A pen that made history, lost to history, then found

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - INSIGHT - By Paul Woo

Sept. 2, 2015, will mark the 70th an­niver­sary of the for­mal sur­ren­der of Ja­pan to the Al­lied Pow­ers in Tokyo Bay. Rep­re­sent­ing the United States, Fleet Adm. Ch­ester Nimitz, com­man­der-in-chief of the U.S. Pa­cific Fleet and com­man­der-in-chief of the Pa­cific Ocean ar­eas dur­ing World War II, signed one of two copies of the sur­ren­der doc­u­ment us­ing a Parker pen that my grand­fa­ther, Y. C. Woo, had gifted to him dur­ing the sum­mer of 1945.

My pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents and fam­ily em­i­grated from Shang­hai to es­cape the Ja­panese and made San Fran­cisco their home dur­ing the sum­mer of 1940. Within a year, they moved to Berke­ley and be­came neigh­bors with Adm. Nimitz and his wife, Cather­ine, who be­came stead­fast friends with my grand- mother. Dur­ing my child­hood, our vis­its to see my grand­par­ents al­ways in­cluded vis­its with Ad­mi­ral and Mrs. Nimitz, whose friend­ship with my grand­par­ents would last through their life­times.

Adm. Nimitz gra­ciously re­turned the pen to Grand­fa­ther upon his re­turn to the United States in Oc­to­ber 1945, and Grand­fa­ther then gave the pen to Chi­ang Kai-Shek in 1946. There were clear con­nec­tions be­tween Grand­fa­ther and the U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., left, serves on the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, where he chairs the Sub­com­mit­tee on Seapower and Pro­jec­tion Forces. U.S. Rep. Mark Takai, D-Hawaii, also on the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, is on the Tac­ti­cal Air and Land and Strate­gic Forces Sub­com­mit­tees.

Na­tion­al­ist Chi­nese gov­ern­ment: my aunt had mar­ried one of Madam Chi­ang KaiShek’s broth­ers, and Grand­fa­ther had been help­ing to fi­nance the Na­tion­al­ist Chi­nese war ef­fort against the Ja­panese. The “Woo pen,” as it is known through Nimitz bi­og­ra­pher E.B. Pot­ter, was later lost to history as the Na­tion­al­ist Chi­nese gov­ern­ment fled to Tai­wan in ad­vance of Mao Tse-tung’s army.

In fall 2011, I at­tempted to lo­cate the Woo pen af­ter be­ing en­cour­aged to do so by Jeff Hard­ing of the U.S. Navy, who was quest­ing the where­abouts of Grandfa- ther’s pen. Jeff was in­tro­duced to me by Chet Lay, a grand­son of Adm. Nimitz. Chet knew of my grand­par­ents’ friend­ship with his grand­par­ents, and our re­con­nec­tion that fall re­newed our fam­i­lies’ re­la­tion­ship af­ter a 50-year ab­sence. I was en­thralled to lis­ten and share with him what had tran­spired in our fam­i­lies’ lives over the years.

With the kind as­sis­tance of the deputy gen­eral coun­sel of the Taipei Eco­nomic and Cul­tural Of­fice in Chicago, I de­ter­mined that the Woo pen was not in Taipei, but in the care of the Na­tional Mu­seum of China in the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China. I asked one of my friends, a Chi­nese na­tional, to ver­ify this when he re- turned to visit fam­ily in the PRC over win­ter break in 2012, and in­deed, his con­ver­sa­tion with the mu­seum di­rec­tor and an ex­change of pho­to­graphs con­firmed that the Woo pen had been lo­cated.

OVER THE past two years, I have had the great plea­sure of get­ting to know Michael Lilly, a Honolulu at­tor­ney and for­mer Hawaii at­tor­ney gen­eral. Michael is a grand­son of H. Alexan­der Walker, a prom­i­nent Honolulu busi­ness­man who, like my grand­fa­ther, was also a great friend of Adm. Nimitz. Along with Chet, the three of us have thor­oughly en­joyed learn­ing about the warm friend­ship en­joyed by our grand­par­ents.

Thanks to the lead­er­ship of Michael and the ef­forts of the USS Mis­souri Me­mo­rial As­so­ci­a­tion, an ar­range­ment with the Nan­jing Mu­seum of China will bring the Woo pen on board the USS Mis­souri for the 70th com­mem­o­ra­tion of the sur­ren­der. It will be re­united with the sec­ond Nimitz pen (on loan from the Naval Mu­seum of the U.S. Navy). Chet, Michael, Jeff and I, to­gether with our spouses, will gather to honor and re­mem­ber the end of the Sec­ond World War, and we will see the re-emer­gence of the Woo pen into history. The three grand­sons will de­light in the glow of the reignited friend­ship among the fam­i­lies of three in­cred­i­ble grand­fa­thers: Fleet Adm. Ch­ester W. Nimitz, H. Alexan­der Walker and Y.C. Woo.


Sailors aboard the USS Mis­souri ob­served the sign­ing of the sur­ren­der doc­u­ments on Sept. 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay.


This is the pen, used by Fleet Adm. Ch­ester Nimitz to sign a copy of the sur­ren­der doc­u­ment that ended World War II in the Pa­cific.

Paul Woo is di­rec­tor of ca­reer ser­vices at the Univer­sity of Chicago Law School.


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