FAIRFIELD — Marine Corps aviator Warren MacQuarrie had just gotten some shuteye after coming back from a 12-hour-long mission raiding Japanese shipping around Kyushu when he got word that the war was over.
Army Air Force flier Walter McDaniel was on a ship back from the war in Europe “two days out of Boston on our way to the Pacific” when he got the word.
Navy Ensign Bill Gum was aboard the light cruiser USS Amsterdam in a task force off of Japan when the Japanese surrendered.
“All the ships broke out their large battle flags,” Gum said of the Navy responded to the news.
Seventy years to the day after the Japanese signed surrender documents on the deck of the USS Missouri, MacQuarrie, McDaniel and Gum joined 47 veterans of World War II to commemorate the last act of the war.
Even though fighting ended in the Pacific on Aug. 15, 1945, the final surrender was not signed in Tokyo Bay until Sept. 2, which would be Sept. 1 in California because of the International Dateline.
The veterans, their wives and the widows of World War II veterans who had died were feted with a dinner and recognition ceremony Tuesday night in Rawlinson Hall at Paradise Valley Estates.
“It was probably the most significant event in the history of the world,” said H.A. “Spike” Flertzheim, a World War II veteran and one of the event’s organizers. “We needed to honor these people, the surviving ones, and those who have gone before through their widows.”
The veterans were treated to dinner, a video of the war and a laudatory speech by Flertzheim, recognizing each veteran by when they entered the service, the oldest of whom joined the colors in 1937.
Flertzheim described himself as the most junior of the veterans who graduated high school in June 1945 “and was in Army khakis a few days later.”
“I did not make the historic contributions that you made,” Flertzheim told his peers, “your contributions to America and to the free world.”
He said that his peers had grown up during the Great Depression and were accustomed to hard times and sacrifice.
“You signed up when needed and made the sacrifices that you were called on to make,” Flertzheim said. “Your generation made an inspiring legacy.”
Nine of those present served through the entire war, such as Navy Capt. Irving Cockcroft who joined the Navy in August 1941, four months before Pearl Harbor, because he wanted to fly.
Cockcroft spent most of his war in the North Atlantic, hunting down U-boats as an aviator in a Navy hunter-killer group that scored the second-highest number of sinkings.
“We got our share,” said Cockcroft, whose Navy career lasted 32 years before he hung up his uniform.
MacQuarrie was stationed on Okinawa flying a modified ship-busting B-25 Mitchell and called the news of the surrender “wonderful news.”
“We were very pleased,” MacQuarrie said. He said that the atomic bombs saved a lot of American lives that would have been lost in an invasion of Japan.
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