My first knowledge of the war in the Pacific probably came from the new episodes of “McHale’s Navy” and the 20 year old “Made in Occupied Japan” tableware that my mother collected.
Apparently overnight, I find it hard to do justice to the 75th anniversary of VJ (Victory Over Japan) Day.
Japan declared total surrender to the Allies on August 15, 1945. Many countries use the 15th to commemorate VJ Day, but President Truman has delayed the official U.S. commemoration until September 2, when the official surrender document was signed aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. I guess, like the coroner of “Oz,” Truman wanted to make sure that Imperial Japan was “not only just dead, but really, really genuinely dead.”
World War II veterans (European Theater and Pacific Theater) were all around me when I was young. They were neighbors, practitioners, traders, government officials, coaches, and more. I never thought they were a dime a dozen, but I took it for granted that they were… immortal.
Again, seemingly overnight, most of these veterans are now either deceased or in poor mental / physical health. Ditto for their spouses, their older children (who contributed to the war effort by planting Victory Gardens and collecting scrap metal) and an alarming number of their younger children (my generation – the baby boomers post-war).
This 75th anniversary is a milestone. The 76th, 80th, or 90th birthdays just aren’t that eye-catching, and by the time VJ Day’s 100th anniversary arrives, only a handful of centenarians with adult memories of WWII will be there for interviews.
Over time, “Today In History” articles will mention the 75th anniversary of Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech, the rise of Red China, the start of the Korean conflict, and more. but the details of WWII will be even more “irrelevant” than they are now. (This will please some people. I just read the story of a young man in Britain who demands that schools skip teaching about war because the Holocaust and war are too “intense” for sensitivities. modern.)
So, unfortunately, this is kind of a “last hurray” for the bigger generation.
That is why we should all make the most of the opportunity. Proudly fly your flag. Pull out a dusty family album. Think about how General Douglas MacArthur’s magnanimous treatment of postwar Japan led to friendly ties today. Pray that world leaders can go another 75 years without using an atomic bomb in combat. Do something good for a veteran, be it a sniper or a mail clerk.
Consider the impact of VE Day and VJ Day on your daily life. We tend to focus on the totalitarian nightmare we would face in 2020 if the Axis Powers had won; but even if the Allies had ultimately triumphed, each additional day of fighting would have increased casualties. One of my college professors told me that until Japan surrendered he had to be part of the first wave of Marines to serve as cannon fodder on the beaches. Many of us would never have been born without the efforts that ended the war in the summer of 1945. Did I just feel someone walk on my grave?
Finally, mark your calendars to make each Veterans Day and Memorial Day more special than the last.
Danny Tyree’s weekly column is distributed exclusively by the Cagle Cartoons Inc newspaper union.