Pvt. Bill Denton showed up for World War II a bit too late

Pvt. Bill Denton was on a troop train headed from the Marine training base at Parris Island, S.C., to San Diego, Calif., for shipment to the Pacific Theater of Operations when the young leathernecks got word the Japanese had surrendered unconditionally and World War II was over.

“There were some Marines on that train who were crying because they weren’t going to get to fight the Japanese,” the 80-year-old Southwest Florida man recalled more than six decades later. “I wasn’t one of them, I was jumping up in down in the aisle yelling hurrah.”

A month later Denton found himself in Guam where the 6th Marine Division was being reorganized after the climatic Battle of Okinawa near the end of the war.

“The new guys were considered ‘Boots.’ Those front-line veteran Marines would kinda give us the business, but I got in with a bunch of good guys and heard a lot of stories about the Okinawa campaign.”

He served in the 1st Battalion, 29th Regiment, 6th Marine Division when the whole division, 20,000 Marines strong, were sent to Northern China to accept the surrender of all Japanese forces in the northern part of the country.

Denton has a one-page proclamation given to all the American soldiers who participated that reads: “This is to certify that Pvt. William J. Denton USMC participated in the ceremony at the surrender of the Japanese military forces in the area of Tsing Tao, China 25 October 1945.

“Signed: Lemeuel C. Sheppard Jr., Maj. Gen. Commanding 6th Marine Division.”

The surrender took place on a grass parade ground surrounded by a track just outside the city. The entire 6th Division marched out to the field in full battle dress to witness the Japanese surrender,” he said. “What I could see from where I was standing in the middle of all those troop of Marines was Japanese officers placing their swords on a table up front. Man, there were a lot of swords laid out there that morning.

“If I remember correctly the American and Japanese national anthems were played during the two-hour ceremony. Then the Japanese troops became POWs, and they were eventually sent back to Japan,” Denton said.

The 6th Marine Divisions’ primary objective during the year he spent in China was to protect the bridges along a stretch of the Trans-Siberian Railroad from the attacking communists hoards.

“President Roosevelt gave control of the Trans-Siberian Railroad to the Russians during the Yalta Conference,” he said. “That’s where the communists came into China from, right down that railroad.”

What Denton remembers most about the year he spent in China after the war were the village people.

“The Chinese people gave us a jubilant reception. They were happy to see the Japanese surrender,” Denton said. “The Chinese Nationalist Government didn’t have control of Northern China at that time. Northern China was run by Chinese communist warlords.

“We were told not to shoot. If anything happened we were to get our heads down in our foxholes and stay there,” he said.

Denton and his fellow Marines spent the winter in six-man tents out in the open. The weather was terribly cold.

“We’d see Chinese Nationalist troops going north on the railroad. Later we’d see them come back on the train all shot up,” he said.

At one point during his year-long deployment in China, Denton was given a 10-day leave. He and three Marine buddies who fought on Okinawa ended up in Sing Tao, a city along the North China coast.

“I didn’t drink at the time, but when I went on leave with a trio of seasoned Marines it became a 10-day drunk for me,” the old Leatherneck recalled.

Bill Denton of Charlotte Harbor stands beside a silk tablecloth with embroidered dragons he purchased in Tiensin, China shortly after World War II when he was a member of the 6th Marine Division on occupation duty in 1946. Sun photo by Don Moore

Bill Denton of Port Charlote, Fla. stands beside a silk tablecloth with embroidered dragons he purchased in Tiensin, China shortly after World War II when he was a member of the 6th Marine Division on occupation duty in 1946. Sun photo by Don Moore

The most prize possession from his furlough in Tientsin is a black silk tablecloth with fiery-red embroidered dragons on the edges he bought there in a shop for $6. Big bucks for a teenaged Marine in those days.

There was also a picture of the four youthful leathernecks, their hair slicked back in their Class-A uniforms, complete with ties and saintly expressions on their faces taken in Sing Tao.

Bill Denton, bottom right, and three of his Marine Corps buddies during a 10-day outing in Sing Tao, China. From the top left: Red Linker, Robert Barnhard (trop right). Bob Slate in Tie-in, China on furlough. Photo Provided

Bill Denton, bottom right, and three of his Marine Corps buddies during a 10-day outing in Sing Tao, China. From the top left: Red Linker, Robert Barnhard (trop right). Bob Slate in Tiensin, China on furlough. Photo Provided

“In August 1946 I got sick and turned red as a beet. A gray-haired major told me, ‘You have a beautiful case of scarlet fever.’ They put me in the hospital and loaded me up with penicillin for a month. Then they sent me back to my unit.

“I was sent home and discharged from the Corps on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, 1946.

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla.

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