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