This spring and summer mark the 70th anniversaries of the two World War II victories, Victory in Europe on May 8 and Victory in Japan on Aug. 15. These are significant remembrances, since historians say that World War II was the most traumatic event in the last 500 years of world history.
Most American service personnel who returned from that conflict were brim full of stories, some too horrific for them to express, but some were of narrow escapes and moments when despair turned quickly into relief. Such were two stories my Dad and Uncle Bill told years after they came home from completing their service.
Dad was stationed stateside until the end of April 1945, when he was given orders to ship out. My mother was sure he was headed for the Pacific, where the war still raged full-on. He didn’t know until he boarded his ship where he was going, and when he realized it was to Europe, he wanted to let Mother know he was heading for the war zone, which was then rapidly winding down.
He knew he couldn’t tell her directly because that would have revealed his unit’s location and he was sure the Army censors would redact his letter, so he hatched a plan. When he landed in Scotland on V-E Day, he wrote to her that he was at that moment overlooking the city where his grandfather had been born. The censors let his comment go through and Mother immediately called my grandmother to ask where he had been born. Grandma replied, “Glasgow, Scotland,” and Mother knew her beloved husband was on the safer side of the world.
Dad also told her that he had heard Churchill’s V-E Day speech on May 8; because of the time difference, if he’d been in the Pacific, the date would have been May 9.
Uncle Bill was stationed outside Naples, Italy, for many months in 1945, and on Aug. 14 he and his outfit went to an Andrews Sisters concert. His unit was due to be sent to the Pacific very soon and the men were all on tenterhooks waiting for that seeming inevitability. The show started and the singers came on stage.
But rather than breaking into song, Patty Andrews said, “Boys, I have an announcement. The war with Japan is over.” Uncle Bill said it was quiet for a few seconds, and then all the GIs in the audience started to laugh. They thought it was a joke; part of the act.
“No,” Patty said, tears streaming down her face, “the Japanese really have surrendered, and if you boys want us to cancel the show so you can all go get drunk, that’s OK with us.”
Finally, the men realized that she was telling the truth and they all burst into cheers, complete with hugs, back-slapping and more than a few tears of joy.
“We told them to go ahead and do the show,” he said. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he chuckled, “Afterward, we all went out and got drunk!”
Dad and Uncle Bill lived long, productive lives. They are gone now, as are the vast majority of those who struggled to defeat the evils of the Axis powers, whether they were military personnel, war factory workers, kids who collected scrap for recycling into war materiel, victory gardeners, plane spotters or Civil Defense workers.
There is no way those of us who don’t remember that frightening time can imagine what our forebears were up against, but we and all future generations owe them our eternal gratitude.