Two WWII Vets Reminisce

Two WWII Vets talking and eating soup

Robert Cole (l) & Billy Forrest (r)

These two veterans of World War II are enjoying a bowl of homemade vegetable soup and talking about their Army days. They might not be alive today had it not been for an historic decision made by President Harry Truman.

As WWII was coming to a close on the European front, attention turned to the Pacific and Japan. Among options available, a massive invasion of Japan similar to Normandy was on the table.

There was a big difference in Normandy and Japan. Normandy was in France, a nation occupied by the German army. Japan was not an occupied nation.

An invasion of Japan would have been an invasion of the homeland of a people who had already demonstrated a willingness, even desire, to heroically die for their country. Normandy would have been a small skirmish contrasted to the American lives that would be lost in an invasion of Japan.

Another option was a secret weapon that was ready for deployment. This weapon would reign destruction and terror of such a magnitude that the Japanese might choose to surrender. President Truman decided to use the new weapon.

On August 6, 1945 the first atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima. Sixteen hours later, President Truman called for Japan’s unconditional surrender or, “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”

The Japanese leaders fiercely debated among themselves about continuing the fight for favorable conditions of cease fire or accepting the American demands. On the evening of August 8, the Soviet Union broke their neutrality treaty with Japan and declared war. Shortly after midnight August 9, the Soviets moved into Manchuria.

Later that day, the Americans dropped the 2nd atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Japanese Emporor Hirohito had enough and ordered the Japanese to accept unconditional surrender. He gave a radio address announcing the surrender on August 15.  On August 28, 1945, the Americans began the occupation and rebuilding of Japan.

Robert Cole and Billy Forrest were both draftees from Georgia. They were both sent to Japan as part of the American occupation at the end of the war. They were both assigned to the Signal Corp.

73 years later, they met each other for the first time. They compared notes and found out that both had been deployed to Japan immediately following the Japanese surrender.  Both were in the Signal Corp. Both recall going through a terrible storm on the way to Japan. They concluded that they might have been on the same ship.

They served in different locations in Japan. Instead of fighting the Japanese, they made friends with them and helped rebuild the nation. They were in Japan for about a year before being sent home and receiving their honorable discharges.

Robert Cole married and had two children. One of them was me.  Billy Forrest was already married when he was drafted but he and his wife never had children. Both of these men are now in their 90’s.

They have lived productive lives and impacted the lives of thousands. Billy became a pastor, plays the guitar and sings. He still preaches or pulls out his guitar and sings on ocassion today. Robert applied his Signal Corp training to work at Robins Air Force Base where he retired working in Foreign Weapons Sales. Today he loves to cook and design and build models from scratch.

I may write more about these men later. Both have a great story to tell.

These two men, along with thousands of other young Americans, could have easily been casualties on a Japanese beach in the Pacific Ocean. Billy Forrest could have left a widow back in Georgia. Instead, they were young Americans who befriended former enemies and helped to rebuild a new allied nation of Japan.

Personally, I am thankful that President Truman chose the nuclear option. My prayer is that we never have to use that option again. I also pray for the wisdom of courage of every American President who may have to weigh that decision and use it if necessary.

Signature-Donald E. Cole

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Photo of SSG John D. Barker

SSG John D. Barker US Army 1941 – 1945

As I begin writing this article, it is the same time that 75 years ago today, nearly 2,500 sailors, soldiers, and marines lives would be tragically and suddenly ended or changed forever. A carefree assignment on an island paradise in the Pacific turned into a fury of chaos, confusion, and death.

Scott Barker and I served in the US Army Military Police together in the 1970’s. After his service in the Army, Scott joined the FBI and has now retired.

Scott’s late father, SSG John D. Barker – US Army 1941 – 1945, was at Pearl Harbor on that day. Scott’s father did not talk much about it until his later years. Continue reading

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Fifteen Years Later

Fifteen years ago we were viciously attacked.  The enemy was not a nation with a flag.  It was an ideology of hate and domination.  We witnessed heroic actions of Americans.

Today we remember and honor those who fell on that day as well as those who have since fallen in the war against terror. We pray for those who are still fighting that war.
On that day in 2001 and the days following, America came together.  Images of fire fighters raising the American flag in the rubble of the Twin Towers displayed our resolve. Continue reading

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Veterans Group Questions Bishop’s Military Service

A Veterans group blog site recently filed a Freedom of Information request regarding Congressman Sanford Bishop’s claim to be an Army veteran. They posted the response on their blog and the Facebook page of the 2nd District Republican Party.

Congressman Bishop’s official biography reads, “He served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971; completed basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, entered Advanced Reserve Officers Training, and received an Honorable Discharge in 1971.” Continue reading

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Perpetual Half Mast

Have you ever reached for the radio dial to find a news station when you saw a flag flying at half mast? Two words probably ran through your mind. “Who died?”

When a flag was at half mast, it meant that a senior statesman died or there was a tragic event. When a flag was at half mast, it got your attention. It stood out.

Today, our flag is at perpetual half mast. Victims of terrorist attacks have barely been laid to rest before we hear of another attack. Continue reading

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D-Day Remembered

On June 6, 1944, thousands of young men from across our nation had either already suited up with paratrooper gear and loaded into an airplane to jump out over France or were on landing craft moving across the English Channel.

President Roosevelt, General Eisenhower, and a relatively few strategic planners knew what was taking place. They knew that even if there was 100% certainty of a successful mission ( and there was no certainty of success), there was also a 100% certainty that thousands of those men would never return to their homes.

Normandy Cemetery

Normandy Cemetery – American Battle Monuments Commission

President Roosevelt addressed the nation with a prayer. I invite you to take 5 minutes to listen to his prayer and read the text as you listen to this. If you have a child or grandchild, pull them aside to tell them what happened on this day. Continue reading

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Memorial Day

Headstones with American Flag

A small piece of land in Southwest Georgia marks the final resting place of about 20,000 men and women who served our nation. Nearly 13,000 of those died on those grounds in the 1860’s during the civil war. Last weekend, members of Scout troops and other organizations placed a small American flag by each tombstone at the Andersonville National Cemetery.

What we now know as Memorial Day was first commemorated after the civil war and was originally called Decoration Day. At the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on, May 30, 1868, then Congressman and future President James Garfield, addressed a crowd of 5,000 gathered. His opening words at that address sum up what Memorial Day means.

“I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech.” Continue reading

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