Commemorating the 75th anniversary of end of war in the Pacific

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published August 10, 2020

  World War II veteran Walter Dubas, of Farmington Hills, said had it not been for a plane he was in crashing, he would’ve been one of the first American servicemen to arrive in mainland Japan after a pair of atomic bombs were deployed the week of Aug. 6, 75 years ago.

World War II veteran Walter Dubas, of Farmington Hills, said had it not been for a plane he was in crashing, he would’ve been one of the first American servicemen to arrive in mainland Japan after a pair of atomic bombs were deployed the week of Aug. 6, 75 years ago.

Photo provided by Walter Dubas

 In World War II, Walter Dubas was stationed in the Philippines and New Guinea.

In World War II, Walter Dubas was stationed in the Philippines and New Guinea.

Photo provided by Walter Dubas

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METRO DETROIT — He was on the verge of becoming one of the first American service members to arrive in mainland Japan at a crucial moment of the 20th century.

Sometime between Aug. 14, 1945 and the Sept. 2 formal Japanese surrender, Walter Dubas and some of his fellow airmen were scheduled to deliver supplies in a C-46 Commando transport aircraft from the Philippines to Japan.

During World War II, Imperial Japanese forces accepted the terms of unconditional surrender Aug. 14, and V-J Day was celebrated worldwide Aug. 15. The surrender came after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9, killing 120,000 people, according to an estimate by History.com.

Dubas, who turns 100 in March, lives in Farmington Hills.

“The war is over and it was like a guessing game,” he said. “We reported to go to Japan. The war was over, except the peace treaties haven’t been done yet,” he explained.

Dubas never made it to Nagasaki because as the plane he was co-piloting moved along the runway, it crashed in a ditch.

“We had a 90-degree crosswind, which is the worst way to go,” he said. “The order came from General MacArthur.”

As Dubas’ story goes, Gen. Douglas MacArthur had ordered a Jeep to be taken to Japan for MacArthur’s own use.

“We knew we were overloaded and got a crosswind. Five of us were in the plane, and we pushed the power all the way up,” Dubas recalled. “As the airplane goes down, I can feel it going into the wind so the pilot cut a little power from the left side.”

As the pilot was trying to stop the plane when it was gaining speed, “the plane went off the runway into a ditch. It got airborne a couple feet and crashed,” Dubas said.

He and the other passengers escaped the plane uninjured.  

Dubas enlisted in the Army Air Corps in September 1939 and graduated from flight school in June 1944.

From late 1944 to the summer of 1945, Dubas was stationed in the Pacific theater in places like New Guinea and the Philippines.


Atomic bomb background
When U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt died in April 1945, Harry Truman replaced him as commander in chief.  

“Truman took over and we didn’t know anything about him,” Dubas recalled. “He has to make the decision on the atomic bomb.”

The National Park Service website indicates that Truman and his advisors concluded that only bombing a city would make an adequate impression.

“Truman stipulated it should not be a city of traditional cultural significance to Japan,” the website states. “Truman did not seek to destroy Japanese culture or people; the goal was to destroy Japan’s ability to make war.”

It wasn’t until several years after the war when Dubas saw just how large the bombs were and the impact it had.

“It was important to not drop the bomb in Tokyo, because that’s where the emperor is, and he needs to be alive,” Dubas said.

He added that when the bombs were dropped, it had to be at a precise location.

“The plane was flying at 35,000 feet because the Japanese couldn’t reach that high with their armament,” he said. “As soon as they dropped the bomb, they got out of there. They had no idea how powerful that bomb was.”

After the first bomb was deployed on Hiroshima, Dubas said Japan announced they would surrender under condition, something that MacArthur didn’t accept.

“When bomb No. 2 went off and annihilated that whole area, that’s when the emperor came out and said, ‘We surrender,’” Dubas said.

Trevor Larson, assistant curator of interior displays at the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum in Warren, said his interest in World War II began when he realized veterans were still alive.

“In high school, I realized these guys were still out there,” he said.

Last year, Larson, a Dakota High School graduate from Macomb Township, traveled around the country, interviewing about a dozen veterans from the 11th Airborne Division.

In February, he went to the Philippines to take part in a couple of 75th anniversary celebrations.

“Compared to the European theater, the Pacific theater is largely forgotten,” Larson said. “When you talk to Pacific theater veterans, they’re not as open as the Europe guys. The Pacific was far nastier. The Japanese were ruthless enemies compared to the Germans.”

Larson said after the atomic bombs were deployed, it was the writing on the wall that the war was over.

“The ground campaign in Japan would’ve been a horrific affair for the Japanese and American populace,” he said.

He mentions that when speaking with veterans who served in the Pacific, they credit the atomic bomb with saving their lives.

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