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Remembering a war’s end

Longview World War II veteran recalls news of nuclear attack

September 14, 2012
By Leslie Slape The Daily News , Pierce County Tribune

Editor's note: The following is being reprinted with permission from The Daily News, Longview, WA. Alan Rasmussen, originally from Towner, lived with his family in Rugby for many years, and he worked at The Tribune.

In neat, tidy script, Navy hospital corpsman Alan Rasmussen recorded in his secret logbook the biggest news of Aug. 9, 1945: "Sick call room is very interesting. Something new every day. Russia declared war on Japan today. U.S. have dropped 2 atomic bombs on Japan."

Today (Aug. 6) and Thursday (Aug. 9) mark the 67th anniversaries of the United States' dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. The attacks forced Emperor Hirohito's speech of surrender on Aug. 15. Both Aug. 15 and Sept. 2, the date surrender papers were signed on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri, are used to mark the official end of World War II.

Rasmussen, 90, was assigned to the USS Garrard, an attack transport ship stationed in the South Pacific. His ship was anchored alongside the Missouri when the papers were signed.

"It was quite the exciting time," Rasmussen said.

The Longview resident remembers the war years vividly, but he treasures his tiny book - in which he kept a log in violation of the rules - as a treasured snapshot of the way he saw events at the time they unfolded. None of his entries are dated, but some of the dates are clear:

"Japan surrendered at 10:07 this a.m.," Rasmussen wrote on what was apparently Aug. 15, when the Garrard was transporting men and cargo to the 3rd Fleet. "We are moving as fast as our screws will take us. Hoping for liberty in Tokyo. Fancy opened a quart of Seagram's 7. Celebrated war's end."

A special occasion warranted blended whisky; most of the time they drank 190 proof alcohol from the ship's hospital.

"That's pretty stout stuff," Rasmussen said. "It took an awful lot of orange juice to mellow it out."

Rasmussen said when he and his best friend Paul Gregg ultimately went ashore for liberty in Japan they were "a little on the afraid side ... We didn't know how people would take us."

U.S. forces had bombed Tokyo steadily in 1945, including a firebombing March 9 that has been called the single deadliest raid of World War II.

"The buildings were just gone," Rasmussen recalled. "They had lots of little corrugated tin buildings. They didn't have bathroom places. They just went on the side of the path ..."

He said he was surprised at how friendly and gracious he found the Japanese people to be.

He and Gregg met a gentleman who had worked as an English interpreter and tour guide before the war.

"He invited us to his home," which stood intact between two bombed-out homes, Rasmussen said, and the man's daughter danced for them.

"He gave us each a cup of tea. We drank it down. He gave us another cup of tea. We drank it down ..."

Rasmussen said he didn't realize that by drinking all the tea, they were tacitly asking for a refill.

"We found out later you don't drink it all down," he said. "You leave a little or they'll give you more."

Back on duty, Rasmussen tended to freed prisoners of war in sick bay.

"We picked up 1,100 POWs that had been on the Bataan Death March," a 65-mile forced march in which thousands perished, said Rasmussen, shaking his head at the memory of their wasted condition. "We brought them back to Tokyo Bay and put them on a hospital ship."

Rasmussen was discharged in 1946 and returned to Towner, N.D., where he reunited with Alyce, his date for the high school prom.

"We were not sweethearts when he was in the Navy, to my sorrow," said Alyce, a retired registered nurse who served in the Army Cadet Nursing Corps. "But after I finished my nurse's training we got together."

They were married Dec. 11, 1947, in 20 below zero weather, a typical North Dakota winter wedding.

"It was gorgeous," Alyce said. "This Christmas it's going to be 65 years ... my goodness."

The Rasmussens have attended several reunions of the Garrard crew, but only about eight people attended the most recent one and Rasmussen said a decision was made to make it the last.

Although Rasmussen worked in the medical field in the Navy, in North Dakota he was a newspaper printer. He started as a seventh-grader learning how to set type in hot lead on an intertype machine. He retired in 1988 after 54 years.

In 2003 Rasmussens moved to Longview, where one of their three children live. Both Alan and Alyce, who just turned 89, are fit and active and look much younger than their ages.

"We are called members of the elderly clan, but neither of us feel it," Alyce said. "We are so blessed, and we never take anything for granted."



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