Remembering to stay alert to the world around us

Edwin Asimakoupoulos, seen looking at the camera on the far right side, was on the USS Missouri during the surrender ceremony on Sept. 2, 1945, when Japan surrendered to the United States, signaling the end of World War II. - Contributed Photo
Edwin Asimakoupoulos, seen looking at the camera on the far right side, was on the USS Missouri during the surrender ceremony on Sept. 2, 1945, when Japan surrendered to the United States, signaling the end of World War II.
— image credit: Contributed Photo

Thursday marks the 65th anniversary of the surrender ceremony that ended World War II. On Sept. 2, 1945, the eyes of the world focused on history’s stage and a performance that would not soon be forgotten.

That was the day when General Douglas MacArthur (with his Parker fountain pen in hand) conducted a symphony of peace aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. This version of “victory at sea” would be repeatedly captured on film and newsreel.

As MacArthur cued the various performers to play their part on this historic day, a 19-year-old farm boy from Lapwai, Idaho, looked on. He is seen in the bottom right-hand corner of this familiar photograph. That Marine corporal looking back at the camera was my father, Edwin Asimakoupoulos.

Before he died 20 months ago, my dad took great pride describing his memories of V-J Day. As part of the Marine Corps detachment aboard the “Mighty Mo,” he was selected to be one of the honor guards that day. My dad was chosen as an escort for Lieutenant General Kuzma Derevyanko, who signed the treaty on behalf of Russia. By virtue of his privileged assignment, my dad stood about 15 feet behind MacArthur and the other dignitaries.

Although my father is visible in several historic photographs documenting the end of the war, I like this photograph best of all. The fact that he is not facing the ceremony sets it apart and raises questions. Apparently, one of the Russian newsmen covering the event dropped his camera from an elevated perch. My dad turned around to see where the noise was coming from.

That picture of my curious father is a reminder to me to be interested in people, places and things. After all, our ability to reflect on the meaning of life is rooted in what we take time to observe. Blindly going about our routines keeps us from seeing the unexpected and being sensitive to the serendipities around us.

At an ecumenical clergy conference that I recently attended, I heard a facilitator challenge we who speak for a living to seek to “be more interested than interesting” as we hone our craft as communicators.

What he suggested is good advice for more than just rabbis, priests and ministers. We all would do well to exercise the curiosity muscle between our ears as well as opening our eyes to the wonder of daily life. Our norm is not to.

Leonardo Da Vinci recognized our tendency not to turn around to see where “the noise” is coming from. Five centuries ago, this noted scientist and artist waxed theologically eloquent. He described the average person as one who “looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.”

Why not open your eyes to your surroundings? Sunrises. Sunsets. Turning leaves. Aging parents. Disappearing veterans. And speaking of those vets, why not take some time this week to hear their stories of the war? Remember, they won’t always be with us.

The USS Missouri has been anchored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, since 1998, after departing the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash. Bremerton was home to the USS Missouri from 1954-1984 and 1992-1998. The ship, a main tourist attraction there for 30 years, was also open to the public for tours during the summer of 1995 and briefly in 1998 before its departure.

Greg Asimakoupoulos is the pastor of Mercer Island Covenant Church.

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