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The MacArthur Pens

(This page revised December 13, 2023)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]


On September 2, 1945, in Tokyo Harbor, Douglas MacArthur used several fountain pens to sign the Japanese surrender document ending World War II. How many did he use, what were they, and where are they now?
USS Missouri

USS Missouri, BB-63, anchored in Tokyo Harbor, September 2, 1945. U.S. Navy photograph.

Note
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After MacArthur delivered a brief opening speech, he invited the Japanese representatives, Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and General Yoshijirō Umezu, to sign the Instrument of Surrender. When they had finished signing, MacArthur accepted the surrender on behalf of the Allied Powers and signed in his capacity as Supreme Commander of Allied forces in the Pacific. There has been much Internet discussion about the pens MarArthur used. Various sources cite the number as four, five, or six, and many give details as though the numbers they state were certain. The correct number is six, as established by Whipple’s memoir and by the known dispositions of all six pens. Only the identities of the pens have remained a topic of discussion.

Fountain pen

The first two pens can be connected easily with their dispositions, as follows:

MacArthur signing surrender document

Pen 5 was the personal property of Major General Whitney, borrowed from him for the ceremony. Whipple identifies Whitney’s pen as a Sheaffer pen but gives no further detail; however, the pronounced gleam from its center band in the color photograph below identifies it tentatively as an Autograph pen, fitted with a broad solid gold band on which the owner’s signature could be engraved. If this is the correct identification, it would be a Model 75, as shown here in a cut from Sheaffer’s August 1, 1937, catalog. After signing with Whitney’s pen, MacArthur laid it down and proceeded to sign with Pen 6, which he had been carrying in his shirt pocket.

shf_75_catalog_img
Fountain pen

Whipple’s statement aside, how can we be certain that Pen 6 was a Little Red, not a Big Red? The following color photograph (clickable image) shows MacArthur signing with Pen 6. It is certain that MacArthur posted the pen because a Big Red, if unposted, would not have extended so far above his hand when he was writing, and a Little Red would have been even less visible. Experimentation has shown that a Big Red, when posted, is long enough that it would have extended much farther than the pen in the photo, far enough that its cap bands would be at least partially visible. However, a Little Red, when posted, presents the same appearance as the pen in the photo.

MacArthur signing surrender document
Fraser signing surrender document
Photo by Sublieutenant W. G. Cross, in the public domain.
Fraser signing surrender document

Fraser’s appropriation of these pens was not what MacArthur had in mind, however, and Whipple records that Pens 3 and 4 were retrieved by MacArthur’s chief of intelligence, Major General Charles A. Willoughby. MacArthur had intended to donate them to West Point and the U.S. National Archives. Apparently, he did not make those donations, and both pens are now in the collection of the MacArthur Memorial. (As of this writing, one is on loan to the Pentagon.) No one kept track of which of these pens was which; accordingly, it is not known whether the pen shown here is Pen 3 or Pen 4.

Fountain pen
Photo © MacArthur Memorial. Used under 17 U.S.C. §107, Fair Use.

After the ceremony, MacArthur retrieved Pen 5 from the table. He returned it to Whitney that evening, and it is now in the possession of a Whitney family member.

In sum, thanks to the careful record keeping of Colonel Whipple and the images produced at the ceremony, we now know with certainty that General MacArthur used six pens to sign the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, and we know the dispositions of all six. We know the manufacturers of all six, and we know the models of all but General Whitney’s Sheaffer.

A seemingly irrelevant — but ultimately crucial — fact that a sharp-eyed observer might notice is that there were two “Swivodex” dip-less desk sets, made by the Zephyr American Corporation, on the table, one at each end (most clearly visible in the photo of Admiral Fraser signing). These sets’ black glass bases included the molded-in text PROPERTY OF U.S. NAVY. None of the first six signers used either of these pens. Derevyanko, the seventh person to sign, appears to be using the one from the stand to his left.

One of the humble Swivodex pens went on to play a vital role in the day’a events. Possibly because he was blind in one eye from a World War I wound, Canada’s Colonel Lawrence M. Cosgrave, signing ninth, inadvertently signed the Japanese copy of the document below the line bearing his title instead of in the correct location above it. The next signer, Général de Corps d'Armée Philippe L. de Hauteclocque of France, hesitated as if wondering what to do but then went ahead and signed below his own line. The two remaining signers, Lieutenant Admiral Conrad E. L. Helfrich of the Netherlands and Air Vice-Marshal Leonard M. Isitt of New Zealand, followed suit, with Isitt signing in the blank space at the bottom of the page.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Japanese representatives conferred briefly and then lodged an objection: their copy of the Instrument of Surrender was unacceptable because the last four signatures were in the wrong places. When the error was pointed out, MacArthur‘s chief of staff, Lieutenant General Richard K. Sutherland, sat down at the table and took up the Swivodex pen to his right (photo below, left), which happened to be the same pen Cosgrave had used. He drew two lines through each of the errant signatories’ printed titles and rewrote the titles below the signatures to which they corresponded. The Japanese still declined to accept the document until Sutherland initialed each of the emendations. When he had done so (below, right), the Japanese ceased their protests, and the war was officially over.

Sutherland emending surrender document
Sutherland emending surrender document

This article is one of a set about the historic pens used at the official German and Japanese surrenders that ended World War II.



Notes:
  1. In addition to Missouri’s location, other symbols were brought into play. Missouri was chosen because Missouri was the home state of President Harry S. Truman, and the U.S. flag that Commodore Perry had flown during his 1853 expedition to Japan was fetched from Washington, D.C., to be displayed aboard the battleship during the ceremony.  Return

  2. Whipple wrote his memoir (now in the Naval Historical Foundation collection held by the Library of Congress) in 1965, basing it on notes that he had taken in August and September 1945. It was quoted extensively in “Surrender Seen Close Up,” an August 25, 2005, article by Burritt Sabin in The Japan Times.  Return

  3. The pen shown is Pen 2, given to Lt. General Percival as described later in this article. The photo is an edited version of one showing the pen in situ and is © 2023 Richard Binder.  Return

  4. All unattributed photos of the signing used in this article are more than 75 years old and are assumed to be in the public domain.  Return

  5. The four Duofold models can be distinguished by their features and dimensions. All had clips except the Lady Duofold, which was a ring-top model. The Senior was an oversize pen, 5" long capped and about 6" posted, with a barrel girth of 0.527". The Junior was 4" long capped and about 5" posted, with a barrel girth of 0.483". The Special was the same length as the Senior, with the same girth as the Junior. Not including its ring and mount, the Lady Duofold was 4" long capped and about 5" posted, with a barrel girth of 0.423".  Return

  6. Possibly one of the string of 13 hotel robberies allegedly committed by John Cooper, aged 26, of New York City between July and October 2, 1985, in which the perpetrator passed himself off as a hotel security person. Reported by the New York Daily News on page 7 of its October 3, 1985, edition.  Return

  7. Nimitz signed the Japanese copy of the document with a Parker “51” given to him by Y. C. Woo, a prominent San Francisco banker and a close friend. Nimitz had it engraved as a “Victory” souvenir and regifted it to Woo. It disappeared during a journey Woo later took from Hawaii to Hong Kong, and it is now in the Nanjing Museum, in Nanjing (formerly Nanking), China. For the Allied copy, Nimitz used an old and somewhat discolored Jade Green Parker Duofold pocket pen that he described as an “old favorite”; that pen is now on permanent display at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland. He did not touch any of the desk pens on the table.  Return

  8. Hsu signed with an unidentified pocket pen. Like Nimitz, he did not touch any of the desk pens on the table.  Return

  9. Doolittle was in the Pacific as commander of the 8th Air Force, which had been redeployed to Okinawa after the end of the war in Europe. Doolittle himself had accompanied General Carl A. Spaatz, who was redeployed from Europe to become the commander of U.S. Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific and thus was the only person to witness all three of the final surrender ceremonies: Rheims, Berlin, and Tokyo.  Return


The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information. My thanks to Jim Zobel for his kind assistance in clarifying the dispositions of some of the pens, and to Pablo Perez Trabado, who provided the information regarding the historic contribution of the Swivodex desk pen.

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