These are a series of stories of Navy Signalman Gerald (Gerry) Rasmussen’s experiences as part of the occupying forces of Japan after World War II. Gerry arrived at Tokyo Bay in Japan shortly after the unconditional surrender of Japan. He was there from October 1945 until June 1946, when he mustered out of the Navy and returned to the United States to attend college at the University of Oregon.
Gerry was born in 1926, the only child of Helga and Hans Rasmussen. His grandparents emigrated from Denmark around the year 1890, before Ellis Island in New York City was open. During the summers when he was growing up he attended ‘Dane School’ at the Dane Hall where he learned about the social and cultural heritage of his grandparents. [He grew up speaking both Danish and English.]
He and his parents lived in Junction City, Oregon, a small, rural community 15 miles north of Eugene. His father owned and operated a feed and seed store during the depression years from 1932 to 1952. The business had two regular year-round employees. During the summer harvest season the business employed up to nine workers, including Gerry from age 14 until he left home for the Navy in 1944. His mother waitressed at the Calico Cat Café in downtown Junction City on Highway 99, the major north south route, at the time, from southern California up through Oregon and on through Washington. Looking back, he commented that having a working mother was unusual at the time, but he didn’t think much of it then. It just meant he spent a lot of time with his grandparents who had a farm east of town, and he liked that.
When talking with Gerry about the depression, he said he didn’t really feel it. He remembered his parents had to return a car that they had bought because they couldn’t make the payments. Asked if his father extended credit to his customers during the depression, he said yes; sometimes it was hard to collect. One account finally settled years later when the customer decided to move to Eastern Oregon. The amount owed to his father’s business ended up as the down payment on Love Lake farm, which Gerry’s folks took over in 1946. Gerry and his wife Sigrid now live on this farm, just east of Junction City.
Gerry was 13 when Hitler’s Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, starting World War II in Europe. He said that at the time the United States, very much an isolationist country, wanted nothing to do with the war in Europe. President Roosevelt reassured the country that the U.S. would not get involved in the war.
On December 7th, 1941, the day of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Gerry was out west of Junction City hunting gray diggers (a local ground squirrel) with a 22 rifle. Someone came to get him because he was a paper boy for the Eugene Daily News [he had a paper route along which he delivered newspapers daily from age 11 until he graduated from high school]. The newspaper was about to publish a special edition describing the attack on Pearl Harbor and wanted him to sell it on the street as ‘extras’ as soon as it was ready. Once ready, Gerry and a few of his friends hawked the paper in Junction City just as they had done two years earlier with a special edition describing Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
Essentially, Gerry and his friends walked around the neighborhoods of Junction City yelling “extra, extra, read all about it.” Lots of people came out of their homes to buy the paper. In addition, they posted themselves on the corner of 6th Street and Highway 99, at the only stop sign in town, and sold papers as people stopped and then drove on. Best of all, many didn’t want to wait for change; they would hand over a quarter for the paper that sold for a dime, leaving a 15 cent tip for Gerry and his friends.
Gerry stated that this surprise attack united the country like he has never seen since. He said there was a uniform feeling of anger because the Japanese attacked without warning. But there was little talk of the war at home, and he doesn’t remember there being much discussion at school about the war. However, the Danish community in Junction City followed the war in Europe closely. There was quite a stir when Germany invaded Denmark on April 9th, 1940. The local Lutheran Pastor wrote a special editorial for the Junction City Times. When the U.S. invaded Guadalcanal, Gerry put up a map of the South Pacific and began following the war in the Pacific.
The thing he remembered most about the war effort at home was gasoline rationing. His Dad’s business truck had a C sticker in the window giving him a larger ration of fuel. His parents’ car and the 1929 Chevy two-door he had his senior year in high school both had A ration stickers. Those cars got a smaller ration. On occasion some gas from the business truck found its way into the personal vehicles, so that they had enough gas to get to where they wanted to go, but some was returned during harvest season. Managing the limited supply of gas they received seemed to be a big issue, while food rationing was no big deal.
No one before the age of 18 was drafted. However, he remembered school mates volunteering to join up when they were 17, right after graduating from high school. He remembers a friend with an abusive stepfather who got written permission from his mother and entered the military at 16. Junction City was a small community, but there were casualties. Gerry recalled at least three from the Danish community who did not return home.
In the spring of 1944, the year he graduated from high school, he and two friends went to Portland to try to enlist in the Navy’s flight program. All three were rejected for different reasons. He and his friend, Wil Larsen, who also lived in Junction City, decided to join the Navy anyway. The third friend decided to wait and get drafted. Upon being drafted, he also ended up in the Navy. The reason for choosing the Navy was that none of them wanted to end up in the Army, and the Navy said they could learn a trade while serving their country, and they liked that.
Gerry was ordered to report at the recruiting office in Portland. The Navy connected him with another inductee from Eugene, who picked Gerry up in Junction City on his way to Portland. Gerry said this was the only time he ever rode on a motorcycle.
He was sent immediately to Basic Training, also known as boot camp, at Camp Farragut, Idaho, by Lake Pend Oreille, northeast of Spokane, Washington. Boot camp lasted about twelve weeks. Signalman training took place at the same camp, lasting sixteen weeks. When asked how he ended up as a signalman, he explained that at the Navy boot camp they gave inductees a series of aptitude tests. With the results of these tests in mind, the inductee could request three specialties for additional training. Gerry’s first choice was signalman. After completing training he was sent to the Los Angeles Harbor at Long Beach, California. Upon arriving at his first duty station, he received the rating of Signalman 3rd Class. He was assigned to the control post at the harbor entrance, which directed ship traffic in and out of the harbor.
Gerry remembered a lot of fuel tanker ships moving in and out of the harbor. At the time, there were a lot of oil wells and refineries in that part of California, so it wasn’t surprising to see a lot of fuel tankers leaving the port. This is where he was when the Japanese surrendered unconditionally in August, 1945.
Interviewer and Editor,
Keith L. Miller
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