MILLVILLE, Pa. — Chief Yeomen Robert W. York knew he was clutching a piece of history as he hurried to find his boss aboard the USS Holland, which was trolling the Pacific days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In his possession was a dispatch from President Harry Truman’s navy secretary, dated Aug. 15, 1945, that read: “All hands of the United States Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard may take satisfaction in the conclusion of the war against Japan.”
Japan had surrendered. World War II was over. York and his mates could go home.
York kept that historic 8-inch-by-6.5-inch piece of paper in a shoebox for the next six decades. He died in February at age 91, and now his son is auctioning it off in Pennsylvania on the 67th anniversary of V-J Day, the end of the war with Japan.
“It was the most treasured of all the things he had,” said Bob York, 65. “He viewed this as not being a piece of paper; he viewed this as saving his life and hundreds of thousands of other men’s lives. It was like salvation.”
York’s father enlisted on Aug. 25, 1942, in Boston. As personal secretary of Rear Adm. Francis Denebrink, he served aboard the ill-fated USS Ocelot — wrecked in a typhoon — and then the USS Holland, a submarine tender that became the headquarters ship of Vice Adm. Charles Lockwood Jr., commander of the Pacific sub fleet.
In the summer of 1945, plans were being made for a massive invasion of Japan — a likelihood dreaded by York and his fellow crew, his son said. The atomic bombings changed that.
The Holland received word via radio. York took the message to Denebrink, who read it, handed it back to his trusted secretary and told him to keep it as a souvenir, Bob York said.
The 112-word dispatch from Navy Secretary James Forrestal asked U.S. forces to stay disciplined in the face of Japan’s surrender, cautioning that demobilization “will create problems taxing patience and control almost as great as the tensions of war.”
“I ask that the discipline which has served so well to bring this democracy through hours of great crisis be maintained to the end that nothing shall mar the record of accomplishment and glory that now belongs to the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard,” he wrote.
York, who has been cleaning out his parents’ home in Stoneham, Mass., hopes the winning bidder will be a museum or someone with an appreciation of World War II.
“This is an important moment in American history,” York said. “All these people who died, what did they die for? They died for this moment, so there would be peace. And there it is, in one piece of paper, saying it’s peace. It takes my breath away.”
The auction will be held in Millville on Aug. 15 and will include other World War II-era documents and photographs taken by York’s father.
Auctioneer Kirk Williams said he has no idea what the military cable might bring. “It’s extremely unusual to run across an item like this,” he said.
Tom Czekanski, director of collections at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, agreed it’s a rare piece of World War II history.
“They are very significant because this is how people got the news that the war had ended,” he said.