The end of one of the bloodiest and largest conflicts in all human history came on August 14th and August 15, 1945. After six years of fighting, Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered to Allied Forces.
Earlier that year, on May 8, the Allies successfully ended the war in Europe, on a day that would come to be known as V-E Day, or Victory in Europe Day. Celebrations were overshadowed, however, by the knowledge that war still raged on in the Pacific. Though fighting in Europe was over, the fierce fighting of the Japanese had the Allies worried about how much longer it would take for the war to end.
Especially worrying for the United States were the conflicts fought in the first half of 1945. The battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa had been long and particularly bloody, and American spirits were curbed by the fact that the Japanese had never surrendered to a foreign power and no unit had yet surrendered during World War II.
On July 26, 1945, the Allied leaders sent an ultimatum to Japan to try and quell the fighting before they invaded the home islands. The Potsdam Declaration stated that if Japan were to surrender peacefully, a peaceful democratic government would be instated, and the war would be over. If they didn’t accept this peace they would face “prompt and utter destruction.” Japan did not surrender.
On August 6, the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima. This first strike was devastating. More than 70,000 people were killed and a five-mile stretch of the city was completely destroyed. Final casualty numbers remain unknown, though by the end of 1945, injuries and radiation sickness had raised the death toll to over 100,000. Three days later, the U.S. dropped its second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing another estimated 40,000 people. Like Hiroshima, the number rose following deaths by direct exposure and long-term side effects of radiation.
Also during this time, the USSR declared war on Japan. This conflict, which began efforts to liberate Manchuria from the Japanese, began just after midnight on August 9. This put more pressure on the Japanese military, as they were now surrounded by Soviet Union forces on land and the U.S. Navy by sea.
The following day, August 10, the government of Japan would issue a statement that accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. Through a radio address on August 15, Emperor Hirohito urged the citizens of Japan to accept the surrender. He stated that if the country of Japan were to continue to fight, not only would the Japanese nation fall, but it would also cause the total extinction of human civilization. This, Truman said, was the day the US had been waiting for since Pearl Harbor.
Due to differences in time zones between the Eastern and Western hemispheres, citizens in the United States received news of Japan’s surrender on August 14th following a press conference at the White House. Many began celebrating and continued to do so with other countries who chose to celebrate V-J Day as August 15th. For this reason, V-J Day is often cited as either the 14th or 15th of August.
Japan’s surrender marked the end of WWII. On September 2, formal documents of surrender were signed aboard the USS Missouri, officially ending the war. For the U.S. this became the official V-J Day, although August 14 and 15 were still acknowledged.
Though victory over Japan was welcomed, the day was bittersweet in light of the war’s destructiveness. An estimated more than 400,000 Americans and 65 million people worldwide had died as a result of the conflict. For those who had seen battle, whether soldier or civilian, the end only brought a sense of relief.
The stories of lives lost and the men who returned all deserve to be recounted and remembered. Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial wants to do its part in telling the stories of the veterans who served this country, including those who played a part in the Allied victory over Japan.
Our memorial features several walls with individual plaques containing pictures of the veteran, their rank, which branch of the Armed Forces they served, and their accomplishments during their time as a soldier. Among those featured are Mess Attendant 1st Class Doris “Dorie” Miller, who survived Pearl Harbor and went on to serve in the Pacific Theater with the Navy; AS Seaman 2 and 1 Class Coxswain John Somers, who also survived Pearl Harbor and served honorably in the Pacific aboard the USS Castor, USS Carmick, and USS Gatling; and Tech Sergeant Alfred Torres, part of the Army’s 136th Infantry Regiment. By visiting our memorial, you can take a look at the names and faces of those who fought, and some who died, to protect our freedoms.