Two Delaware County veterans of the Pacific Theater were on hand for events surrounding Japan’s surrender in August and September 1945. The Japanese unconditional surrender culminated years spent overseas for both men - Woodruff “Woodie” Benson, of Middletown, and Ed Buffman, of Upper Providence – in the hard fought effort to defeat the imperial power.
“I remember at the beginning of August that the war was still a long way to go. Then on Aug. 6 they dropped the first bomb and about three days later they dropped the second,” said Benson. The 1938 Glen-Nor High School graduate was then in Okinawa, shuttling troops and equipment from Clark Field in the Philippines. “I left home in January ’42, got home in November 1945. I never got home in the meantime,” said Benson, an Army Air Corps Captain, who flew 1,400 hours, with slightly over half in combat hours, as head navigator in a troop carrier outfit.
About Aug. 29, Benson was among the crews called to Atsugi air base ahead of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s arrival. “One of our engines was having trouble. By rights we should have turned around gone back but after being overseas that length of time we didn’t want to miss this final bit,” said Benson, who had spent extensive time stationed in the jungles of New Guinea. Held over awaiting engine parts, “I was there when MacArthur came in with the 11th Airborne in a C54. I had kind of a ringside seat, if you will, before they even signed the peace on the Missouri. That was one of my really thrilling times.”
However, apprehension remained ahead of the formal Sept. 2 surrender. “There were 250 of us in Japan for two days and we really did not know at that particular point how true this peace would hold,” Benson said, having been instructed to “get out of there fast” and “not have any kind of incident.” While sleeping under a plane in a roofless hangar, a Japanese squad arrived and decided to drill outside alongside Benson’s. “We all had our .45’s there but it wouldn’t have done much good,” he said. “But all they were trying to do was make us feel uneasy, which they certainly did.”
Decades after the war, Benson would become involved with the American Legion and working with students after befriending the late Post Commander Oliver C.P. Armitage, longtime Chester banking and real estate figure and U.S. Navy corpsman during the war, at Lima Estates. “I never got into the VFWs or American Legions until Ollie Armitage got here. If I wouldn’t have joined if Ollie would not have been my good friend,” he said.
Benson would be among the Legionnaires who inaugurated a patriotic essay contest at Middletown’s Glenwood School, connecting elementary students of the 2010s with the Greatest Generation. “The kids were always very positive,” he said. “Ollie would say ‘how many would like to get in the service?’ and a lot of them would put their hands up.”
“The thing that was so good in World War II, was that everybody was involved. They either had a kid that was in the services, some of them two or three – my two brothers were both in,” he said.
Ed Buffman would follow in his father’s footsteps in the U.S. Navy, enlisting out of Roxboro High School in 1943. Serving as a Gunner’s Mate, Second Class from 1944-’46 on the U.S.S. Missouri, he saw battle at Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Kyushu and Honsho.
“My father was in the Navy; he was in 30 years,” Buffman said. “I had all the ideas of being on a PT boat, being in a submarine. He said ‘you’re not going to be on any of those little things.’” Following the wishes of his father – a veteran of World War I and retired Chief Turret Captain who was called back as a commissioned officer for World War II – Buffman was Gun Captain to 25 sailors manning a battery of five 20 millimeter guns on the Missouri.
“Those guys were great. I have five on each gun; not one of them ever ran from the gun or anything,” he said. When the Missouri was struck by a kamikaze April 11, 1945 off the coast of Okinawa, “the ship was aflame, smoke all over. I cut through midship and looked down there and said ‘don’t worry, everything’s under control.’ I had a great group of guys,” he said. Five days later, the Missouri would shoot down 11 and ½ kamikazes during a daylong attack.
After extensive battle to ensure Japan’s surrender, Buffman would volunteer to join “Malone’s Marauders,” under Commander L.T. Malone, as one of six gunner’s mates to land on Japan after the initial surrender sent to mountains unprotected to rid Japanese ammunition. With Marines still guarding ships in the uneasy days following the initial surrender, groups of sailors had to make the initial landings. “We were told ‘if you’re approached by Japanese soldiers, sailors or anyone – if they have an armband that’s white, don’t shoot them. If they don’t have an armband, shoot them,” he said.
When the time came for the formal surrender aboard the Missouri, the monumental occasion seemed an uneventful 20-minute formality for its crew, Buffman said. The dignitaries were nearly left in the lurch when the table for the signing sent from the HMS King George V was found to be two small. “At the last minute… two sailors from my division were sent to the mess hall to pick up a table,” he said. Buffman would finish out his time on the Missouri with a tour of duty in Europe, which he characterized as a “pleasure cruise” after the combat of the Pacific. “We were treated like kings,” he said.
In the 1990s, Buffman would come to be active in veterans’ organizations and education programs. Serving as VFW Media Post 3460 Commander from 1999-2001, he would go on to be All State Post Commander. He would help launch the Media Theater Veterans Alliance in 2001, which to date has honored 75 veterans at the opening of productions.
In 2005, he co-founded the Media-based Pennsylvania Veterans Museum with borough Mayor Bob McMahon and fellow Pacific Theater veteran, the late John “Bud” Hendrick Jr. The museum teaches 500 students per year and the general public the contributions of U.S. veterans from all wars.
Buffman was forthright in what he hopes younger generations can take away from his peers and the war effort. “They called the World War II guys ‘The Greatest Generation,’ because they are the greatest generation,” he said. “The values of the World War II generation are far different than their thoughts now, such as respecting each other, respecting the flag, and respecting the National Anthem.”