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August 14, 2007 Click here to mail this page to a friend.
Ignoring Clint Eastwood's advice in "Dirty Harry" that opinions, like certain body parts, are best kept to yourself.
Hear the radio coverage of the end of the war with Japan.

V-J Day August 14, 1945

It was August 14th, 1945, I was not quite 2 years old, living with my Mom and grandparents in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. If anyone thinks a baby doesn't know what is going on, based on what happened to me, I've got news for them. They can't communicate very well, a kid that age doesn't talk much, but they understand what you are saying, and take it all in.

I was in my grandparent's living room, a photo of my dad in his army uniform was on the end table by the lamp. My mother talked about that photo often, telling me "that was daddy, and someday he would come home from the war". Exactly where my dad was, who he was, and what he was doing, was a mystery to me, but what happened on August 14, 1945 was so spectacular that it burned into my long-term memory, and thinking about it now, it seems like yesterday.This small photo was glued in a wooden frame that folded to protect it, and my dad carried it in his pocket the last two years of the war. I still have it.

It was the middle of the day, we'd had lunch, I'd had my nap, and was doing what babies do, hanging-out. Suddenly, a siren went-off, then another, and another, and church bells started to chime. The phone rang, my grandmother rushed into the room to answer it, and got all excited. All heck was breaking loose. Gramma hung-up the phone, picked me up, and said "The war is over, your daddy's coming home! " I remember she was crying. It seemed like just a few minutes later, my 16 year old twin aunts, who worked at the bakery down the street, came home in their white uniforms, my mother arrived about the same time, and there was a lot of hugging, kissing, and crying, with me in the middle.

Here I was, listening to everything, understanding most every word, not every meaning, but I did know something big was happening. While I'm sorting all of this out, my grandfather came home. More hugging, kissing, and crying. Grampa said, "I'll be back in a little while", and left. He came home later, maybe an hour in baby-time, carrying two shopping bags. One was filled with fireworks ( Sioux Falls had lots of fireworks ) and the other was full of booze. My Grampa was 100% Irish, and even at my tender age, I'd already learned to recognize booze when I saw it.

Japan's surrender on August 14, 1945 was front page news in newspapers all over the world. Click open to see many of them.The phone rang all afternoon into the evening, as friends and relatives called to share the good news. All the time this was going on, sirens and horns continued to sound. People came and went from the house, and Grampa and his friends toasted the occasion until, as I realized later in life, they got completely smashed.

After dark, everyone sat out on the front lawn and fired-off roman candles, sky rockets and aerial bombs. The whole town must have gone with Grampa to get fireworks, I remember every house on both sides of the street had people outside doing what we were doing. The sky was filled with explosions, noises, and colorful lights, the horns and sirens never stopped, and no fireworks display since has ever come close to what I saw that night.

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It seems to me that the earliest memories that your brain selects for you to carry forward throughout your whole life, are mostly the things that made an indelible impression on your little unformed mind.

At five years of age I knew that my father owned a very neat gun. I was later to learn it was a Colt 45 caliber automatic, circa 1913, that he had brought home from the Great War in 1918.

I was aware that this known but undiscussed, really, really neat weapon resided in the under stair closet, far up in a nook, at a much greater altitude than my 3 foot self could ever hope to attain. I also knew that it never came out to be admired, which I would have been happy to do, discussed, or heaven forbid, to be used.

VJ day will forever be identified in my mind with the image of my father, standing in the front yard of our home, the green of a summertime Tygart River sparkling in the background, blasting the heavens with the seldom seen automatic Colt, ripping through a magazine of 1920 ammunition as fast as he could pull the trigger. I wasn't sure what was going on, but I knew it had to be good and I liked it.

My mother and dad explained to me that the War was over, and that my brother could come home now. I thought that was a good thing, because he would no doubt bring me a present. Besides, they said, there was a parade in Clarksburg tonight, and we would go. I wasn't sure what a parade was, but just the way they announced it made it seem like something fun.

The three of us piled into our 1933 Chrysler, with the chrome headlights the size of watermelon mounted on it's swooping fenders, and I was allowed to blast the car's horn at every passing car and every single person we saw along the way. This was unprecedented and I wondered if this was a new travel policy or just a one time thing.
In Clarksburg I watched a parade of vehicles that included practically everything that had escaped the wartime recyclers and could still roll. I saw adults behaving like children and children, myself included, watching open mouthed, as out minds recorded this exceptional time that would never be repeated.

I recall being very tired and being carried back to the Chrysler for the trip home to Arden. There was the sensation of the big car moving through the night, while I reclined on the back seat. I felt I was in a fortress, where no harm could ever come to me, or to the ones I loved. I wished we could keep moving forever. I wished nothing would ever change.

Steve W. - West Virginia

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