On August 14th 1945, jubilation and relief broke out all over the United States. The Japanese Imperial government finally threw in the towel and agreed to unconditional surrender. The West Philadelphia neighborhood where I lived at the time greeted the news with a wide spectrum of behavior.
Older parents on Oxford Street who still had sons and daughters in uniform, quietly wept tears of relief. It meant their adult children had literally dodged the bullet and would soon trade a uniform for civilian clothes and return to the neighborhood. Mrs Treanor, with three sons still in uniform, instructed all lucky neighborhood mothers to go down to St Gregory's and light a candle for all those mothers who had a gold star in their front window.
Veterans recently returned from the European Theater of Operations breathed a sigh of relief. The casualty lists for Iwo Jima and Okinawa were appalling. If the Pacific War didn't end soon they feared being called back to continue fighting in that meat grinder.
They'd already cheated the Grim Reaper in Europe and realized even a cat only has nine lives. To a man they were grateful to President Truman for allowing the big one to be dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, giving the Japanese government the political cover to accept unconditional surrender. Barney was the oldest son of Mrs Treanor. He had joined up early in 1942 and fought as a rifleman from North Africa, through France, and into Germany. Till the end of his days Barney thought President Truman deserved sainthood even though Truman wasn't Catholic.
Younger adults who had been caught up in the great national effort to defeat the Axis powers the past four years were ecstatic. In retrospect they reminded me of loyal fans whose team had just won the Superbowl. There was dancing in the streets and Kilgallen's Bar never closed that night. Ironically a small portion of this group were a little disappointed. The seniors attending St Thomas Moore or Overbrook High schools felt they had just missed the big dance and would not get to wear the uniform. Little did they know, just five short years down the road lay a cauldron named Korea.
Unfortunately they would have their chance sooner than anyone had expected in 1945.
Another group in the neighborhood were children too young to comprehend the politics or horror of the war, but were intuitively aware of the goodies that would result from VJ Day. As an eight year old, I was a member of this group.
Like the young adults in our neighborhood, our group thought of the announcement as a victory for our team: the U.S.A. We had been reminded on a daily basis at Heston Elementary School for the past four years that to lick the " Nazis and the Japs", our contribution was important. Collecting scrap metal, paper, and rags, as well as helping with the backyard victory gardens were part of our war time duties. War Bond drives were also important. At each school assembly we included singing a modification of Yankee Doodle. During the war years we sang: "Yankee Doodle went to town an all American dandy, he'll save for stamps to buy War Bonds and give up eating candy."
Now we could buy all the candy our parents would allow. For a reason I still don't understand, bubble gum had not been available during the war. Now it appeared at Auggie's grocery store and we would be allowed to buy two pieces each day when Double Bubble sold for a penny. From our perspective this was better than the repeal of Prohibition.
Air raid drills and ration stamps would now be a thing of the past. Like typical kids we soon shifted our attention from the VJ Day celebration to what we could expect as wartime austerity, through rationing or total prohibition, eased. My first thoughts included looking forward to next New Year's Eve and 4th of July. Our celebrations of those events during the war had a pyrotechnic limit. Banging on pots and pans and lighting a few railroad flares the Oxford Street fathers, " borrowed from the PRR", was all we had. Now unlimited fireworks would be available and there would be ammunition for our cap pistols that had languished in bedroom drawers since Pearl Harbor.
Equally important was the anticipated removal of tedious routines like standing in line for hours, with my parents ration book and a permission note, to buy a 2 pound bag of sugar or a chicken. When any neighborhood store within a mile of Oxford Street received their periodic share of rationed items, our parents developed their own "jungle telegraph" to alert neighbors. Every neighborhood had someone who always got the word a day ahead of delivery. This made that person top dog on the totem pole of Oxford Street popularity.
These are just a few of the memories I'll always treasure every time August 14th rolls around. Today VJ Day is recorded as September 2nd,the date of the official signing of the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. For me, August 14th is the special day. However, As I get older my priories shift to those of Mrs Treanor. We don't have to light candles but we should remember the 416,800 Gold Stars that were an expensive prerequisite for that first VJ Day celebration.
Retired Consulting Engineer and Farmer