The exact date for V-J Day (Victory Over Japan) that ended World War II is often debated. This includes Aug. 14, 1945, when the Japanese government cabled the U.S. their surrender; Sept. 2, 1945, when a formal surrender was signed in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri that included an American delegation headed by General Douglas MacArthur; and Sept. 3, 1945, when Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita officially surrendered the Japanese army.
My brother, First Lieutenant Gordon E. Dahlin, was an eye witness to the unofficial surrender of General Yamashita. His personal “brush of history” that I tape-recorded in 2002 is part of the narrative that follows. This narrative also briefly covers Gordon’s WWII career. An overview of Yamashita’s military career, war crimes trial and demise also follow.
A trip to the Philippines thanks to Uncle Sam
Gordon, age 18, began his WWII military odyssey with the 299th Combat Engineers at Camp White in Oregon. Combat engineers’ primary responsibility is to clear the way for the invading forces; consequently, they are generally the first on the battlefield. A photo of him is shown during Camp White maneuvers behind a water-cooled machine gun. He later attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, was commissioned a second lieutenant and shipped to the Philippines. He was assigned to the 32nd Infantry Division as a platoon leader with the 126th Combat Engineers Battalion.
Yamashita: A brief overview
General Tomoyuki Yamashita, was a brilliant Japanese Army General during WWII. He was responsible for the invasion of Malaya and Singapore that was accomplished in 70 days. This led British Prime Minister Winston Churchill calling the fall of Singapore to Japan the “worst disaster and largest capitulation in British military history.” On Feb. 15, 1942, Yamashita’s 30,000 front line soldiers captured 80,000 British soldiers.
Later in the war he was assigned to defend the Philippines from the invading US forces. While he was unable to hold the U.S. advance, he was able to hold on to part of Luzon until the formal Japanese surrender. Yamashita rejected the traditional samurai ceremony of seppuku, ritual suicide sometimes called hara-kiri, in the belief he had a higher responsibility.
“If I kill myself,” the general explained, “someone else will have to take the blame.”
Road to surrender
In late August 1945 Yamashita and his staff had retreated to the little tropical village of Kaingan that is located in northern Luzon (largest Philippine Island that includes Manila.) Access to this village, laced with palm and banana trees, was by donkey trail and could be reached only by foot or using small horses or donkeys.
Gordon’s battalion was responsible for building a road to Kaingan that was a few miles from the main highway to secure Yamashita’s surrender. According to Gordon, the village consisted of about 20 native huts. The huts were made of bamboo with woven roofs setting on stilts with the floor several feet above ground level. In the center of the village was a medium sized school house which is where Yamashita and his staff were located. Gordon understood that the school was built and operated by Belgian Missionaries. Gordon did not see Yamashita while he was at the village but he observed some lower-level Japanese soldiers plus local villagers.
Gordon recalled his eyewitness experience of Yamashita’s surrender:
“The engineers found and old Japanese truck laying on its side, turned it over and got it running. The old truck was used to transport Yamashita out of the jungle to the main road. Arriving at the main highway, Yamashita was met by a contingent of reporters and U.S. military personnel. Yamashita sat in the resurrected truck in an erect and aloof position with his chin jutting out. Standing a few feet from Yamashita, I watched his response to military and civilian reporters’ request for photographs. Head held high, he pointed to each photographer, one at a time, then allowed them to take his picture.”
Yamashita’s war crime trial
Yamashita, age 60, was tried for war crimes committed by his troops in the Philippines.
In a controversial trial, he was found guilty of his troops’ atrocities even though there was no evidence that he knew or approved of them. In fact, many of the atrocities were by troops not even under his command. This ruling, known as the “Yamashita Standard” is still being used in war crime trials today. Yamashita was sentenced to death, and was executed by hanging on Feb. 23, 1946.