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V-J Day

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V-J Day

Sixty-five years ago on August 14th, the world celebrated V-J Day.  

On that day in 1945, President Harry Truman announced that Japan had surrendered to the Allies, setting off wild celebrations across the nation.  Alfred Eisenstaedt captured the now famous photograph of the sailor in Times Square kissing the white-uniformed nurse in an exultant embrace, vividly depicting the nation’s release from years of anxiety and our boundless relief that the war was finally over.  No doubt every community was living it up.

My mother was nursing in Richmond during the war and was on duty at MCV Hospital on V-J night.  She had orders to take a patient to the 16th floor for x-rays for a broken arm, which had snapped when the patient fell out of a cab after too much victory night celebrating.  The patient was thrashing about on a stretcher and difficult to manage.  Besides worrying about keeping the agitated patient from rolling off the stretcher, Mom was afraid to take the elevator because of a recent series of assaults on the 13th floor.  In fact, nurses were supposed to be accompanied by an orderly on the elevators, but they were short-handed that night so she had to go alone.  She picked up a heavy rock for protection and they took off for the 16th floor.  The elevator sped up to 16, then suddenly was pulled to 13, a floor under construction and unoccupied.  Not knowing what might greet them when the doors opened, she raised her arm with the rock, ready to strike if necessary.  No one was there, and they were able to resume their journey without incident.  Then she realized that the patient was no longer rolling on the stretcher, but lying very still, looking up at her raised arm in terror.

Years later, Mom traveled by bus from Tazewell to Richmond.  She was joined at some point by a seatmate, and they exchanged pleasantries.  The seatmate said that she had been in Richmond once, 25 years earlier, on V-J Day, in the hospital actually.  She asked what took Mom to Richmond.  Oh, said Mom, she was attending her 25th class reunion at MCV.  The woman said little else after that but, for the rest of the journey, kept looking at Mom with anxious, wondering eyes  .  .  .

Younger people here may not know that a Tazewell County physician, Dr. James Peery of Cedar Bluff, saved the life of the former Japanese Prime Minister, General Tojo, who had tried to commit suicide before his arrest following Japan’s surrender.  After he recovered, Tojo stood trial for war crimes and was hanged.

Among many interesting histories of the war with Japan are these recent books, each of which makes abundantly clear the horrors of war in every Pacific nation, and the reason for the exuberant displays of joy on V-J Day.

Escape from the Deep: the epic story of a legendary submarine and her courageous crew details the history of the U.S. Navy submarine Tang in the Pacific theater, the explosion that led to its sinking, the ordeal of its surviving crew and their capture by the Japanese, followed by months of brutal captivity.  Alex Kershaw, the author, also wrote The Bedford Boys: one American town’s ultimate D-Day sacrifice about the large number of men from Bedford, Virginia who fought and died on D-Day.

Escape from Davao: the forgotten story of the most daring prison break of the Pacific war by John D. Lukacs recounts the only successful escape by American soldiers from a Japanese prison camp and the censorship of news of it for fear of endangering other prisoners of war in the Philippines.

Danger’s Hour: the story of the USS Bunker Hill and the kamikaze pilot who crippled her by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy draws a gripping portrait of men on both sides bravely serving their countries and the advent of a terrifying new weapon, suicide bombing, that nearly halted the Allies. In the closing months of the war, Americans were facing kamikazes--the first men to use airplanes as suicide weapons.  Japan, about to be invaded, turned to its most idealistic young men and demanded their greatest sacrifice. On May 11, 1945, just days after Germany's surrender, the USS Bunker Hill--with thousands of crewmen and the most sophisticated naval technology available--was 70 miles off the coast of Okinawa when pilot Kiyoshi Ogawa flew his plane into the ship, killing 393 Americans in the worst suicide attack against America until September 11.

Iwo Jima: World War II veterans remember the greatest battle of the Pacific is an oral history edited by Larry Smith.  The story of the iconic photograph of the war is told in Uncommon Valor, Common Virtue: Iwo Jima and the photograph that captured America by Hal Buell.  This photo-filled book is accompanied by a DVD.

Retribution: the battle for Japan, 1944-45 by Max Hastings is an account of the last year of the war in the Pacific.  By summer 1944 it was clear that Japan's defeat was inevitable, but how the drive to victory would be achieved remained to be seen. The ensuing drama - ending in Japan's devastation - was acted out across the vast stage of Asia, with massive clashes of naval and air forces, fighting through jungles, and incomprehensible barbarities.  Hastings gives us incisive portraits of the theater's key figures - MacArthur, Nimitz, Mountbatten, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. But he is equally adept portraying the ordinary soldiers and sailors - American, British, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese - caught in some of the war's bloodiest campaigns.  He discusses Japan's war against China, now all but forgotten in the West, MacArthur in the Philippines, the Marines at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and the Soviet blitzkrieg in Manchuria.  And he analyzes the decision-making process that led to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - which, he argues, ultimately saved lives. Finally, he delves into the Japanese wartime mind-set, which caused an otherwise civilized society to carry out atrocities that haunt the nation to this day.

As counterpoint to these histories, readers should also explore stories of Japanese Americans during the war.  Bill Yenne’s Rising Sons: the Japanese American GIs who fought for the United States in World War II tells about men who faced discrimination in order to serve their country, including immigrants in Hawaii who witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor and volunteered to defend their home.  Most Japanese American soldiers fought in Italy and France, but some served in military intelligence in the Pacific.

Celebrate this 65th anniversary with one of these very interesting accounts of the war in the Pacific.  For these and more, visit us at or call us at 988-2541.

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