Not often discussed as a part of World War II history is the repatriation of Japan, following the end of the war.
Fergus Falls World War II veteran Wayne Schmidt, 92, was in the Navy and assisted in the repatriation process with fellow servicemen.
In simple terms, repatriation refers to bringing back people to one’s country. At the end of World War II this process included bringing back Japanese from Formosa, Korea, Manchuria and Saipan.
“Repatriation was no easy task and we were very busy as part of the occupation force,” Schmidt said in his home on South Cascade Street in Fergus Falls. “Unloading ships with many people involved a lot of work.”
This task followed the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki three days later, on Aug. 9. Schmidt and fellow sailors arrived in Tokyo Bay Nov. 3, 1945.
During this time Schmidt and fellow sailors also transported Naval personnel from ships in the harbor. Others from the British battleship, “Duke of York,” toured the Nagasaki bomb site.
“We walked all over the place, never realizing possible radiation or other hazards,” Schmidt said.
This influx of Japanese people back to their homeland resulted in congestion and created health and sanitation problems. But with the help of Schmidt and other U.S. Navy personnel, America’s humanitarian program prevailed.
How military service
began for Schmidt
Wayne Schmidt was raised on a farm east of Fergus Falls and moved to town with his family when he was in third grade.
In October 1944 Schmidt and his classmate Clayton Elliott received draft notices.
Schmidt was in the Navy before graduation and Elliott was in the Army prior to commencement. Their mothers received their graduation certificates from high school principal, Ed Bechtel.
“The Navy was my first choice,” Schmidt said. “I was off to Fort Snelling in St. Paul and then to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center.”
Following boot camp he was trained as a Naval radio operator at the University of Wisconsin and from there it was on to more Navy training in San Diego.
The ship that took Schmidt and other sailors to Japan, with a stop in Hawaii, was the “Herald of the Morning.”
On April 5, 1946, Schmidt and other sailors left Japan for the trip back home, to the United States. He was discharged on April 30 that year.
Schmidt and other servicemen and servicewomen from World War II became a part of what’s today referred to as “The Greatest Generation.”
In 1945, the final year of World War II, the total of U.S. military personnel numbered 12.2 million. Schmidt and other Navy personnel totaled 3.4 million.
Back to civilian life
Wayne married his wife, Iva, in April 1947. They were together more than 70 years, prior to her death in 2017.
Back in civilian life, Wayne held several positions prior to working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Ohio and in Washington, D.C.
He worked in truck loading, was a milk tank driver, employed for two years by the Otter Tail County engineer, worked at the Veterans Administration in Fargo and served several years at the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge northeast of Detroit Lakes.
In the nation’s capital, Iva also landed a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They returned to Fergus Falls in 1999 after retiring in McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania, where their son Paul and his family still reside.
Wayne appreciates living close to relatives in the Fergus Falls area,
His hobbies in retirement have included artwork, antique tractors and volunteerism with the annual thresher show in Dalton.
He holds membership in the American Legion and has the respect of family and friends for his military service during World War II.
“This is a great country and I’m thankful for the many opportunities that have come my way,” he said.
Tom Hintgen is a longtime Daily Journal columnist. His column appears Saturdays.