Posted by: SJS | September 14, 2011

The face of defeat

On September 2, 1945, Imperial Japan formally surrendered to the Allied Forces.  The official surrender ceremony took place aboard the American battleship USS Missouri which was anchored in Tokyo Bay.  General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander, delivered a speech which opened the surrender ceremony.  Photographs of the ceremony on the deck of the Missouri are among the most iconic images from WWII. 

Unnamed Japanese officer

Unnamed Japanese officer at surrender ceremony in 1945

Throughout the South Pacific, small-scale surrender ceremonies took place as Japanese officers came forward and offered their swords to Allied officers.  Many of these ceremonies took place on American ships.  This photo was taken by Red Stahley in September of 1945.  While the exact location and the name of the Japanese officer in the photo remain unknown, the image captured by Red tells us everything we need to know. 

As a small boy, I remember my father telling me about his presence at a surrender ceremony on one of the PT boats in his squadron.   He described it as a solemn event, one that was very brief and quiet. 

When my sister, Joan, sent us the old family albums of my father’s Navy days, I saw this amazing photo again for the first time since 1960 or 61.  I had to go deep into my memory to collect those details that my father had shared with me about that surrender ceremony.  

The toll of the war and the bleak future that lies ahead for this officer seem evident in his face and the way he holds his head.  His posture, however, retains a strong sense of dignity.  My guess is that he was a highly capable leader during the war although that’s just an educated guess.  

This is one of the most poignant and moving war photographs I’ve ever seen.  Perhaps Red should have pursued a civilian career in photography.  He certainly brought home some compelling images from his days as a PT sailor.

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