V-J Day – end of the war in the Pacific

A crowd of people, many waving, gather in Times Square on V-J Day at time of announcement of the Japanese surrender in 1945. (Photograph taken by Dick DeMarsico, New York World-Telegram/Sun; photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The Allied celebrations on Victory in Europe Day, on May 8, 1945, were subdued by the knowledge that war raged on in the Pacific.

As the fighting ended in Europe, U.S. troops were drawing a noose around the Japanese home islands. But there were ominous signs that Japan’s fierce resistance would continue. The battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa during the first half of 1945 were marked by spectacular carnage, and Americans were chastened by the knowledge that Japan had never surrendered to a foreign power and that no Japanese military unit had surrendered during World War II. 

After Okinawa fell to U.S. forces on June 22, 1945, an invasion of the Japanese home islands was set to begin. But before the invasion was to take place, the most destructive war in history came to a shattering and rapid end.

On Aug. 6, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima, ultimately killing as many as 140,000 people. Two days later, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Then, on Aug. 9, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb over Nagasaki, ultimately killing approximately 70,000. 

Finally recognizing that victory was impossible, the Japanese government accepted Allied surrender terms without qualifications on Aug. 14, 1945.

In a photo by Ed Westcott, residents of Oak Ridge, Tenn., fill Jackson Square to celebrate the surrender of Japan. Oak Ridge was one of the three main sites of the Manhattan Project, and was responsible (though those working there did not know it) for refining uranium to be shipped to Los Alamos to be fashioned into atomic bombs. (Photograph courtesy of American Museum of Science and Energy)

That same day, President Harry S. Truman announced from the White House that the Japanese acceptance met the terms laid down at the Potsdam Conference for unconditional surrender. As soon as the news of Japan’s surrender was announced on Aug. 14, celebrations erupted across the United States. The United Kingdom announced that its official V-J Day would be the next day, Aug. 15, 1945, and Americans exuberantly joined in that day’s merriment, too.

Victory over Japan Day (V-J Day) would officially be celebrated in the United States on the day formal surrender documents were signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay: Sept. 2, 1945.

In New York City’s Times Square, sailors climbed lampposts to unfurl American flags as ticker tape rained down upon the throngs gathered to celebrate the war’s end. In thousands of small towns like North Platte, Neb., similar scenes included fireworks, confetti, and impromptu parades down Main Street. In San Francisco, parades celebrated that troops would soon return home through that city. 

American servicemen and women gather in front of “Rainbow Corner” Red Cross club in Paris to celebrate the unconditional surrender of the Japanese. (Army photograph)

In Honolulu, marching bands, parades, ticker tape, and blowing papers filled the streets. In backyard celebrations, shirtless veterans drank celebratory toasts in the warm sunlight. Veterans and their girlfriends also crowded into and on top of trucks and cars (some even riding on fenders), waved flags, and excitedly drove through the city, relishing the moment Americans had hoped for since the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

But as welcome as victory over Japan was, the day was bittersweet in light of the war’s destructiveness. More than 400,000 Americans — and an estimated 65 million people worldwide — had died in the conflict. As historian Donald L. Miller, PhD, wrote in his book The Story of World War II, “It was too much death to contemplate, too much savagery and suffering; and in August 1945 no one was counting. For those who had seen the face of battle and been in the camps and under the bombs — and had lived — there was a sense of immense relief.” The war was over.

Editor’s note: Courtesy of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. For more information, visit www.nationalww2museum.org.

Crowds in Shanghai, China, celebrate V-J Day, Aug. 15, 1945. (Courtesy photograph)

People celebrate the end of World War II in Sydney, Australia, Aug. 15, 1945. (Courtesy photograph)

Civilians and service personnel in London’s Picadilly Circus celebrate the news of Allied Victory over Japan in August 1945. In London’s Piccadilly Circus, a group of servicemen and women, and a civilian woman, link arms as they walk towards the camera, singing as they dance in celebration around Eros (not pictured), on the news that the war in Japan is over. Behind them, crowds of people are gathered in the sunshine. Several buses can also be seen. This photograph was taken from beside Eros, looking towards Piccadilly (left) and Regent Street (right). (Imperial War Museum photograph)

This photograph, taken by Victor Jorgensen and published in The New York Times, was taken Aug. 15, 1945, as New Yorkers celebrated the end of World War II. “They threw anything and kissed anybody in Times Square.” (National Archives and Records Administration photograph)


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