14 August 2009

Learning about a victory 64 years ago . . .

There is a movement afoot to "Keep the spirit of '45 alive!" 64 years ago today I wasn't even thought of, nor was my father or mother. My grandfather on the other hand fought in World War II in the U.S. Navy and was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Today in both Australia and the United States we celebrate Victory in the Pacific ("VP") day as it's known in Australia and Victory Over Japan ("V-J") day as it's known in the United States. I'm home in Sydney and today marks the first time in my life that I'm attending a VP day commemorative ceremony.

On the morning of 15 August 1945 (14 August 1945 in the United States) the Emperor of Japan announced that Japan would accept the Allies ultimatum to surrender. On the same day just after nine o'clock in the morning, as the majority of Sydneysiders had just begun their day at work, Prime Minister Ben Chifley's voice was heard over the radio announcing that Japan had bowed to the ultimatum issued by the Allies and peace was at hand.

PM Chifley's announcement was a signal for a deluge of unprompted happiness never before or since seen in Australia (so I've been told). Martin Place in Sydney, which is where I will be today, became a rallying point as was Bourke Street in Melbourne. 64 years ago Australians, not normally given to public displays of emotion, danced in the streets through piles of shredded paper which rained down from city office buildings. Traffic came to a stop and trams inched along the streets with revelers clinging to the sides of roofs.

Every year since 1946 a commemoration ceremony has taken place at the Cenotaph in Martin Place, Sydney. The New York Times has an interesting article here, the San Diego Union Tribune here, and the Northside here about what today means and of the WWII veterans that fought for the victory.

For my generation and the younger generations we should take time today to ask a WWII veteran about their service and to share their stories -- home in America stop by a VFW or American Legion club or in Australia an RSL. There are many stories of history you can learn by talking to a veteran that a book, movie or teacher in a classroom can't teach you.

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