Alvin Gerson, WWII Veteran, Age 88

Alvin Gerson | Seaman First Class/Musician 3rd Class, U.S. Navy, Navy Band/Guard Duty | Served the Mariana Islands | Received the following medals for his service: Overseas Service and Good Conduct Medal

Gerson shares his thoughts on peace-keeping and guard missions that occurred in the Mariana Islands of Guam and Rota at the close of WWII. His story unveils the laborious efforts the U.S. Navy went through in order to convince Japanese soldiers that the war had indeed ended.

“The middle of the Pacific. On our way to Guam. We heard about it. Of course, the entire ship was told that the war was over. That they were bombed and they surrendered almost immediately. And there was almost a mutiny on board the ship “What are we doing going to Guam?” By the way, we didn’t know we were going to Guam. We just knew that we were going to the Pacific. We said “Turn the damn thing around. Let’s go home. I mean, what are we doing going out there? There’s nobody to fight anymore. Let’s go home.” Well, we didn’t go home until a year later but, we spent most of our time on Guam.”

Although Gerson is the drummer in the U.S. Navy Band, his unit is also assigned to guard duty in the Mariana Islands, specifically Guam and Rota, at the close of WWII.

“The Japanese, at that time, were very, very unhappy. We just bombed them with a bomb that nobody had ever seen or knew about before. And they had about a thousand or so Japanese soldiers on this little island of Rota who were supposed to be there to, uh, take over Guam. In other words, to… run it, more or less.”

The Japanese Imperial Army and Navy occupying Rota surrender to U.S. Marines on September 2, 1945. However, there are groups of soldiers who remain unconvinced the war is over.

“And they, of course, couldn’t get to Guam because the war was over and there was nobody there to take them to Guam. And Guam was still ours. We got it back. And, uh, they decided that we can’t let them die there. I mean, it just doesn’t look good relations-wise. So they picked them up and brought them to Guam. The reason it was easy for them to convince – they didn’t care who was coming to get them. They didn’t get – at that point, they were eating spiders. If you saw the pictures of the prisoners that were released from the German concentration camps, that’s about how the Japanese prisoners looked. I mean, they were emaciated. They had nothing to eat. They were eating whatever was there. Some of it was even poisonous. I mean, some of them even died eating things that weren’t good for them to eat. So we got them, we fed them and we kept them in compounds and they became easier to talk to and friendly.”

Some Japanese soldiers continued to believe the war was still raging, such as Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi, who was discovered living in a cave in Guam 27 years after WWII had ended.

“I mean, you could think of – the war was over. We convinced them. The marines convinced them it was over. How they convinced them, I’m not interested to know about, but they did it. They convinced them that the war was over and they were happy that they were fed and had a place to stay. Whether – how they were treated, I don’t know. How we treated them, we were good. We were fine. The only thing I was unhappy about, was I was there looking for a pair of drumsticks. They gave me a pair of guns.”