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History: Memories of Japan’s surrender still vivid for former Marine

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Garth Holmes stood on the front row when history was made 70 years ago on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

Holmes was a corporal in a Marine company on the Missouri selected to stand at attention and salute when Japanese dignitaries came aboard the ship to sign the documents of unconditional surrender with General of the Army Douglas MacArthur and Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz on Sept. 2, 1945.

Holmes, 90, who lives in Litchfield with his wife, Marjorie, said he stood within 20 feet of MacArthur. He remembers the general’s corncob pipe and the ribbons pulling at his shirt. Holmes was dressed in a standard khaki uniform with his unloaded M-1 rifle at his side. Being just 21 years old, the corporal from Clover didn’t fully recognize the historic significance of the moment. He said he has two regrets: He didn’t keep a diary and he didn’t ask for his rifle.

Hundreds of American servicemen leaned over ladders and peered around the ship’s big guns to get a glimpse of the ceremony and the Japanese representatives in top hats. Holmes remembers the thick clouds over Tokyo Bay parting after the 20-minute ceremony and 2,000 airplanes flying overhead, a mighty display of air power emphasizing Allied superiority.

Holmes and his unit had been training to invade the Japanese mainland when the atom bombs were dropped and the war ended. “The Japanese had surrendered when I got to Okinawa,” he said, “but communications were poor and they hadn’t gotten the word in the caves and were still shooting.”

The only action Holmes saw in the war came when he and his unit were sent to China to rescue two pilots stranded after a crash. Holmes was granted liberty and went ashore at Tsing Tao, China. “Guess what they had in the shops,” he said. “Ice cream.” That was the first time he’d had it in three years.

Holmes returned to the United States through San Francisco and took a train across the country, ending the odyssey that had begun when he was drafted in Clover at age 18 and chose the Marines over the Army and Navy. “The reason I chose the Marines,” he said, “was that I was never a strong person physically. I had heard the Marines are tough and thought they would probably build me up and make me stronger. Well, that really didn’t happen.”

After the war Holmes moved in with his parents in Charlotte, where his father had gotten a job supervising a textile mill. “I was sleeping in pretty late,” Holmes said, “when my father kicked me out of bed and said they need a timekeeper for a crew putting a roof on a mill. He had arranged for me to get the job.” When that mill was re-roofed, the crew’s next job was in Clarksville, Va. That’s where Holmes met Marjorie Davis, who lived in nearby Buffalo Springs, Va. “It’s strange how life treats you,” he said.

Holmes graduated from Clemson in 1952 with a degree in textile engineering and worked for Milliken Textiles in Spartanburg until he retired and moved to Pawleys Island.

Holmes said his brother Max was a prolific letter writer and his sister saved the letters from the war. The family plans a reunion Sept. 26 in Florence to read the letters and look at family photos.

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