Vito V. Alongi had a ringside seat to witness the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.
“I was on top of a gun turret looking down at the ceremony as it progressed with all the generals and admirals. It only lasted about a half hour. The Japanese were very courteous and respectful. Some of them had on top hats and some had on uniforms,” Alongi recalled of the momentous occasion.
But the homesick Niagara Falls teenager — he was just 19 at the time — focused more on how long it would be before he could return home.
“I was hoping it would be soon. I wanted to see my father and mother and brother and two sisters,” Alongi said.
The journey to peace with the Japanese had been perilous for the crew members aboard the 45,000-ton battleship Missouri.
“I stepped foot onto the Missouri for the first time in Bayonne, New Jersey, on the first week of November 1944, and we went through the Panama Canal and arrived in Hawaii on Christmas Eve,” he said.
In February, he was shelling Iwo Jima.
“We were about 25 miles out at sea and bombarding the island with our 16-inch guns. We did that for one or two days and to be perfectly honest with you, I’m deaf now from the tremendous noise of the guns. I wear hearing aids,” he said.
The Missouri then sailed to Leyte in the Philippines for restocking of armaments, food and a brief rest.
The next big battle was in June at Okinawa, and again the battleship was out at sea hammering its distant target.
“We provided support for the . They would call us on the radio and tell us where they needed support from our big guns. We shot over them into the mountains and caves where the enemy was,” Alongi said.
And even though the Missouri was safe from the ground battle, the Japanese brought the fight to them and other ships in the form of suicide Kamikaze pilots.
“They were all over dropping like popcorn from the sky onto our ships. One of them hit the starboard side on our superstructure. There was damage but nothing critical,” Alongi said.
But it could have been, if not for the pilot’s apparent miscalculation in dropping his 500-pound bomb in the water just before striking the ship.
The Kamikaze pilot’s body was recovered from the plane’s wreckage during the cleanup, and he was given a burial at sea the next day.
“Some of us thought it was necessary to do the respectable thing. He was a human being. Others felt he shouldn’t have gotten that. As far as I was concerned, he deserved the funeral.”
After Okinawa, the Missouri headed to the Marshall Islands to replenish its supplies and collect for what was expected to be the final Pacific battle, the Invasion of Japan.
“When we were on our way back to the war zone, we got the word that they had dropped the atom bomb and that the Japanese were thinking about surrendering,” Alongi said.
The world’s first atomic bombs were dropped on Aug. 6, 1945, at Hiroshima and on Aug. 9 at Nagasaki.
“We were all excited. The first thing that came to our minds was we were all alive and would soon be on our way home,” he said. “But then we got word that the surrender would take place on our ship and we turned around and headed back to Tokyo Bay.”
After witnessing the Japanese surrender, Alongi said, the day of Sept. 2 continued like any other aboard the Missouri.
“The captain got on the public address system and said, ‘The honeymoon is over, turn to,’ which means go back to your work stations. ”
After the war, he participated in a month-long cruise aboard the Missouri in the Mediterranean Sea. The ship had gone there for two purposes — to deliver the remains of the Turkish ambassador, who had died in Washington D.C., to his homeland; and to make a statement to the Soviet Union.
“It was the beginning of the Cold War and the United States wanted the Russians to see that we had a strong ,” Alongi said.
But the chance to visit ports in the Mediterranean also provided him with the opportunity to do some sightseeing and have some fun.
“I had such a good time bar hopping and meeting girls in Istanbul that when I got back aboard the ship I was drunk and I ended up in the brig for 10 days,” Alongi said with a chuckle. “It wasn’t so bad because I was able to trade a couple packs of cigarettes for a couple bottles of wine and have a little party in the brig.”
When he was honorably discharged, he returned home to Niagara Falls and went to work at his father’s car and truck repair garage, Alongi Motor Co., at Pine Avenue and 26th Street.
“My dad Anthony started the business in 1933 and I worked at it until 1998 when I sold the building and equipment,” he said. “I was retired about six weeks. I washed the windows and cleaned the house and then one night I said, ‘What am I going to do the rest of my life.’ So I went back to work.”
He worked four years delivering for an automotive parts store.
“Then the casino opened up and I worked as a limo driver and in security for about 11 years,” he said. “At that time, I was about 88 and decided that was enough.”
He and his wife, the former Adeline Pasco, have four children, six grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.
And though retired, Alongi still keeps busy volunteering every Monday at Mount St. Mary Hospital in Lewiston.
“I deliver paperwork and other material to different departments in the hospital or wheel people out who are getting discharged,” he said. “I also play poker once a month and that’s enough.”
Vito V. Alongi, 91
Hometown: Niagara Falls
Rank: fireman 1st class
War zone: World War II, Pacific Theater
Years of service: July 1944 — June 1946
Most prominent honors: Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, 2 battle stars; World War II Victory Medal; Combat Action Ribbon
Specialty: engine room mechanic
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