After the Japanese surrender, near the end of World War II, Douglass Starr was aboard the USS Nicholas, a destroyer ship that performed taxi service for the Japanese delegation during the famous signing of the surrender agreement aboard the USS Missouri.
"We went and anchored in Sagami bay, right there in view of Mt. Fuji, beautiful mountain, with snow on top, and when the sun went down, we darkened ship, which was routine in the war and Hulsey went on the radio and he said, 'light ship, we won."
After the signing of the peace treaty ending World War II in the Pacific, the USS Nicholas was among a delegation of ships to sail north of Tokyo to Sendai, Japan, to free the remaining American POWs that were being held in Japanese prison camps.
"They sent us up to Sendai japan, which is 500 miles north of Tokyo, 4 ships went up and we pulled out…we only had a contention of marines with us, and they went ashore and they pulled out the POWs. We went on liberty in Sendai while they were pulling all the people out because it took a while to get them out to the waterfront and then we had 250 of these pows. Some of them were other nationalities, spoke no English. But all of them were emaciated. Some of them had been there since the battan death march, which would have been almost 4 years in a POW camp. And the captain went on the public address system and said, 'no sailor sleeps in his bunk tonight, the bunks are for the POWs."
"Well, the bunks didn't go for the POWs. They did not want to go to sleep. They wanted to talk. They wanted to find out what was going on in the states. Unfortunately, we didn't know anything either. We didn't have any newspapers, we just had news reports. They wanted to know who won the world series, stuff like that....we took them to special breakfast, because they asked them what they wanted to eat and they said well we want good old American breakfast, pancakes so the cooks prepared all that...and they would point out what they wanted, how many pancakes, and they'd get a stack like that. The mess cook gave them whatever they wanted and so we carried the tray, put it on the table, they sat down, took one bite and that was it. They couldn't handle it. It was just too much."
Despite all that he saw and was involved in, Douglass Starr wouldn't have done it any other way. He is proud to have served on the USS Nicholas and says that serving on a destroyer is one of the most unique experiences he could have had in the U.S. Navy.
"It's a different lot, and it's so different, I personally don't know any destroyer man that voluntarily left the destroyer and moved to a different ship. But it's called the dungaree navy because the only time we put on uniforms is when we went ashore. Unlike the other ships, there was no saluting. We didn't even salute the captian first time we saw him or anything like that. It was just a general crew all working together, and being small 300 men, 30 officers, we knew almost everybody. It was kind of hard to see somebody and say, 'well, who are you?" We knew. We maybe didn't go on liberty on them or anything like that, but we knew who they were and something about them. We worked together, we stood watch together."
For Voices of Veterans, I'm Tom Turbiville.