Tom Walker remembered the sense of relief that washed over him when he heard that the U.S. had dropped atomic bombs on Japan.
A U.S. Naval officer during World War II, Walker was training in the Middle East when he received news of America's first and only foray into nuclear warfare.
The potential slaughter of U.S. sailors and Marines attempting to invade the Japanese mainland had horrified him, and the bombing eliminated the need for the invasion.
With Japan defeated, Walker was among the first sailors to occupy the island nation.
"I remember coming into Japan, we passed the (USS) Missouri as the Japanese were coming on board to surrender," he said.
Now a 90-year-old resident of Brandon Wilde in Evans, Walker grew up in the New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia. He joined the Navy just weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
During the war, Walker served in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters; taking part in invasions of Sicily, Salerno, Saipan, Okinawa and Iwo Jima.
Walker recently recalled his war experiences for posterity when he took part in the Veteran's History Project.
Administered locally by the Augusta Historical Society, project volunteers video record interviews with war veterans. Copies of the interviews are given to the subject, archived at Augusta State University and sent to the Library of Congress.
"Its purpose is to record the experiences of veterans of all wars," said Fred Gehle, who is a board member of the Augusta Historical Society overseeing the video project. "We're really concentrating on World War II (veterans), because, quite honestly, they're dying off very quickly. On my long list of 500 (potential interview subjects in the Augusta area), 22 have already passed away. We missed talking to 14 of them."
More than 250 area former servicemen and women have agreed to discuss their experiences on camera, Gehle said.
"These stories, which are technically oral histories, have gained extensive popularity," he said. "Unlike the Civil War, where you can't go back, we're able to find out first-hand the feelings of every veteran."
About 35 volunteers conduct the interviews with the veterans, including former Fort Gordon commanding Gen. Jan Hicks, who interviewed Walker.
"This is such a unique opportunity," said Hicks, who now is the high-school principal of Augusta Preparatory Day School. "To read about it is one thing, but to hear about from someone who has been there is another."
Walker, who was the first of 25 Brandon Wilde residents set to take part in the project, readily recounted his war stories from his cottage containing bookshelves cluttered with novels and videos about the war and walls covered in paintings of ancient sailing vessels.
The reactions Americans received from opposing armies was particularly interesting to interviewers.
"The Italians were glad to see us," Walker said of the Sicily invasion. "The Italians are lovers, not fighters."
That reception stands in stark contrast to the one he received years later in Japan.
"They turned their backs to us," he said of a road trip to Tokyo following the Japanese surrender. "They didn't want to look at us."
World War II veterans interested in telling their experiences or those interested in volunteering to work on the project are asked to contact Gehle at (706) 737-1532 or (706) 738-8242.
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