Sgt. Sigmund Sepanak was at Ie Shima when Japanese flew in – Colonel gives troops letter

I wrote a story in the Sunday, April 4, 2004 Charlotte Sun about Sgt. Giff Stowell of La Casa Mobile Home Park in North Port, Fla. who flew as a gunner/engineer aboard a B-24 “Liberator” bomber that ended up on Ie Shima Island off Okinawa when a Japanese surrender delegation flew in on Aug. 20, 1945 almost two weeks before the official surrender on the deck of the battleship Missouri on Sept. 2.

It resonated with former Sgt. Sigmund Sepanak of Port Charlotte, Fla. who served in the 92nd Ordinance Disposal Battalion attached to various units that went island hopping across the Pacific with Gen. Douglas MacArthur in World War II. It was his unit’s job to clear portions of the islands invaded by U.S. forces of unexploded bombs and land mines.

He was there when the surrender delegation flew in and he took some pictures of the historic event that he can no longer find. All he had were some Xerox copies.

He started his island-hopping career in January 1943 in Lae, New Guinea and continued until April 1945 at Okinawa, the last major island taken by Allied forces in World War II. By that time his outfit had lost half of the 54 soldiers who were defusing these bombs and mines. For his efforts Sepanak received the Purple Heart, a Presidential Unit Citation and the Bronze Star medal for valor.

In addition, each member in his unit was given this letter from their colonel. They got the letter five days before the Japanese delegation flew into Ie Shima. Here is what he said.

15 August 1945





The PAST is over and done; it is finished; the Recording Angel has written it in the corner of his eye, with a golden stylus and there it can rest, unless somebody does something about it. However, 5th Air Force PAST is glorious and must not be allowed to rest in the corner of any Angel’s eye. It must live in the memories of the 5th Air Force men and must be kept alive in their telling of it. It is a PAST filled with honor– a PAST to be spoken of with pride. In telling of it, 5th Air Force men will be accurate and truthful. Only the small doers of small deeds talk big, hoping thereby to make their deeds appear big. However small 5th Air Force men may talk about their organization’s deeds, those deeds will always be big– almost incredible — so much have we done with so little.

Always in the PAST 5th Air Force has driven ahead. Never has it gone backward or receded from an advance it has made. Never has it merely marked time. If only a modicum of the drive of the 5th Air Force is carried into the every day national life by 5th Air Force men, we as a nation will go places and do things. Let us carry on the rich tradition of positive action which our Great Commander has created and taught us to live. Let us each in his big or little sphere carry on that ever forward drive which recognizes no odds, knows no fatigue and overcomes all obstacles. Fifth Air Force has never known anything but Victory. Let its men as they go on through life never know anything but Victory; Victory over self, which is the most difficult to win, as well as lesser victories over obstacles from without.

These are the big things our PAST has give us: the ever forward drive; the taste and habit of Victory; the memories of the drive and the victories, to inspire us and keep us “in the groove.” Our Great Commander remarked on 15 August, “We need a few more Victories.” Fifth Air Force men can give him those few more Victories in their every day, normal lives, if they will. We think they will.


Fifth Air Force in its accustomed fashion is making its final forward move. And here begins the real PRESENT. This PRESENT of ours is full of things. It may appear, offhand to the be rich in privileges. Actually, it is loaded with obligations and responsibilities. We, the unconquered, have the obligation to impress our superiority upon the conquered enemy. The enemy is an Oriental. He will not be impressed by a noisy declaration of superiority. He will be impressed by a quiet demonstration of superiority.

Such a demonstration of superiority requires that the shirtless legions which have driven forward from MORESBY to OKINAWA must now find their shirts and wear them. The Soldier is the traditionally superior individual in the Japanese social hierarchy. A shirtless G.I. is not in uniform, therefore not a Soldier and therefore not a Superior person.

The only headgear the shirtless legions have worn since MORESBY days are the green and purple straw (hats) which blossomed forth at STOTSENBURG. These must go by the board and the uncovered G.I. must acquire regulation headgear and the habit of wearing it. An uncovered G.I. is not in uniform, therefore not a Soldier and they’re not a superior person.

The salute — military mark of mutual respect — has had to be overlooked under the pressure of the DRIVE. Now that the DRIVE is over and the goal is won, the amenities can — must be — picked up again and scrupulously observed. The regulation mark of mutual respect must be given and returned scrupulously. Otherwise, we shall not be conforming to regulations, therefore not Soldiers and therefore not superior persons as conquerors must be. If we do show that we respect each other, the enemy must respect us.


For the FUTURE we must hold what we have won at such cost of blood, treasure and sustained effort. The PACIFIC OCEAN must remain what it now is, an American Lake, just as American and just as purely and singly American as for example, CAYUGA LAKE in New York, CASS LAKE in Minnesota, GREAT SALT LAKE in Utah. A PACIFIC OCEAN dotted with American-held Air and Naval bases will be just such a lake and will justify — for the first time in History — its PEACE-implying name.

We have won– at cost of much blood, treasure and sustained effort — the American Lake. For the long, long FUTURE, let us hold it. If we will be hard, selfish and realistic in the respect, that will be actually the most generous gesture we can make toward “Peace in our time” and that of our Sons.

Harry F. Cunningham,
Colonel, G.S.C.
A.C. of S., A-2

Colonel Harry Francis Cunningham 1949

Colonel Harry Francis Cunningham 1949










This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, April 12, 2004 and is republished with permission.

Click here to view the collections in alphabetical order in the Library of Congress. This veteran’s story will not appear on this site, as the interview was conducted long before Don started submitting stories to the Veterans History Project.

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Sigmund Joseph Sepanak
17 Feb. 1922 – 26 March 2007

RARITAN TOWNSHIP, NJ – Sigmund Joseph Sepanak, age 85 years, of Raritan Township, NJ, went to rest in the arms of Jesus on Monday, March 26, 2007, in Independence Manor, Raritan Township, NJ.

Born in Bayonne, NJ, February 17, 1922, he was the son of the late Jozef and Kazimiera Kawska Szczepaniak. He had previously resided in Watchung, NJ, and Port Charlotte, FL, moving to Raritan Township in 2006.

He retired from Western Electric (Lucent Technologies) in 1980. He was a United States Army Air Corps veteran of World War II, serving 1943-1946.

He is survived by his wife of sixty-four years, Julia Zuber Sepanak; a daughter and son-in-law, Donna and Joseph Petrella, Sr., of Ringoes, NJ; a grandson, Joseph Petrella, Jr., of Flemington, NJ; two granddaughters, Doreen Helm of Mechanicsburg, PA, and Dr. Brenda Petrella of Quichee, VT; two brothers, Chester Sepanak of Honesdale, PA, and Leonard Sepanak of Clifton, NJ; a sister, Theresa Reale of Lincoln Park, NJ; and three great-grandchildren, Jasmine, Avry, and Ryley.

A Memorial Mass will be celebrated on Friday at 10:30 AM in St. Magdalen Church, 105 Mine Street, Flemington, NJ, under the direction of the Holcombe-Fisher Funeral Home, 147 Main Street, Flemington, NJ. Entombment will be in Hollywood Memorial Park, Union, NJ. There will be no calling hours.

Memorial contributions may be made to the American Diabetes Association, P.O. Box 7023, Merrifield, VA 22116 -7023.

Please visit for further information, or to send condolences.








  1. I too was on Ie Shima, though not during WWII but on occupation duty with the 3rd marine Division in 1964. I volunteered to go to Ie Shima to play ball with local Japanese children who were suffering from leprosy and isolated on Ie Shima.

    • Colonel Jim Muller, was serving as Assistant Chief of staff to Brigadier General Charles A. Thomson, the USA Commander on Ie-Shima. Closest of the Okinawa Islands of mainland of Japan. The 31 year old Colonel was to assigned to arrange the arrival of two Japanese transport planes to land on Ie Shima with the Japanese surrender delegation.

      The Japs planes were painted white with blue crosses on the wing tips. The surrender delegation was to be transferred immediately to a C-54 and flown to Manila. The equipment, crew and other personnel remaining behind.

      The planes landed on schedule, and guided to a parking apron and shut down their engines. No doors opened, almost an eerie silence. The colonel, along with an interpreter, went to the lead plane and knocked on the door which opened. Inside were a large numbers of General. Admirals and civiians, all seated on small stools. They had no side arms, but ceremonial swords. General Kawabe their commander lead his them to the transport to be flown to Manila for a conference with General MacArthur’s people. They were to return at 6 pm the following day. We shared our spam and other rations with the remaining Japanese crew, which they seemed to enjoy, after eating fish heads and rice for so long.

      The next day was routine, until we rushed to get the planes out on the runway for the delegations return to Japan. As the plane was being towed to the runway, the Japanese pilot whose head was out of the Sun Roof of the plane starting shouting rapidly. No one could understand him. Due to the airplanes engines not being started the plane had no way to turn the plane. The plane broke lose from the tractor, and fell off the runway into a ten foot drop. The plane ran over a jeep, and landed with it’s tail sticking straight up in the air. The props were bend back about 45 degrees. McArthur had let it be known that there be no mishaps that might jeopardize the surrender. “I felt like I was going to be responsible for prolonging World War II.”

      We assembled, assorted mechanics, and repairman, and patched it up . I looked like it was repaired with Scotch tape and bailing wire. We had to tell General Kaube, who took the one plane with about half the delegation back to Japan on the good plane. The rest of the group rest on the semi repaired plane 7 hour later. I received a message from the B-25 escorts, that they were turning back, once the saw the Japanese “Betty” was near the mainland. The Escorts turned. back. Jim did not learn till the 1970’s that the Delegation Plane had to land on the beach, and was almost shot down, because unusual markings and no Japanese insignia.

      During the time the plane was being repaired, Jim has a lengthy conversation with the Deputy Foreign Minister of Japan. (A graduate from New York University) He stated the use of atomic bombs was a blessing for both the US and Japan. The Japaneses were preparing for US invasion of the mainland. They would fanatically defended their home land. Having see the raw courage in defending the Island. On Okinawa, it required killing about 120,00 Japanese soldier to finally capture 120. The emperor, who was their Japanese God made the decision over Prime Minister and General TOJO.

      Happy Veterans Day Dad


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