Local WWII veteran recalls atomic bombings during anniversary week

sbowman@islandpacket.comAugust 10, 2013 

Hilton Head Island resident Jim Capossela, 87, a veteran of World War II who was 19 at the time, said the atomic bombings were devastating but a "necessary evil" for the American lives they saved.

SARAH BOWMAN — Island Packet

— A "Little Boy" and a "Fat Man" changed countless lives 68 years ago.

Jim "Ace" Capossela's was one of them.

Stationed with the U.S. Navy on Guam, Capossela was training with other troops to invade Japan. That was until Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1945, when the atomic bombs -- nicknamed Little Boy and Fat Man -- were dropped on Japan.

"Naturally they called and still call the bombings inhumane, and it was," said Capossela, who is now 87 and lives on Hilton Head Island. He was 19 at the time of the bombings.

"But we were at war -- we weren't playing tennis -- and it was either them or us, so we had to think about us."

This week marked the 68th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs -- on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and on Nagasaki on Aug. 9 -- that helped end World War II. The resulting destruction and loss of life was devastating, but Capossela said few realized what the bombings prevented and how many lives they saved.

Capossela was a radio man and would have gone a shore during the invasion to communicate what was happening to the USS Ostara. He enlisted in April 1944 and served until June 1946.

But had it not been for the bombs, Capossela believes he would not have made it past the fall of 1945.

He points to Operation Downfall, an invasion of Japan that American military officials were planning for November 1945 and March 1946.

Prospects were grim, casualties were expected to be high, Capossela said, but those in command thought it was the only choice.

"The invasion plans were set, and it was estimated that close to a million Americans would be wounded or die," Capossela said. "That's when (President Harry S.) Truman woke up on August 6th and said, 'Drop the bombs.' That was a risky but really brave decision, because he knew the value of American lives."

More than 200,000 people were killed by the bombings, and many more perished in the years after from the effects of radiation. The Japanese government surrendered Sept. 2, 1945. Capossela said before that point, it seemed the Japanese would never quit fighting.

Capossela, who is married with three sons, said his ship was the first to enter Tokyo Bay after the surrender.

"When we first arrived, we had a chance to see what the gun emplacements were like along the coast where we would have invaded," he said. "And seeing those, I know it would've been a massacre of our forces if we had landed."

At the time, Capossela said, he didn't fully grasp the gravity or magnitude of the bombs and their destruction. He kept hearing rumors of this thing called an "atom bomb," but few knew what that meant, he said.

He is saddened by the lives lost, but he said the bombings were a "necessary evil."

"If they had not dropped the bombs, then we would have gone in, kept fighting and so many more lives would have been lost on both sides," Capossela said. "I would not have been here to talk about this."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

Read more here: http://www.islandpacket.com/2013/08/09/2621883/local-wwii-veteran-recalls-atomic.html#storylink=cpy

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