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South Jersey

Sunday, September 2, 2001
Vets feel slighted that history ignores their ship's role

Courier-Post Staff

Eighty-one-year-old George Martella is not at home in Bellmawr today on this 56th anniversary of VJ-Day - the official end of World War II with the Allied victory over Japan.

He is in Branson, Mo., at a reunion with former Navy sailors who were on the USS San Diego with him during World War II.

The San Diego played a significant role in the surrender but is seldom mentioned in history books. That upsets Martella and fellow shipmates in the USS San Diego, CL-53, Navy Veterans Association.

It is the battleship USS Missouri that has received all the attention for more than 50 years because the final surrender document was signed on its deck.

But it was the light cruiser San Diego that received the surrender first.

"I have nothing against any other ship, including the Missouri, but this is an injustice to our ship because it has been forgotten," said Martella, who was a gunner.

The San Diego was the lead ship in a task force that entered Tokyo Bay following Japan's unconditional surrender on Aug. 14, 1945, after the dropping of two atomic bombs. With 15 battle stars, the San Diego was one of the most decorated World War II ships.

It was the first warship to enter the harbor and hosted the preliminary negotiations on board with the Japanese. A surrender ceremony took place on the dock alongside the ship at the Yokosuka Naval Base on Aug. 30.

Newspaper reports of the event - covered by about 20 journalists from around the world - said Vice Adm. Michitare Tosuka drove up in a Packard sedan and surrendered the naval base and shipyard to U.S. Vice Adm. Robert B. Carney.

At the time the San Diego was the temporary flagship of Adm. William "Bull" Halsey of Elizabeth.

Pacific Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz and Halsey both came aboard the San Diego later that day after touring the base, according to the ship's log and Navy photos.

Martella and his shipmates say the formal Sept. 2 surrender was supposed to be signed on the San Diego but that President Truman picked the Missouri at the last minute because it carried the name of his home state.

Sailors on the New Jersey, a sister ship of the Missouri, were also disappointed. The Big J had seen more action than the Missouri but not as much as the San Diego. If a battleship had to be picked for the signing, it should have been the Big J, the ship's crew believe.

On Sept. 2, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of Allied forces during the war, accepted the surrender, which also was signed on the USS Missouri by Nimitz and military leaders of Britain and seven other countries. Victory in Europe had come in May.

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