Landing in history
A World War II veteran is being remembered for his role in the war, being the first American to touch down on Japanese soil. His memory is preserved in a museum in Corpus Christi, Texas, where wartime memorabilia marks his place in history.
U.S. Navy Ensign Alfred Karl Nensewitz, at the age of 22, set foot in Japan against the orders of his superior officers. But that bold move landed him an exhibit at the U.S.S. Lexington Museum on the Bay.
“He enlisted in June of 1942 when he was 19 years old,” his daughter Jill Nensewitz said. “He was on the U.S.S. Lexington, called the Blue Ghost, originally intended to be named the Cabot, but when word arrived during construction that the U.S.S. Lexington was lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea, they renamed the Cabot the U.S.S. Lexington. She was the fifth ship to be named that. The Japanese referred to her as the Blue Ghost for her tendency to reappear after being reported as being sunk in battle.”
Another reason the ship was hard to see was its color.
“She was not the normal color of an aircraft carrier because they were in such need for her to go out that she went out with her primer on,” Jill Nensewitz explained. “She wasn’t given the camoflauge paint that they painted their aircraft carriers with.”
Her father served as a fighter pilot in the Navy, stationed on the U.S.S. Lexington.
Jill Nensewitz read from a summary of the events that occurred on Aug. 29, 1945, the same summary that is displayed at the museum.
“He was having a problem with his external fuel tank and had to land immediately. Without waiting for permission, he landed at Atsugi Airfield, just outside Tokyo, which was still under Japanese control. After landing, Ensign Nensewitz climbed from his plane with his 35-caliber pistol in hand, ordered the Japanese who had come to greet him to stay away from his plane, and he climbed back into the cockpit and took off and returned to the Lexington. Upon returning, he was questioned by his superiors why he had landed without permission. There was one thing he never told them — his ulterior motive for landing. It was his intent to beat General Douglas MacArthur to Japan. General MacArthur was scheduled to land that afternoon in Atsugi. He had been selected by the President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, to represent the United States in the official surrender ceremony onboard the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2nd. In Ensign Nensewitz’s own words, ‘I was in Japan first.'”
Alpena resident and retired judge Joe Swallow played an important role in helping to get Nensewitz’s relics to the Texas museum for display.
“Joe Swallow winters down in Corpus Christi, where there’s a museum anchored on the bay,” Jill Nensewitz explained. “And he was walking the beach, and talked to a couple of guys that volunteer there, and he said that he knew a man who had flown off of it (the U.S.S. Lexington) during World War II. … So when he returned home he spoke to me about getting some kind of memorabilia for them on the ship.”
Jill Nensewitz talked to her dad at that time, but his health was declining, and he told her, “When I’m gone, you can give some things to them.”
A. Karl Nensewitz, who went by his middle name Karl, passed away Feb. 20, 2017, at the age of 94. He was born on Valentine’s Day in 1923 in Alpena.
Before he passed away, however, his daughter was able to locate his leather jacket he wore in the Navy.
“I found his leather jacket by mistake on the internet,” Jill Nensewitz said. “And it was for sale by the Flying Tiger Antiques. They were asking $2,500 for it.”
She and her children Melissa Krajnik, Tricia Nensewitz-Zhao, and R.J. Nensewitz, decided to pool the money to get the jacket back to her father.
“It was in some guy’s basement in Ohio,” she added.
She said it was not a good feeling to see that on the internet, and she knew it had to get back into the right hands.
“So we bought it back for him,” Jill Nensewitz said. “We presented it to him. It hung in the living room until he died, and then when he died, we started thinking about where to donate it.”
So after collecting more memorabilia from other family members including her four sisters, Jill Nensewitz took all those items to the Texas museum, which is actually the ship itself turned into a museum.
Her sisters are Ann (Tom) Neumann, Lynne (Pete) Skiba, both of Alpena, and Marie Nensewitz and Mary Nensewitz, both of Colorado. Karl Nensewitz and his wife Alta (Gagnon) were married for 71 years before she passed in 2015.
“We have people from Alpena that are going down there now, or have made plans to go down there just to see this display,” Jill Nensewitz said.
She and her family are glad they were able to preserve their father’s memory with the historic exhibit.
For more information about the museum, visit the U.S.S. Lexington Museum on the Bay website at www.usslexington.com.
Darby Hinkley can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 989-358-5691.