BLAKELY, Ga. -- In late 1945, James Griffin was a 22-year-old PFC with the 24th Infantry Division when he stepped onto Japanese soil for the first time.
He and his buddies had just secured the Filipino island of Mindanao when the B-29s "Enola Gay" and "Bockscar" dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively bringing an end to war in the Pacific.
The 24th ID was then shipped to Japan as part of an occupation force.
"The first thing I noticed about Japan was how well-fortified the coastline was," Griffin, a native of Ashford, Ala., recalled. "There were well dug-in defensive positions everywhere. I thought then if we had to invade this place, many, many people would have died.
"Had we not dropped those bombs, I don't think I would be here today."
Griffin was 20 when he joined the Army in 1944. He participated in the occupation of the island of Leyte before the 24th was ordered to Mindanao.
"We were in combat half of the time we were on Mindanao, and it was miserable," Griffin said. "If we weren't fighting, we were trying to stay dry. It rained nearly every day, and we weren't getting a lot of supplies.
"We were doing everything we could just to stay alive. We finally pushed the Japanese so far back into the mountains they were no longer a problem. So we left them there. I heard they (the Japanese) were coming down out of the mountains for years afterwards."
Griffin said the 24th then began preparing for the invasion of Japan.
"We heard a rumor that the Air Force had dropped a huge bomb on Japan," he recalled. "Then we heard about a second one, and we knew it was real."
During his time with the occupation forces, Griffin made two trips to Hiroshima and one to Nagasaki. The memories haunt him to this day.
"There was absolutely nothing left in Hiroshima except for a little arched bridge. Everything else was gone or flat," Griffin said. "I didn't know what we'd used to do this, but it was awful. I was horrified and thankful at the same time.
"Like I said before, if we hadn't dropped those bombs, a lot of us wouldn't be here today."
Due to cutbacks in military spending, Griffin's outfit was woefully undersupplied.
"I lost the heel of one boot, so I took the other heel off to balance out my boots," the veteran said.
One night while guarding a warehouse, Griffin said he took matters into his own hands.
"I found a crate of new boots and found a pair my size," he said. "I threw my old boots into the bay, and I got me a new pair of paratrooper boots."
Griffin was discharged a few months later and returned to Alabama, where he worked 20 years for Alabama Machinery and Supply in Montgomery. In 1979, he met and married a Georgia girl, settling in "somewhere between Blakely and Colquitt."
Looking back on his service, Griffin said the highlight was not his actual time in the Army.
"To me, my best memory was the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., I took in April with 88 other vets," he said. "They treated us like kings. It was a few of the best days in my life."