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Veteran remembers Japanese surrender

POLSON — As he was watching the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, young sailor Jim Sivelle “pecked it out on a typewriter” and sent the letter to his parents in Los Angeles. 

Sivelle’s mom recognized the significance of her son’s letter and took it to the Los Angeles Times. The Times printed Sivelle’s letter describing the historic day.  

Sivelle was stationed on the USS Detroit, which was right next to the USS Missouri where the surrender was taking place. He said the skies were black with planes all day as U.S. and allied planes flew over. – American, British, Dutch, New Zealand, etc. – in celebration of the end of the war. 

Sivelle grew up in Illinois, and his dad worked for Chrysler. Then World War II started, and Sivelle’s dad moved his family to California so he could work for Northrup Aircraft in May of 1941. It was culture shock for Sivelle, moving from Galesburg, Ill.,  to the hustle and bustle of California. Soldiers, marines, fly boys and sailors were all over California; Sivelle graduated from high school in Los Angeles in 1944 and on that same weekend went in the Navy. After Pearl Harbor Day, Sivelle remembered the blackout conditions, barrage balloons and guard dogs patrolling the beaches.

Sivelle wanted to go into the service. He’d talked to the Air Force, but recruiters wanted him to go right away and he wanted to graduate from high school. The Navy agreed to let him graduate so he became a sailor. The last six months of high school, Sivelle went to school from 8 a.m. until noon, then pumped gas until about 4 p.m. and worked from 4 p.m. to midnight at California Flyers, Inc., building C-47 wing spars. California Flyers was located at Mines Field, which is now LAX. 

Sivelle attended boot camp in San Diego and then went to Alameda Naval Air Station as a naval mechanic and “jumped at the chance to serve on the USS Detroit.”  The Detroit had two catapult aircraft on the ship that Sivelle serviced and repaired. The catapult planes were scouts, looking for submarines and gunfire on the beaches.

Commanded by Admiral Don Barry from Montana, the Detroit may have been a lucky choice for Sivelle. She got out of Pearl Harbor without harm, sailed 243,000 miles during the war and never lost a man to the war although two men disappeared in the Aleutian Islands when a plane was lost.

The Detroit sailed into Tokyo Bay, guided by a Japanese person who maneuvered the ship through the submarine nets, mine fields and sunken ships.

After the surrender was signed, Sivelle drew shore duty. He said there were not many buildings standing in Tokyo, and the one that were still upright were shells.

“It (Tokyo) was all smokestacks and safes, all that was left after the bombing,” Sivelle said. 

Not many Japanese women and children were visible, Sivelle said, since they had taken to the hills. The men were sitting around on their haunches with items to sell. 

A good photographer, Sivelle took photos of the city and its people with his Brownie camera, including one of the Tokyo Zoo. The zoo was decimated; the populace had eaten all the animals, Sivelle noted. 

Soon the Detroit headed for the States, but Sivelle remained in the Navy until June of 1946. Sivelle speaks of 1945 and 1946 as if they were yesterday, his recall is phenomenal. 

After his discharge, Sivelle worked for the Los Angeles Police Department, but he didn’t like that. 

A friend was a manager at J.C. Penney’s. The friend said Father’s Day was coming up, and he didn’t have enough help so he hired Sivelle. Sivelle got paid $195 a month instead of the $21 a month he earned in the service. Sivelle worked at J.C. Penney for 40 years, retiring in 1986.

“Mr. Penney was a very good boss,” Sivelle said, coming up with retirement plans and hospital plans way before other companies. 

Sivelle and his wife moved to Polson in January of 2006 since their daughter and her husband lived in the area and had since 1999.

“I wish I’d found this place 20 years earlier,” Sivelle said. 

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