Archive for Monday, August 3, 2015

Looking back 70 years to V-J Day

August 3, 2015

It was a day that the world had planned, hoped and prayed for — it had been a long and costly journey. Yet, it finally happened at 6 p.m. local time on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 1945. News flashed around the world that the Japanese had surrendered, ending World War II and a six-year nightmare.

The world erupted in celebration and newspapers put out special editions with huge headlines announcing the end of the war. According to The Chieftain, Bonner Springs’ residents joined the world in rejoicing that the bloody conflict had ended.

Bonner Springs had been planning for the war’s end since September 1944. Mayor George Meyn convened a meeting to discuss the local celebration, and Glen Barb was appointed chairman of the victory celebration planning committee. From reading accounts of the meeting, I doubt that the planners suspected the war would last another year and claim thousands of lives in both Europe and the Pacific Theater. The first half of the war ended on May 8, 1945, with VE or Victory in Europe Day when Germany surrendered. Bonner Springs held a joint memorial service at the high school. The services had been organized by four local ministers and included music provided by high school groups.

Mayor Meyn opened the meeting and those in attendance stood for the singing of “America.” After a number of brief patriotic speeches the mayor who urged the audience to renew their war efforts saying: “the war is just half over and the country needs our support which we can give with our money through war bonds.”

Certainly residents heeded his words. Don Coffman was local chairman of local bond drive, which raised $30,822.92, a staggering sum for that time.

The Chieftain sent free newspapers to service men and women, and about one half of the front page each week was filled with news about those serving in the military. Some of the articles were happy reports of men on leave or earning promotions or letters of thanks to the newspaper. But there were many, many sad stories about those who would never walk the streets of Bonner Springs again. The Chieftain reported in the early summer that 31 area men had perished in the conflict. Probably that number increased by August.

The official end came after several days of speculation and false reports. Bonner Springs was ready for the peace announcement. Local merchants decided to close their stores the minute peace was announced. They also decided to remain closed on Wednesday. In fact, according to reports, business virtually ended for the week due to the nationwide celebrations.

Locally the end of the war was observed at a special church service held at the grade school with Mayor Meyn presiding. The service featured patriotic and religious music. The local observance was tame compared to some of the wild parties around the nation.

In mid-September a dedication ceremony was held for a monument honoring service men and women, which was installed at Oak and Nettleton. Lee Weeks, local attorney, was master of ceremonies and Dr. Robert Hayes was the featured speaker. The Chieftain reported “he gave a most excellent talk concerning the memorial and its place in the community.”

Americans celebrated the end of rationing. That meant you no longer needed ration books and stamps to buy many consumer goods. For most the biggest celebration was probably the end of gasoline and tire rationing. Slowly, the world edged toward peace, although the United States was keeping a wary eye on Russia and other Communist block countries.

As the troops return to civilian life a new world was emerging. Life would never be the same as it was before Pearl Harbor. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the men and women who sacrificed to preserve our freedom. They are a generation we must never forget.

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