Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega searches old newspapers to learn how our families celebrated V-E Day on 8 May 1945. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”
Victory in Europe Day, known as V-E Day in the United States, “marks the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces” on 8 May 1945. (1)
How did your family’s hometown mark V-E Day back in 1945? According to the historical newspapers, all kinds of activities were planned to honor and, in some cases, celebrate the end of the war in Europe. Because the surrender announcement was expected (Adolf Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945), American cities had some time to plan and decide what they would do once the announcement was finally made. Historical newspapers provide information about what was happening in your family’s hometown on that day in May 1945.
V-E Day Plans
In Napa, California – and other cities nationwide – community leaders and merchants decided that retail stores would close for the day once the announcement was made. Napa decided that if the announcement was made after 3 p.m. then merchants would not open the following day, and if it was made on a Sunday, then they would not close at all. The announcement was made at 9 a.m., Tuesday, 8 May 1945. (2)
In some cities, the plan for V-E Day was to not only close stores but to also hold religious services, like the one planned at St John’s Lutheran Church in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Apparently, not all cities thought that the announcement was cause for celebration. According to this newspaper article, Boston “union leaders announced workers will stay at their jobs, food dealers explained stores will be open as usual and Mayor Kerrigan said he would close liquor selling establishments only if ‘great public excitement’ prevails.” Union leaders pointed out that many members had soldiers in the Pacific and they would continue to be working hard – and so too should families on the home front.
When V-E Day finally arrived, cities and businesses commemorated the event in various ways. In one case, a newspaper – the Miami Herald – announced that it would not run advertisements that day, explaining: “This is done in order to provide adequate news space and an opportunity for everyone to get a copy of The Herald on this history making occasion.”
Here is the announcement the Miami Herald placed on the bottom of the front page that day.
The Miami Herald also reported on a prayer service for V-E Day.
V-E Day, 8 May 1945
President Harry S. Truman, mindful of the fierce fighting still going on in the war against Japan, cautioned that V-E Day should not be a day of “unrestrained celebration” – but instead be one of prayer. He called for the Sunday after V-E Day, which happened to also be Mother’s Day, to be an official day of prayer.
In this newspaper article, Truman reminded U.S. citizens that “Much remains to be done. The victory won in the West now must be won in the East.” In his speech announcing the end of the war with Germany, he lamented that he wished Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness that day. (President Roosevelt had died the month before on 12 April 1945.)
Even with the surrender of Germany, the war was anything but over. It wasn’t until three months later, on 14 August 1945, that the announcement was made that Japan was surrendering, and a few more weeks (September 2) before that surrender document was signed.
Where Was Your Family?
What was your family doing on V-E Day? Did you have any family members serving in the military on that day? Take some time to document their stories for future generations as we remember that historic day that brought part of World War II to a close.
Note: An online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors – the old newspaper articles also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers – including events that may have happened in your own lifetime.
(1) “Victory in Europe Day,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victory_in_Europe_Day: accessed 22 April 2019).
(2) You can listen to the announcement via a recording available from the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, https://www.trumanlibrary.org/ww2/veday.htm.