When World War II finally ended 70 years ago this week, Hershel Williams recalls that he and his fellow Marines on Guam were "absolutely elated, because the word was that the Japanese were going to surrender. We would not have to make that next campaign."
That "next campaign" was one that Williams didn't expect to survive.
Williams had already taken part in the bloody battle of Iwo Jima in early 1945, and would later be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions there. When he got to Guam, the Marines "started a new training system.
"Previous to our return from Iwo, we trained constantly for jungle warfare. When we returned, they had built some false-fronted buildings to simulate a street. They'd put up false walls with a door, a window, that sort of thing, because [in] our next campaign, somebody knew we were going to be in a city, not in a jungle. We began training: How do you street fight? How do you approach a house? How do you go through a window?"
In a phone interview from his West Virginia home on Thursday, Williams said the Marines on Guam "thought we were going to Tokyo. As far as we were concerned, that was Japan. It didn't have anything else. There were no other names or anything else, Tokyo was Japan. So we're going to Tokyo.
"Well, we found out after the war was over, they had a campaign scheduled where [the Marines] would go under a program called Olympic — that was the code name — and [on November 1] we were going to attack the island of Kyushu. That was our next goal. So we would have been in a place where we would've had no option but to kill women and children. Because they had been trained by the Japanese to protect their homeland with any kind of a weapon that they had. So, according to historians, if we had had to go to Japan, [all the armed forces] would've had a million casualties.
Over the years a debate has continued about whether atomic bombs should have been used against Japan, but the way Williams sees it, "the bomb no doubt saved my life."
"The celebration that we had on Guam on August 7th after the bomb was dropped on the 6th, was unreal. We jumped up and down, we screamed, we yelled, we fired weapons into the air. It was chaotic. Because we felt that was going to be the end of the war. I don't know why we felt that, but we did. When they dropped the one on the 8th, we didn't go as wild. We went wild, but not quite as wild as we did on the 6th."
And when word of the surrender finally arrived, "I was just absolutely thrilled that I was going to get to come home. I didn't care when or what or how."
It also represented a reacquaintance with the rest of the world. Until the final days of the war, "none of us had personal radios, we weren't permitted to have them. The only information we got was through the Armed Forces Network. Usually had one radio, and it was usually in the first sergeant's office. We were not getting any newspapers, or any bulletins, or any radio information at all as to what was going on in the world. Everything was secret.
"After the bomb was dropped, we could have lights in our tents at night."