Commemorations to Honor 60th V-E Day Anniversary
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 6, 2005 A full lineup of commemorations is scheduled to kick off this weekend in observation of the 60th anniversary of V-E - for "Victory in Europe" - Day, the end of World War II there.
President Bush will visit the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands, May 8 to honor the shared sacrifice of millions of Americans and Europeans to defeat Nazi aggression in Europe. Joining him will be Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Jan Peter Balkenende, prime minister of the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, in Washington, a celebration at the World War II Memorial will recognize World War II veterans for their service and sacrifice in liberating Europe from six years of bloody conflict that claimed millions of lives.
Army Secretary Francis Harvey will host the ceremony, and other high-level military officials are expected to attend the event.
The commemorations are among scores planned throughout Europe and the United States that pay tribute to the Allied victory in Europe and the end of World War II.
"Sixty years ago this month, Allied forces fought in some of the fiercest battles of World War II," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said during an April 26 Pentagon news conference. "The outcome of that long and difficult struggle helped to transform much of the world, bringing freedom to new and distant shores, turning menacing dictatorships into peaceful democracies, and turning long-standing enemies into friends."
Germany's unconditional surrender, which took effect May 8, 1945, brought a dramatic close to the conflict that intensified after U.S., British and Canadian troops invaded Normandy on June 6, 1944, and started to drive the Nazis out of France.
By 1945, the Allies had liberated France and crossed the Rhine River in Germany. The Soviet army occupied the eastern one-third of Germany. German defenses were near collapse.
The two weeks leading up to V-E Day brought a dramatic conclusion to Germany's defeat.
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was arrested and executed by firing squad alongside 17 other fascists. Germans in Italy signed an unconditional surrender. U.S. soldiers liberated the Dachau concentration camp and captured Munich.
On April 30, Adolph Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker, and the days that followed witnessed the end of German power.
Salzburg fell, then Berchtesgaden, site of Hitler's mountain retreat. An American column pushed through Austria to the Brenner Pass. German Grand Admiral Karl Donitz surrendered all forces in the north, including Denmark and the Netherlands.
On May 7, German Gen. Alfred Jodl signed the document of surrender at the Reims headquarters of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, supreme allied commander of Allied forces in Europe. Germany had originally tried to strike a deal to surrender only to the Western allies, but not Russia, but ultimately gave in to demands that it surrender unconditionally on all fronts.
"With this signature, the German people and armed forces are for better or worse delivered into the victor's hands," Jodl said.
The surrender took effect at 11:01 p.m. May 8, on what was declared V-E Day. It was a day marked by widespread celebration and, in some corners, somber reflection.
In his victory order issued that day, Eisenhower praised the men and women in uniform who made V-E Day possible. "Your accomplishments at sea, in the air, on the ground and in the field of supply have astonished the world," he said. "You have taken in stride military tasks so difficult as to be classed by many doubters as impossible. On the road to victory you have endured every discomfort and privation and have surmounted every obstacle that ingenuity and desperation could throw in the your path."
The road to victory was "marked by the graves of former comrades" who paid the ultimate sacrifice, Eisenhower said, noting that 186,000 Allied troops were killed during the 11 months between D-Day and V-E Day. More than a half million Allies were wounded, and more than 100,000 remained missing, later to be declared dead.
"Each of the fallen died as a member of a team to which you belong, bound together by a common love of liberty and a refusal to submit to enslavement," Eisenhower said.
"No monument of stone, no memorial of whatever magnitude could so well express our respect and veneration for the sacrifice as would the perpetuation of the spirit of comradeship in which they died," he said.
In his address to the nation that day, President Harry S. Truman urged the American people to "refrain from celebrating and dedicate themselves instead to the solemn task which lies ahead" - the war still raging in the Pacific.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Edward Soyster, executive director of the World War II 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, said it's important to remember the contributions and sacrifices of veterans of the conflict.
"These great Americans sacrificed much to assure the freedom of Western Europe and the Pacific," said Soyster. "It's clear that remembering not just the people, but the ideas and lessons learned in freeing Western Europe and the Pacific helps assure that freedom continues to flourish around the world - much as the soldiers of today are doing in the Middle East."
During his April 26 Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld compared the Allied effort in Europe during World War II with the one under way today as another generation of U.S. and coalition allies "have come to freedom's defense" against terrorism and oppression.
"They're engaged in an assault against terrorist cells across the world; they're helping millions of people in Afghanistan and Iraq to transform their countries from terrorist states into peaceful democracies," he said.
And just as victory in Europe didn't happen overnight, Rumsfeld said success in the Middle East "will take time." And just as the Allies demonstrated unwavering support for those oppressed by the Nazis during World War II, Rumsfeld said, "the coalition will continue to stand with the Afghan and Iraqi people."