He sailed into Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Mellette in summer 1945 and he did not think he would come out alive.
Dick Slock was a radio operator with the U.S. Navy who enlisted at age 19 when the World War II was drawing to a close in Europe but still was raging in the Pacific Theater.
Even behind the seeming safety of a radio console, the Sheffield native found himself in some of the war’s hottest zones. His ship delivered Marines to Iwo Jima, Okinawa and then steamed into Tokyo Bay for an invasion of Japan. Casualty estimates were through the roof.
But there was a surprise awaiting Dick Slock as he steamed toward the Japanese capital. Days earlier, President Harry S. Truman had ordered the bombing of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, using a super-secret weapon. Nobody on board knew what an atom bomb was and all were flabbergasted at the reports of the swift devastation — or the swiftness of the Japanese surrender.
A great collective cheer went up when news reached the Mellette that Japan surrendered.
“We were ready to go back home, yeah,” Slock recalled from the Illinois Veterans Home at La Salle, where he’s closing in on his 95th birthday.
And everyone aboard the Mellette had been braced for death. Slock’s memory isn’t what it was, but he still remembers the chilling sight of Japanese gun sights. From the sea, Slock spotted dozens of flags marking where Japanese guns were trained at the Mellette and other allied vessels.
Slock’s sons and daughters-in-law said Dick rarely spoke about the Japanese landing, but when he did the first thing he remarked was how certain he was of death.
“If we went in there before the treaty,” Dick had told daughter-in-law Elaine, “we would have been blown away.”
Slock’s doom turned into glory because he stood just a few hundred yards from where the Japanese signed their surrender. The Mellette was anchored within sight of the USS Missouri, aboard which Gen. Douglas MacArthur receive Japanese diplomats who agreed to an unconditional surrender.
Slock was, however, too far out to be an eyewitness to the signatures that ended World War II.
Tom Slock, Dick’s son, said his father would have no part of the debate over whether Truman was justified in dropping the atom bombs. Slock squarely sided with Truman on the count.
“Dad said that was the best thing that ever happened. He figured it would go another five years if he (Truman) didn’t drop the bomb,” Tom said. “If they had to land in Japan it would have taken a long time to root out everybody.”
Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or TCollins@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_Court.