"A looting, smashing crowd is tearing up Market Street tonight … this crowd is out of hand. You couldn’t stop it if you tried, not short of tear gas and fire hoses … ” wrote the San Francisco Chronicle’s Stanton Delaplane.
A mob of inebriated, young soldiers and sailors stopped the traffic, assaulted women, smashed store windows, ravaged the Muni’s streetcars and killed a Muni employee. The V-J Day riots resulted in 11 deaths and 1,000 injuries.
“It was the deadliest riot in the city’s history … ” wrote Kevin Mullen, a retired deputy chief of police.
For those of us who were alive in 1945, V-J Day on Aug. 14, 1945, conjures up Alfred Eisenstaedt’s image in Life magazine of a sailor kissing a young lady who appears to be a nurse in New York’s Times Square.
The joyous celebration in Times Square was not replicated in the seaport cities of the West Coast, where large units of the Army and Navy were bracing for an invasion of Japan if that proved necessary.
Everyone, from those in uniform to housewives, anxiously awaited the long and dreadful war’s end. Americans were tired of rationing everything from gasoline and tires to meat and butter. Moreover, the civilian supply of rationed food was running out.
Here in San Luis Obispo, the Telegram-Tribune was predicting that county restaurants would have to close because of shortages of staples like coffee.
Starting in mid-1944, ice cream was no longer available to civilians at the Golden State Dairy at Higuera and Nipomo streets. Real ice cream was reserved for the men and women in uniform. But you could get delicious lime sherbet.
By Aug. 2, the newspaper reported that all of the public restaurants in the Sierra town of Auburn were forced to close. There was “not a cup of coffee for 40 miles around.” Auburn residents restored a Depression-era type soup line to meet the nutritional needs of travelers and workers away from home.
The Telegram-Tribune warned that “ ‘Filet of Red Kidney Beans’ and ‘Sirloin of Macaroni’ may be the nearest resemblance to meat that local restaurant goers will find here … ”
The reason for the shortages was the buildup for “Operation Olympic,” the planned invasion of the southern Japanese home island of Kyushu scheduled for November 1945.
More than 6,000 troops, advance units of Gen. Terry Allen’s 104th Infantry Division, had arrived in San Luis Obispo. Commonly called the “Timberwolf Division,” these Oregon-trained troops were veterans of some of the worst fighting in the European theater.
They were returned stateside and told that they would be retrained for the invasion of Japan itself.
The Japanese surrender would be a day of wild rejoicing for the “Timberwolves.” Perhaps too wild.
San Luis Obispo Mayor Ralph Kennedy declared, “As an urgency measure, the city wishes to request bars and taverns to close immediately.”
There was widespread fear over what the celebrating “Timberwolves” might do to the town.
Three short and one long blast by “Ferdinand,” the fire alarm horn on top of the old City Hall on Higuera Street, announced the end of the war. The bars remained open on the afternoon of Aug. 14 and throughout the following day. There were relatively few incidents, although the city’s “drunk tank” was quickly filled to capacity. Ironically, the only fatality in San Luis Obispo’s celebration was 15-year-old Beverly Bundy, who had her legs crushed and suffered a fatal blow to her skull after slipping from the hood of a car of celebrating teenagers.
Was the difference between San Luis Obispo’s and San Francisco’s violent celebration of V-J Day only a matter of scale between the big city and the small town?