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
HEADQUARTERS, 5TH AIR FORCE
OFFICE OF THE A.C. OF S., A-2
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
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,
A.C. of S., A-2
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, April 12, 2004 and is republished with permission.
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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 http://www.holcombefisher.com for further information, or to send condolences.