WWII vet inspires Optimist Club with story about brush with history

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Joe McDoniel and his wife with a certificate proving he was aboard the USS Missouri when the treaty to end WWII with Japan was signed. (Stacey Tinsley/Press-Tribune)

By Stacey Tinsley, stinsley@bossierpress.com

The Bossier Optimist Club recently honored WWII veteran Joe McDoniel for his service with their end of year appreciation award. 

McDoniel addressed attendees at the Dec. 5 meeting with a moving speech of memories of serving on the USS Missouri, including his recollection of when the Japanese surrendered, marking the end of WWII.

On Sept. 2, 1945, as Japanese leaders boarded the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay to sign their surrender, Joe McDoniel was on board for that moment in history.

McDoniel couldn’t see the ceremony from where he stood with other troops near one of the battleships big guns. But he did see all of the dignitaries wearing there full dress uniforms board the ship and heard what was being said over the ships speaker system, including the speech from Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who McDoniel says was speaking to the American people.

McDoniel shared an interesting story with the Bossier Optimist Club about the table that was used, which the historic document was signed on.

“Well, they just went to the mess hall and got a table, put a cloth over it and set it out there,” he says. 

After the ceremony, that table, now of historic significance, went back to the mess hall somewhere.

“Well, probably less than hour later, somebody said, ‘We need that table,’” McDoniel recalled. “It looked like all the rest. So I went down there and got a table. They didn’t know exactly where that table was.”  

The table retrieved from the mess hall went into a showcase, and the USS Missouri is now a museum at Pearl Harbor. 

“I have visited the USS Missouri probably three times over the years. It brings back so many memories. And every time someone finds out that I was part of the original crew, more people ask me questions than they do the guides,” McDoniel said.

McDoniel and his crew on the battleship faced kamikaze attacks regularly during battles in the south Pacific. McDoniel was an anti-aircraft radar operator who alerted gunners where to look when the enemy was approaching.

After the battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima, it was time to invade the Japanese mainland. Preparations began for one big, final troop invasion. And then came a surprise turn.

“We cruised due east at flank speed all night long. Which is the fastest you can go. And that was (so we could get) away.” 

The crew was booking it to avoid the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. A second atomic bomb was dropped days later on Nagasaki. Then Japan surrendered.

The Missouri, and McDaniel, steamed back to Japan to become a part of history. 

“I appreciate the opportunity I had serving through that (war), I think it made me a better person. And I hope I helped the war (effort) and made a little bit of difference in the world,” McDoniel says.

He added that his military service allowed him to go to a trade school back in Memphis near his hometown in Arkansas. That brought him to Shreveport to build engines for Southern Bus Lines.

“When I came back home, I went to school, got a job, got married, and forgot about the Navy for many, many years. There are some instances in your life that you block out. That’s just the way that it is,” McDoniel says. 

The Bossier Optimist Club’s mission is to provide hope and positive vision, bringing out the best in youth within the community.