At the top of page two in the Sept. 6, 1945, edition of The Anamosa Journal, a photo was printed commemorating the official signing of the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri four days earlier.
What the photo and the caption didn’t say was that approximately 100 yards away, watching through binoculars was a local service member: Harold Rohwedder of Olin.
So, how did someone from Olin end up in Tokyo Bay during one of the most monumental days in U.S. history?
Initially granted a deferment, with farm work being considered essential to the war effort, Rohwedder determined that he wanted to do more.
“I volunteered and asked for the Navy,” he said.
Rohwedder left for training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Facility before being transferred to Key West, Fla., to attend fleet sound school. While in Florida, Rohwedder would go out on a converted yacht with sonar equipment in the morning for training and return later that night.
Initially, being out at sea took some getting used to.
“I’d get sick in the daytime. I’d get so sick at the rail, and I didn’t care whether I went in the water or not,” he said. “It was awful for three days. Then, after that, nothing. I never got sick again.”
When his training was concluded, after a stop in Virginia Beach, Va., he was sent across the country to San Francisco, Calif., and then out to the Admiralty Islands in the Pacific where he awaited his assignment. Rohwedder’s assignment came, it put him aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Nicholas, another converted yacht, which he joined after a short ride up to Subic Bay in the Philippines.
Rohwedder took his spot on the ship’s sonar team, keeping an eye out for enemy submarines. The crew would either work in shifts of eight hours on, four hours off or four hours on, eight hours off. The short shifts were necessary for the sanity of the team members.
“If you were on too long of a time, it would drive you nuts, the pinging,” he said.
According to the history of the U.S.S Nicholas, in the days leading up to the announcement of the surrender on Aug. 15, the U.S.S. Nicholas replenished the third fleet of Japan and was part of a task force off the coast participating in carrier strikes.
When the surrender came through, Rohwedder and the rest of the crew were stationed 50 miles off the coast of Japan. When the surrender was first broadcast, a cheer went up, before the crew resumed their station because they weren’t sure if any more attacks were imminent. It was a tense couple of days as the ships dodged typhoons and waited for the surrender plan to be put into place.
How did the destroyer get so close to the action? Admiral William Halsey Jr. had favorites—and the U.S.S. Nicholas was one of them.
“It was a great honor that Halsey picked us to go into the bay with him side-by-side,” Rohwedder said.
The U.S.S. Nicholas was chosen to go meet Japanese emissaries and deliver them to the U.S.S Missouri, including officers, pilots and interpreters.
When it came to be the day of the signing, the U.S.S. Nicholas transported high-ranking allied military leaders to the U.S.S. Missouri for the signing and also transferred them back. Among the 87 dignitaries were Lt. Gen. James Doolittle (later promoted to general) and Gen. Joseph Stilwell.
“I worked on the bridge, and we were told to stay there,” Rohwedder said.
The only people allowed to interact with them were those that were authorized to officially receive them on board. From where they were anchored, Rohwedder said they could see the ceremony with the naked eye, but they got a much better view with the binoculars.
After the signing, the crew assisted with the evacuation of a prisoner of war camp. Even after 75 years later, the story of one famished prisoner has stuck with Rohwedder.
“When they got on board, they were hungry. They got three pancakes. This one guy ate three, went to the rail, threw it up,” he said, before coming back for more. “He ate 15.”
The crew received their official orders to return home at the end of September, arriving back in the United States on Oct. 19.
After returning home, the crew of the Nicholas stayed in touch with reunions and a yearly newsletter, though Rohwedder didn’t have the chance to attend as reunions usually fell either during planting or harvest season. When including its service in Vietnam and Korea, the U.S.S. Nicholas became the most decorated ship in U.S. Navy for the 20th Century.
Reminiscing, Rohwedder, now 95, is grateful that the war didn’t go on any longer, or the favoritism of the U.S.S. Nicholas could have had very different consequences.
“If they had not surrendered, I don’t believe I’d be here,” he said. “Halsey liked our ship too well. We would’ve been the first ship to start bombarding the coast.”