges, and coffee while a strolling Marine band played the
latest jazz tunes. Horror tales of Japanese imprisonment were exchanged
for stories of Pacific victories. Two half-brothers, one in the old
regiment and one in the new, were reunited after never expecting to see
each other again. Following the dinner, they reviewed a guard mount in
their honor and drank their first American canned beer in more than
three years. As the band struck up the Marine Corps Hymn, "one returned
prisoner, a tough-looking leatherneck with a face like a bulldog's,
began to sob. Tears streamed down the checks of half a dozen more, and
those who weren't weeping were swallowing hard."
As the truck convoy pulled away to carry them to the
ships waiting to take them back to the United States, one veteran
remarked: "Hell, I don't want to go back home. I want to stay with the
Marines and just as soon as I get to the United States I'm going to ask
for a transfer back to the Fourth Regiment. I've been in the Marines
since I was 17 and it's the easiest life I know."
Members of the new 4th pass in review for members of the
old 4th Marines. National Archives Photo 127-N-135287
On 8 September, the group's Corsairs and Hellcats,
stripped of about two and a half tons of combat weight, began
surveillance flights over the Tokyo Bay area and the Kanto Plain north
of the capital. The purpose of the missions was to observe and report
any unusual activity by Japanese military forces and to survey all
airfields in the area. Initially, Munn's planes served under Third Fleet
command, but on the 16th, operational control of MAG-31 was transferred
to the Fifth Air Force. A month later, the group was returned to Navy
control and reconnaissance flights in the Tokyo area and Kanto Plain
discontinued. Operations of the air group were confined largely to mail,
courier, transport, and training flights to include navigation, tactics,
dummy gunnery, and ground control approach practice. By mid-October, the
physical condition of the base had been improved to such an extent that
the facilities were adequate to accommodate the remainder of the group's
personnel. On 7 December, the group's four tactical squadrons were
placed under the operational control of the Far Eastern Air Force and
surveillance and reconnaissance flights again resumed.
On 8 September, Admiral Badger's Task Force 31 was
dissolved and the Commander, Fleet Activities, Yokosuka, assumed
responsibility for the naval occupation area. General Clement's command,
again designated Task Force Able, continued to function for a short time
thereafter while most of the reinforcing units of the 4th Marines loaded
out for return to Guam. On the 20th, Lieutenant Colonel Beans relieved
General Clement of his responsibilities at Yokosuka, and the general and
his staff flew back to Guam to rejoin the 6th Division. Before he left,
Clement was able to take part in a ceremony honoring more than 120
officers and men of the "Old" 4th Marines, captured on Bataan and
Hundreds of neatly stacked torpedoes are inspected by
Marines. They are a small part of the tons of war materiel Marines found
at the naval base. National Archives Photo 127-N-134498
After the initial major contribution of naval land
forces to the occupation of northern Japan, the operation became more
and more an Army task. As additional troops arrived, the Eighth Army's
area of effective control grew to encompass all of northern Japan. In
October, the occupation zone of the 4th Marines was reduced to include
only the naval base, airfield, and town of Yokosuka. In effect, the
regiment became a naval base guard detachment, and on 1 November,
control of the 4th Marines passed from Eighth Army to the Commander,
U.S. Fleet Activities, Yokosuka.
While the Marine presence gradually diminished,
activity in the surrounding area began to return to normal. Japanese
civilians started returning to the city of Yokosuka in large numbers.
"The almost universal attitude was at first one of timidity and fear,
then curiosity," it was reported. "Banks opened and started to operate .
. . . Post offices and telegraph offices started to function smoothly,
and movie houses began to fill with civilian crowds."
Unlike Tokyo and Yokohama, the Yokosuka area had
escaped much destruction and was remarkably intact. On base, evacuated
Japanese barracks were quickly cleaned up and made reasonably liveable.
The Japanese furnished cooks, mess boys, and housekeeping help, allowing
Marines more time to explore the rice-paddy and beach resort-dotted
countryside, and liberty in town. Allowed only five hours liberty three
times a week, most enlisted Marines saw little of Japan, except for
short sight-seeing tours to Tokyo or Kamakura. Yokosuka, a small city
with long beer lines, quickly lost its novelty and Yokohama was off
limits to enlisted personnel. So most Marines would "have a few brews
and head back for the base at 4 p.m. when the beer sales cease." Their
behavior was remarkable considering only a few months before they had
fought a hard and bloody battle on Okinawa. Crimes against the local
Japanese population were few and, for the most part, petty. It was the
replacement, not the combat veteran, who, after a few beers, would "slug
a Jap" or curse them to their faces.