Relive VE Day Through the Eyes of WWII Veterans Who Were There

By Mike Case

“Dear Folks, Today is probably one of the greatest days in history-VE Day” -Sgt. R.W. Wolfe in a letter to his parents from Germany, dated Sunday, May 8, 1945.

VE Day, short for “Victory in Europe Day,” marked the end of World War II in Europe, ending almost six years of a devastating war on the continent.

On the front lines and around the world, there were celebrations and observances both large and small. Some were boisterous, others were quiet. Many felt a sense of relief and thankfulness. Others simply took a brief moment, noting the event, and then headed back to work. After all, the war wasn’t over – there was still Japan and the prospect of many more months (or years) of fighting still ahead.

A World in Celebration on VE Day

Large crowds spilled into the streets of cities around the world. Marian Davison, an American nurse stationed just outside of London, remembers when the end of the war was announced.

“We danced, and drank, and sang,” she said.

In Saginaw, Michigan,

“People rushed into the streets cheering, shouting, and honking horns,” said Anna Cinke, who was there on May 8, 1945, in a 1995 story in the Michigan Daily Globe.

“All of a sudden everything stopped with a blare. The street was a mob scene. The whistles and horns blew. People were everywhere; dancing, hugging, and kissing.”

Photo credit National Archives and Records Administration

Jubilant American soldier hugs motherly English woman and victory smiles light the faces of happy service men and civilians at Piccadilly Circus, London, celebrating Germany’s unconditional surrender.

Stateside U.S. Service Members Recall VE Day

While cities around the world celebrated in the streets, many U.S. service members who were located stateside recall marking the day a little differently.

Having flown over 130 combat missions as part of the famed Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group, Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, then a captain, had been rotated back to Tuskegee, Alabama, to become an instructor for pilots learning to fly the B-25 Mitchell Bomber. McGee remembers VE day as just another busy day training.

“We heard the announcement, but for us, the pace didn’t slow down until after VJ Day,” McGee said in an April 2020 interview with the USO.

Photo credit State Library of North Carolina

“Superstition Party” at the Seabrook Rd. USO in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1945.

At Lincoln Army Airfield, Nebraska, Col. H.W. Anderson said, “the urgency of the training program precludes extensive observances of VE Day.”

Still, soldiers and civilian workers on the base gathered together in an aircraft hangar to listen to President Truman’s VE Day Proclamation and then returned to work. It wasn’t strictly all business as usual though. According to a Lincoln Star story from VE Day, that evening, the USO sponsored a special VE Day dance in hangar 5-W.

Photo credit USO Archives

A dance at the USO in Belem, Brazil in 1945.

In Reno, Nevada the USO also offered service members a place to continue celebrating after most of the businesses, including bars and saloons, closed. According to a Reno Gazette-Journal story from VE Day, the local USO in Reno reported crowds of service members late into the night.

Detail of the cover of Newsmap, 1945: Year of Victory for the week of December 18 to December 25. The original caption reads: “German PWs arriving in states on VE Day.” | Photo credit National Archives and Records Administration

Writing to his mother on May 8, 1945, from Camp Robinson, Arkansas, Cpl. W.J. Jackson noted that, “I just looked out the window there were about 3,000 German prisoners marching down the street. The guards said they were on their way back to Germany, can you imagine that already! It is still only about one hour after the official announcement of Victory in Europe Day.”

VE Day for Troops in Europe

For troops still overseas, some busy squashing pockets of resistance in Europe, the day passed a variety of ways.

On the front in Germany, the men of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 353rd Regiment, 89th Infantry Division spent the day on patrol and marching to a new village, according to a Dayton Daily News story from 1950. Somewhere in Germany on VE Day, U.S. Army Sgt. R.W. Wolfe of Lima, Ohio, succinctly summarized the importance of the day in the opening sentence in a letter to his folks, he remarks only on “getting the day off in celebration.”

Any exuberance for the end of the war may have been subdued by his then-fresh experience of witnessing the scenes of a recently-liberated concentration camp.

Detail of Letter, “Dear Folks, Today is probably one of the greatest days in history - VE Day,” by Sgt Wolfe on May 8, 1945. | Photo credit Ohio Memory Collection

VE Day For Deployed Troops in the Pacific

Fighting on Okinawa, Japan, the 1st Marine Division’s L Company, led by 1st Lt. Frank Metzger, suffered 20 casualties on VE Day. In the North Pacific, Victor Lawhead was serving with a joint American-Russian crew aboard the minesweeper U.S.S. YMS 145.

According to a memory captured by Ball State University, on May 8, 1945 he remembers, “at about 1300, a group [of] off-watch Russian sailors started shouting ‘Germania Kaput! Germania Kaput!’”

The had just heard via the ship’s radio of Germany’s surrender. That evening, Lawhead also remembered many rounds of 40mm ordnance being fired into the air to accompany the many toasts and shots of vodka.

Committed to the Troops, Bob Hope, Judy Garland and Stars Entertain Troops

Photo credit U.S. Army Signal Corps

At a dinner honoring Marshal Koniev of the Russian Army at Bad Wildungen, Germany were violinist Jascha Heifetz, left, in USO uniform, and Pfc. Mickey Rooney, right on May 17,1945.

Bob Hope kisses a service member at the Hollywood USO Canteen in Feb. 1945. | Photo credit USO Archives

May 8, 1945, saw little rest for Bob Hope as he continued to entertain the country with his radio shows, movies and live performances promoting war bond drives.

From Washington, D.C., Hope, Judy Garland, Frances Langford and other stars of the day broadcast a special VE Day radio program. They hosted another program the next day, as well.

Later that week, Hope headed to the White House to preview his newest act for President Truman before heading back overseas with his troupe to continue entertaining the troops all around the world.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of VE Day, the USO is collecting WWII memories and photos from military family members. Do you or a family member have a story from the war that you would like to share with us? You can click here to read more about sharing your WWII memory.

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