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Walter Shackelford « North Carolina's WWII ExperienceNorth Carolina's WWII Experience

Walter Shackelford

Hometown: Durham, NC
Branch of Service: Navy, USS Farenholt
Location of Service: Pacific

The excerpt below is from a speech Walter Shackelford gave at Rotary Veteran’s Day Program, November 8, 2004:

My story really begins as our war with Japan was ending. Squadron 12 had been active in helping capture Okinawa and our forces were being prepared for an invasion of Japan. It was in August 1945 that my flagship, the USS Farenholt, was ordered to picket duty between Okinawa and Japan…the duty to warn Okinawa of any approaching Japanese aircraft. It was said that being ordered to picket duty was like being condemned death as over 50 of our best destroyers had been sunk or disabled by kamikaze pilots, who were willing to die by diving into our warships.

In early August President Truman warned the Japanese that we had a new type deadly destructive weapon and would use it if Japan didn’t surrender immediately but he got no reply from the Emperor. On August 6th we dropped our first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, causing great destruction but no sign of surrender came from the Japanese. Then on August 9th, another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. It took until August 15th for the Japanese to make peace and surrender overtures to the United States. I must say that it was a day of great rejoicing for those fighting on the front line and for those training for the invasion of Japan. There has been much controversy about our using this weapon but I have always felt that I owed my life to the atomic bomb.

My commanding officer was the senior naval officer in the area of Okinawa and at war’s end we were ordered to be part of surrender ceremonies on the Saki Shima islands south of Japan, a staging area for Japanese forces, with airflields, kamikaze planes, torpedo boats, and large ammo depots. I had the privilege to be a part of the acceptance of surrenders and it was there that each officer was given a samurai sword and a pistol. I never knowingly saw the face of the officer that my sword and pistol belonged to. This ended my WWII experience and the Farenholt returned to the United States. I got a discharge from the Navy and returned to Durham, NC.

In the fall of 1982, my son, Gene, who worked for Piedmont Airlines was planning a trip to Japan in February of ‘83 and wanted me to go with him. It was then that my thoughts turned back to that sword that had been in my living room chest in the plain cotton bag that I had received it. I would occasionally take it out and show it to my children and their friends just to let them know that the “ole man” was in WWII. I know there was Japanese writing on a piece of cloth inside the bag but I had never had it translated. I had the thought: “wouldn’t it be great if I could take this back to Japan and give it to the family of its original owner?” I had the name translated and it said Lt. Takuya Seno.

It was not until 1984 that the search for Mr. Seno came to fruition. Fortunately, I had written a very detailed letter about the surrender event to my parents which had the date, location, and pictures of the surrender ceremony. Japanese contacts that Piedmont had in Japan were able to take the information I had and review the war records, which showed that Mr. Seno was still living in Sakura, a suburb of Tokyo. I began to get excited over the prospect of a return trip to Japan to return the sword and immediately wrote Mr. Seno a letter asking if he would like to have his sword back – you must understand that in Japan, if you are defeated by an enemy, you ‘Lose face” and it was my concern that he might not want his sword back. However, he wrote me back in September, “I have no words to thank you enough about the sword. I thank you very much for your warm human kindness. I joined the Japanese Navy when I graduated from college and trained to become a naval officer in 1944. At Miyako Shima we suffered from the bombardment of your country’s warships. In September 1945 after surrender, I worked for military base in throwing arms into the sea. I am 63 years old with wife, 2 sons and 2 grandchildren. I retired from Osaka Chemical in 1982. I hope this acquaintance of ours may develop into a lasting friendship.” I thought to myself: Mr. Seno and I had very similar backgrounds, having both gone to college and had Naval training and were both fighting for our country’s cause.

After such a warm and friendly letter I started planning another trip to Japan. Prior to this departure, I was trying to foresee any obstacles that I might encounter. Samurai swords are considered “dangerous weapons” in Japan adn I was forewarned that custom officials might impound it. When I knew I would be aboard United Flight 150 I was instructed to call a business in Seattle and tell them my arrival time in Japan, which was 4:30pm on September 26th.

When I arrived at Narita Airport there was a Japan airline official looking for me at the baggage counter holding up my picture in one hand and a Japanese newspaper in the other – so I identified myself to him. After picking up my baggage and sword, he took me to a private room where custom officials carefully opened the box, examined the sword, recorded a lot of data and then rewrapped the sword like it was originally. Then 2 airline officials took Bill and me outside the terminal where a car was waiting for us, which took us to the police station in a separate building near the terminal. It was there that my sword owner, Mr. Seno, several Japan airline officials, the Chief of Police and some press members were waiting in a private conference room. I immediately knew Mr. Seno from the photograph he had sent me and stepped forward to shake hands with him. At that point, with an interpreter, I made a little formal presentation of the sword to Mr. Seno to the effect that:

“39 years ago I received this sword as a symbol of victory and was now returning his sword to him as a symbol of peace and friendship between our two countries.”

Then a reporter asked me if I came all the way from the United States just to return the sword. I replied: “Yes!” Mr. Seno seemed quite touched and proceeded to open the box and looked particularly for the cotton cloth that revealed his name to me. “That’s my handwriting,” he exclaimed. He broke into a big smile and he very carefully proceeded to examine the handle and casing of the sword…and then very carefully looked at the blade of the sword and asked, “How did you keep it in such good condition?” I couldn’t lie…I told him that it had not been cleaned since I received it. I later found out that Mr. Seno had received the sword from his father when he received his commission in the Japanese Navy.

This all happened on Wednesday, September 26, 1984, after a 14-hr plane ride. I have to say that this was the most exciting and gratifying days of my life.

My friendship with the Seno family has continued to this very day. Through all these years we have exchanged cards, letters, small gifts and pictures of our families.

Mr. Takuya passed away on February 1, 2004.