This Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
On that hot summer day in August 1945, I was 6 years old. My folks owned a small vineyard and chicken ranch about a mile out of the little town of Kingsburg, in the San Joaquin Valley. I don’t recall what time of the day it was, but I remember seeing a familiar cloud of dust rising from our long driveway as my dad raced into the yard. He urged me to climb in the car and it seems we immediately took off again, heading toward town. I don’t remember if my mom and brother were in the car. My brother would have been only about a year old, so he missed being a part of the celebration.
As we got close to town I recall hearing sirens blaring and church bells ringing. People in cars were honking their horns.
I vividly remember my dad saying something like he wanted me to see what was happening. I can remember people on the sidewalks jumping up and down, cheering and hugging one another.
What he wanted me to experience was Americans celebrating the end of World War II; more specifically, it was VJ Day — Victory over Japan. World War II started in 1939, the year I was born. I was too young to know anything about a world war. But I was old enough to witness and remember its end. It was on Aug. 14, 1945, that the news was released announcing the end of the war. Officially, Victory over Japan Day is observed on Sept. 2, when the surrender documents were signed at Tokyo Bay on the teakwood deck of the battleship, the USS Missouri.
It was President Harry Truman who declared VJ Day to be Sept. 2. He wanted to wait until Japan actually signed the peace agreements. But most Americans were already celebrating the event. Victory in Europe had been celebrated a few months earlier, in May 1945.
Like most of you, I’ve seen those pictures snapped in Times Square in New York on VJ Day. The exhilaration jumps off the page.
Thanks to my dad, I was able to observe firsthand the events of that day when the whole world celebrated together.