8/14/45 They were there ... here is what they told us
Film aficionados will get a unique treat Friday, Aug. 14 at the Senior Life celebration to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. “Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive” will feature live music, a barbecue and dessert tasting, exhibits and speakers, costume contest and a chance to recreate “The Kiss” iconic photo from Times Square.
Millennial videographer and local actor Alex Edwards of Melbourne has been capturing the first-hand accounts from Space Coast residents who were children, adults, servicemen and women, housewives and others who lived through that fateful day to preserve and share with generations to come.
“It’s great hearing their experiences,” Edwards said. “It’s amazing to watch these wonderful people, some older than my grandparents, as their faces light up, remembering that single moment. Each one has a different perspective and I feel privileged to be able to participate in helping them share their stories.”
The date of August 14, 1945 is generally agreed upon as both V-J Day, or victory over Japan, and the end of World War II. V-E Day is when war ended in Europe May 8 with Germany’s signed surrender, and the official signing of Japan’s surrender came Sept. 2. And while the official nonprofit Spiritof45.org website encourages the world to remember the Aug. 14 date, people in other time zones will always remember Aug. 15 as the official day.
Anyone with memories of any of those days, and anyone who would like to share in those remembrances, is encouraged to attend. Guest speakers and special appearances will open the video premiere.
The group Hot Cocoa will perform songs from the 1940s, and visitors can view exhibits. Vendors and attendees are encouraged to dress to reflect the era, such as “Rosie the Riveter,” the sailor or the nurse who kissed in Times Square in New York City or anything else from that time and theme.
Doors open at 9:45 a.m.
Presentation of colors at 10:10 a.m.
Hot Cocoa performs from 10:15 to 11:15 a.m.
Barbecue Battle begins at 11:15 a.m.
Rosie the Riveter look-alike contest winner announced 12:40 p.m.
Exhibits and photo booth to recreate “The Kiss” in Times Square 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In addition to free barbecue tastings by area senior living communities, free dessert tastings will be provided by Consulate Health Care of Melbourne, free bottled water will be provided by Senior Solutions Management and individual commemorative photos of those who wish to recreate “The Kiss” will be provided by National Cremation Society, all while supplies last.
Admission is free but tickets are required at this limited-capacity event. Donations collected will help send World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. with Space Coast Honor Flight.
Below are the stories of the people who were there and recollections of what they saw with their own eyes. Whether they were service men or women who risked their lives or nursed the injured back from the brink of death, or children or adults who went without back home and risked or lost loved ones, these are the memories of the Greatest Generation.
Tom Jones served as an Air Force pilot and was a member of the Office of Strategic Services, the intelligence agency formed by the United States during WWII. Much of his military career is classified.
“I can tell you this,” Jones said. “When I heard the news about Japan’s surrender, I was in my dormitory. Most of the others were asleep. I jumped up and made so much noise I woke up the whole dorm. We had a party all night, even though we only had three-two beer. Still, if you drink enough of that weak beer, long enough, you can get pretty drunk. So, by the time the sun came up, most of us were.”
Jones disclosed that on one high-altitude photo-surveillance mission, he lost control of his airplane and had to eject at night. The closest vessel to him was a submarine that was not equipped with night vision, so it remained submerged until dawn before attempting a rescue.
“If that sub had surfaced underneath my raft, it could have killed me, so I had to spend the entire night alone in the cold Pacific Ocean until they surfaced and could find me. They had to send frogmen to help me out of the water because I was so weak.”
Ruth Moltz married a fighter pilot in 1945.
“We were from upstate New York, but we went to a hotel in New York City for our honeymoon,” she said. “I thought he wouldn’t make it through the war, but he didn’t even have to go.”
Moltz, who was a legal secretary in Washington, D.C. for 21 years, said her honeymoon was made special by the news of Japan’s surrender.
“We danced in a Conga line and he spilled wine on his uniform, but he didn’t care. The war was over. We didn’t go downtown where that kiss photograph was made. We stayed in the hotel.”
She said she was relieved that her brother would be coming home soon.
“He repaired tanks in Guam, so he didn’t see a lot of action, but I still worried about him.”
Minnie Sachs just celebrated her 100th birthday in June 2015 and remembers vividly where she was on Aug. 15, 1945.
“My dad had cottages at Woodhull Lake in Michigan. A friend drove us around the lake in his car. We were all yelling and screaming and just enjoying being together that day,” she said.
One of the first women recruited to play in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, to keep baseball alive and stadiums viable during the war, Sachs said, “I told the man who asked me to play that I wouldn’t play unless he took my baby sister. I played any position they needed and kept on playing after the league didn’t need me any more. I always carried my mitt wherever I went.”
Sachs played for the Fisher Body’s team and still likes to talk about the Detroit Tigers.
“It was a happy time,” she said. “We weren’t wealthy, but we were healthy.”
When he was 14 years old, Dale Jamison went on a school picnic in Paragould, Ark. He was in a swimming pool when he heard that Emperor Hirohito had announced Japan’s unconditional surrender, ending World War II.
“I was a kid who had lived all my life on a farm and I was enjoying the picnic. I was glad to know my uncles would be coming home from the war.”
Eileen Tuomela worked in a lab for a mining company in Hibbing, Minn. on VJ Day. She said she and two others were under age, so they weren’t allowed to celebrate as the others did.
“I felt relief,” Tuomela said, “because when the war started, I went to my dad crying. He had told me World War I was the war to end all wars, and I couldn’t understand why we were going into another war.”
Norman Hayes was in the seventh grade in 1945, delivering newspapers in Norwood, Ohio when he heard the war had ended.
His older brother was in the Merchant Marines.
“In 1945, he went to OCS and became an engineer,” Hayes said. “I remember he told me about going to Argentina and his wife had to remind him to come home because he was married.”
Hayes said his newspaper route took him from Cameron Ave. to Montgomery Road. Within 20 minutes or so, he’d completed his delivery of 100 papers and walked home.
“I was walking down Montgomery Road and had to pass a machine tool place on the right side of the road. They were tossing out C clamps from the windows.”
Hayes said the memory is vivid because it seemed so unusual. “The idea of seeing all those workers hanging out the windows, tossing metal C clamps into the street without a worry of hitting anything. Even though they weren’t big, they could have caused some damage. They were so happy the war was over.”
Jerry Sicinski was born in 1938, so he was only 7 years old when the war ended.
“My entire family rushed downtown for a victory parade. My father might have been at work, but we all went,” Sicinski said. “We had terrific bands in Joliet. This was a really big thing — V-J Day — when Japan surrendered. Crowds were thick on both sides of the street. There was an explosion of emotion, a euphoric feeling. It was a national thing.
One memory stuck forever. One man was dragging a garbage can with a sign that said ‘place your ration books here.’ That was a strange thing to see.”
Sicinski said he does not remember if his mother threw her ration books away but he knew, even at age 7, how they regulated life during World War II.
Bunny LaChance’s father was a pragmatic physician, so he and his wife decided to induce labor for their second child on his day off.
“There was no one around to farm me off, so they sent me to YWCA camp during the time of her labor,” LaChance said. “I was 7.”
Her parents sent her to camp at what is now known as Lake Webster in Massachusetts. Though there are many different ways to spell Lake Chaubunagungamaug, most agree the long word means: You Fish on Your Side, I Fish on My Side, Nobody Fish in the Middle.
LaChance said, “August 14, 1945, my sister was born. For me, the baby sister was more important than the war ending although the war ending meant my uncles were coming home.”
She said celebrating entailed balloons, people yelling and screaming, “The war is over!”
Willie Urquhart enlisted in the Navy and worked in intelligence, with room-sized computers in Washington, D.C.
“I’m not sure what I can tell you,” she said. “That part of my life is classified, or it was at the time. I know I felt relief to hear the war was over. The computers were locked up and I walked across the street to my dorm and went to bed.”
James Wellbeloved was nearly 13 years old when he heard that Japan had surrendered.
“We were told, when the truck came, that an extra edition was coming in the evening. We had to be at the Grand Rapids Press building downtown,” Wellbeloved said. “I took the bus from my neighborhood and found a line of others waiting to get their papers. The crowds were starting to gather and people were showing up. They were throwing firecrackers and kissing and stuff. I couldn’t get on the bus so I had to start walking home. I was calling out, ‘Extra! Extra!’ and it didn’t take long for me to sell out.”
Wellbeloved said people did not wait around for change. “I got a $10 bill. That was a big deal in those days. I had a pocket full of money you wouldn’t believe.”
The most important thing to Wellbeloved was the fact that his older brothers, Jack and Bob, would be coming home.
Beulah Early’s prom date nicknamed her Alice because of a song they danced to and, “it stuck.”
She was working as a registered nurse in the clinic at the Tennessee Eastman Company, now known as Eastman Chemical Company, in Oakridge, Tenn., when she heard the war had ended.
“Part of the bomb was made there,” she said. “I was just relieved it was over.”
Ketterson, now 99, said she joined the Army, “When the old 6th Cavalry still had horses. Omar Bradley was there, before he made general. I worked along with doctors who had served in the First World War.”
Her husband had been assigned to help rebuild Berlin.
“He was kept there another six weeks,” she said. “He’d had a new suit made for his homecoming, but it got ruined in the rain. One of the old World War I doctors had a party for us. I remember feeling so glad it was over.”
Norm Wilford celebrated his 20th birthday, in Sarasota, on Dec. 7, 1941, by paying a pilot extra to take him through a loop on his plane ride. Then he joined the Army Air Corps.
“I was happy to have something to do,” he said. “Nineteen days after I enlisted, I was attached to the 49th Battalion, 9th Squadron, headed to Melbourne, Australia.”
Four years later, Wilford was in Laredo, Texas, training radio operators who would be assigned to work with pilots on the B17 Flying Fortresses.
Hollywood’s Memphis Belle made the B17 famous. Locally, the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum is home to the fully restored Tico Belle, also a B17.
Wilford said he didn’t remember the exact nature of his celebration of the end of World War II, but he smiled when he said, “Oh, I kissed a couple of girls. Yes, I did.”
Gaston Jennett was the engineer officer on a tank carrier on its way to Japan when World War II ended.
“When I heard Japan had surrendered, somebody turned on all the running lights on the ship and it made us feel naked,” Jennett said. “We were exposed after such a long time at sea in a blackout.”
Jennett, who spent 27 years in the Navy, said the few moments at sea with the running lights on was the extent of their celebration. The ship that provided support for ground troops proceeded on to Truk Island as ordered.
“Our first foray was December 1944 and my ship came back to the states in March 1946. The end of the war didn’t mean the end of our duty.”
When she heard the news of Japan’s surrender, Nora Davis was a long distance telephone operator in Richmond, Ind.
“We were all agog,” she said, “but the phones were still ringing and we couldn’t celebrate until after work.”
Davis said she doesn’t have a clear recollection of how she and others in the industrial city celebrated, but she remembers the “main drag” was a half-block long and filled with people rejoicing.
“I worked the day shift,” Davis said, “but the celebration was still going strong when I got off work.”
Sophia Sadowski had been a teenager when she was taken from her home in Poland to work in Germany.
“I was making beer in Bavaria.” She said she felt the earth had opened when she heard that the war had ended. “Who will come next, I was thinking. We had no idea if the next thing would be a good thing or a bad thing. We just knew it was changing.”
Sadowski said she celebrates every day through her art, which she has for sale.
Bill Hawley can’t remember exactly where in Germany he was when he heard Japan had surrendered but he said he felt indifferent about the news.
“Now, let me put it in perspective for you,” he said. “I was in Europe in 1943 and had been in the service before Pearl Harbor. I’d seen it all. We were all exasperated that Germany didn’t give up sooner. I remember thinking, ‘Now we don’t have to go to Japan to beat them, too.”
Hawley, who retired from the Army as a colonel after 33 years, had an uncle who had served in WWI.
“He wanted me to join. He said, ‘There’s nothing hot going on, so now would be a good time to enlist.’ I enlisted for one year. One year turned into however long it takes,”
He led a platoon of 70 men in a race across France, fought in the “exact center of the Battle of the Bulge” and was among the soldiers marching in the now famous photo of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées after the liberation of Paris.
The 94-year-old resident of Viera was recently inducted into the French Legion of Honor.
He said, “The French, in their suave, thoughtful way, recognized me for combat in France in defense of France and now I am a knight in the French Legion. So maybe now you understand why I felt indifferent about V-J Day.”