60 Years Later, V-J Day and End of World War II Remembered
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2005 Sixty years ago today, Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered to the Allied forces, bringing an end to the War in the Pacific and World War II.
The Japanese government sent U.S. President Harry S. Truman a cable, delivered through the Swiss diplomatic mission here, to advise the Allies of Japan's unconditional surrender. At noon Japan standard time, Hirohito's announcement of Japan's acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration was broadcast to the Japanese people.
The day came to be known as "Victory in Japan" or "V-J" Day-a day that ended the most destructive war in history. Three months earlier, Germany surrendered to the Allies during "Victory in Europe" or "V-E" Day.
"This is the day we have been waiting for since Pearl Harbor," Truman told a crowd that gathered outside the White House after hearing news of Japan's surrender. "This is the day when fascism finally dies, as we always knew it would."
British Prime Minister Clement Atlee confirmed news of Japan's surrender in a radio broadcast. "The last of our enemies is laid low," he said.
Atlee thanked all nations who supported the effort but expressed particular appreciation to the United States, "without whose prodigious efforts the war in the East would still have many years to run."
The Allies had delivered Japan the Potsdam Declaration, demanding an unconditional surrender, two weeks earlier. When Japan ignored the ultimatum the U. S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9.
Japan's formal surrender took place aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander, joined nine other Allied officers to accept the surrender from Japan's foreign minister and the commander of Japanese forces. The 18-minute ceremony ended a war that began for the United States three years, eight months and 22 days earlier at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The Defense Department will commemorate the end of World War II during Sept. 2 ceremonies at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) Historical Unit and Battleship Missouri Memorial in Honolulu. Regional observances are also planned around the country.
"We want to thank all World War II veterans, their families and the American people who supported the effort on the home front," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Soyster, the World War II Committee's executive director of the upcoming observances. "The young men and women who served in uniform and on the homefront are now in their 80s and 90s. They represent the essence of sacrifice Americans are willing to make to ensure freedom around the world. Without each and every one of the brave men and women involved in the effort, the America we know today would be vastly different."
The jubilation that followed the announcement of V-J Day 60 years ago is best remembered through Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous photograph of a sailor giving a nurse a celebratory kiss in New York's Times Square. Offices and schools temporarily closed and newspapers heralded the news that the war was over.
But the celebration followed years of struggle, and the initial outlook for the Allies was bleak.
The United States entered the war after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. After the attack, the Japanese quickly gained control over a vast area of the Pacific, with Guam, Wake Island and Hong Kong all falling within the next three weeks. The following April, the Allies faced another major defeat with the fall of Bataan in the Philippines.
The turning point of the war came in June 1942, when U.S. naval forces halted the Japanese advance during the Battle of Midway.
After that battle, the Allies launched a counteroffensive, beginning with Marine landings on Guadalcanal, a critical move to protect Australia. After six months of bloody fighting, the Allies finally took control of Guadalcanal.
Meanwhile, Army troops and their Australian allies succeeded in taking New Guinea's Papua peninsula.
From that point, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz and MacArthur engaged in island-hopping campaigns that struck at Japan's weak points and stopped Japanese advances. By 1944, they had reached the Marshall Islands and secured the Kwajalein and Eniwetok atolls. The Marianas Islands followed in mid-June 1944, and the Allies liberated the Philippines in mid-1945.
Despite continued defeats and the Allies' intensive bombing campaign, Japan continued to refuse to surrender until atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The bombs had been developed by the United States with assistance from the United Kingdom and Canada under the code name "Manhattan Project" and tested in the New Mexico desert in July 1945. Less than a month later, Truman ordered the bombings to bring a quick resolution to a war that already claimed so many U.S. lives.
Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson supported the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan as the "least abhorrent choice," and the best way to avoid sacrificing thousands more U.S. servicemembers.
After accepting Japan's surrender on the Missouri, MacArthur was named commander of the Allied powers in Japan and directed the Allied occupation of Japan, which lasted until 1952. During that period, the U.S.-led effort focused on demilitarizing Japan and introducing sweeping economic, social and political changes.
Today, Japan is a world economic leader and a staunch ally of the United States. During the International Institute for Strategic Studies conference in Singapore in June, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed to Japan as an example of success amid doubt.
"Sixty years ago, an American ambassador to Japan, echoing the conventional wisdom of the times, confidently told President Harry S. Truman that 'democracy in Japan will never work,'" Rumsfeld told the group. "Today, Japan is one of the world's model democracies, with one of the largest economies in the world."
Japan is also a strong partner in the global war on terror.
During his confirmation hearings in March, U.S. Ambassador to Japan J. Thomas Schieffer noted the huge strides the United States and Japan have made since World War II's end.
"Sixty years ago, World War II ended and one-time bitter enemies began traveling again the road to peace and friendship," he said. "Today, relations between our two countries have never been better. We look to Japan as a bulwark of democracy and free markets. Japan looks to us as a friend that can still be counted on as a force for good in the world."
And with each passing year, Schieffer said, the two countries "are finding more ways to have a positive impact on the world" by acting together.
"Whether it is helping the victims of the recent tsunami or helping reconstruct Afghanistan and Iraq or fighting terrorism and proliferation, we find our common interests taking us toward common goals," he said. "Both of us realize that together we can contribute much to the development of human dignity, democracy, prosperity and peace in Asia and the world."