Dassel infantryman, Bob Skalberg, remembers occupying the mainland of Japan during WW II
By Lynda Jensen
DASSEL, MN Sixty-six years ago, Bob Skalberg was working on his dad’s dairy farm in Dassel when he was drafted into the US Army in 1944.
He had just graduated the year before from Dassel High School, and was fresh and green at the age of 19.
He answered the call to duty and served as an infantryman, and was immediately prepared to invade the nation of Japan.
“We didn’t know how it would go,” Skalberg said.
When he was mustered with the rest of the troops and placed on a bus, he noted that fear affected people differently. As the new recruits boarded a bus, they saw a man from Litchfield laying face down on the side of the road.
“They sent him home,” he said. A man who was so petrified with the idea of combat was considered a liability and might end up shooting his own comrades, he said.
“You don’t want to be with a guy like that,” he said.
He was sent with the others to Texas for training for 15 weeks, and then shipped to the Philippines from San Francisco, on a large troop ship.
In the Philippines, Skalberg engaged in fighting in the mountains against the Japanese. It was hot and sweaty there, he said.
He carried an M1 Garand 30 caliber semi-automatic rifle while serving in World War II. This is the same weapon used for military honors in Dassel funerals, he added.
A year later, the war continued with many twists and turns that would change the fate of Bob Skalberg.
In April 1945, the Battle of Okinawa an island strategically located 340 miles away from the island of Japan got underway.
Okinawa was captured after 82 days of ferocious fighting, lasting until mid-June. It was to be used as part of the mainland assault against Japan.
The fighting in Okinawa was known as the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War, and claimed the highest number of casualties of any World War II engagement.
Japan lost more than 100,000 soldiers and the Allies sustained the loss of more than 50,000 men at that time.
On the German front, Adolf Hitler would commit suicide April 30, 1945 leaving the Americans and Allied forces to contend with the Japanese.
This meant that Skalberg was ready to invade the Japanese mainland, to fight a “fanatically hostile population,” according to author Richard Sutherland.
If everything went as thought, Skalberg would have been part of “Operation Olympic,” planned for October 1945, and/or “Operation Coronet” in the spring of 1946.
However, the intense fighting that was expected didn’t come to pass because of the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
If it had, US casualties were estimated to reach 500,000 soldiers.
Skalberg, instead, found himself part of an uneasy occupying force, after the Japanese government issued an unconditional surrender in August of 1945.
The headquarters for Company G was Himeji, Honshu.
“We didn’t know if they would listen to their commanders or government,” Skalberg said. They carried firearms with them at all times, especially for the first six months.
Atrocities of the Japanese were well known to US soldiers, in particular against POWs. “Things would have been a lot different the other way around,” Skalberg said.
Frequently, he would be on night patrol. In fact, one night, he almost got killed by friendly fire during such a patrol.
Since he was a sergeant, he had six soldiers under his command. He placed them in position along the seashore by a dock, and was on his way back to the first guy, when nervous Australian guards heard his footsteps and started shooting at him.
“I could hear the bullets going by ‘zing,’ ‘zing,’” he said. He jumped down and laid flat on the deck until they ran out of bullets, he said.
After that, he walked up to the dock so the Australians could see he was an Allied soldier.
After some time, tensions eased when the Japanese people were met with courtesy and respect, he said.
At that time, US soldiers were housed in barracks with tin roofs. When it rained, this made a distinctive noise, but soldiers would get used to this, he said.
Skalberg recounts seeing many things while there, bombed out buildings; including a church, wrecked Japanese tanks and anti-aircraft guns. He remembers the smell of death, too.
During the occupation, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Japan and gave a speech. In fact he brushed Skalberg’s shoulder while entering for his engagement.
Eisenhower was a five-star general who was supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe, and later served as president of the United States from 1953-1961.
Skalberg went home November 1946, on a ship from Yokohama to San Francisco. By sea, it took 31 days to get home with 15,000 men aboard the troop ship (of which 5,000 were Navy sailors), he said.
After the war, he got married to the late June (Combs) Skalberg Oct. 3, 1947.
During World War II, June worked as a welder at the Northern Pump munitions plant in Minneapolis, and also was employed at a railroad roundhouse in Minneapolis, greasing railroad wheels and axles.
June passed away April 19, 2008.
Bob still lives quietly on the family farm southwest of Dassel, and will turn 85 years old Friday, April 16.