While the coronavirus pandemic may seem like the darkest of days, we must never forget what our country and the world went through 75 years ago. The National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., and World War II veterans serve as the greatest lesson of the deadliest conflict in human history.
On Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay, Allied and Japanese officers signed the terms of Japan’s surrender, a day now remembered as “Victory over Japan Day,” or “V-J Day.” Japan’s capitulation ended six years of hostilities and bloodshed, officially concluding the war.
A month earlier, on Aug. 6, 1945, an American B-29 dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, causing catastrophic damage to the city and shocking the world. On Aug. 9, another B-29 dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki, just one day after the Soviet Union, no longer at war with a defeated Germany, invaded occupied Manchuria.
At last, Japan had had enough. After a few days of diplomatic assurances of the postwar structure, on Aug. 14 (Aug. 15 in Japan), Japanese leaders agreed to surrender, and Emperor Hirohito issued a proclamation to the Japanese people that they should accept this decision and honor its terms.
That day in Washington, President Harry Truman announced the news of Japan’s surrender, signifying an end to hostilities. Crowds of jubilant Americans took to the streets in celebration for a moment they had been waiting for since the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Ticker tape parades, fireworks and bands overcrowded the streets as families, friends and strangers marked the occasion across the country. These joyous events, which continued well into Aug. 15, were marked with a sense of relief and patriotism that the long and bloody conflict had finally reached a victorious conclusion, as well as a bittersweet awareness of the many thousands of American lives that were lost to make this celebration possible.
Meanwhile, Allied forces and Japan prepared for what the negotiated peace would look like. Finally, on the morning of Sept. 2, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supported by Adm. Chester Nimitz, Adm. Bull Halsey and several other top American and Allied officers, received nine Japanese delegates aboard the Pacific Fleet’s flagship USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay. Two copies of the official terms of surrender were signed at a small table on the Missouri’s deck by representatives from each warring nation in this theater.
This event officially marked the end of the war in the Pacific. After years of long and bloody fighting, with the surrender of Japan, the guns at last fell silent. With its last belligerent defeated, World War II at long last came to an end.
As we reflect on those who fought for our freedom 75 years later, it is important to honor and preserve the national memory of World War II and create the next “Greatest Generation” of tomorrow – the everyday men and women who emerged from the Great Depression and fought the war.
Sen. Bob Dole and I co-chaired a years-long fundraising effort to design and build the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., which was dedicated in 2004. The memorial honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the United States during World War II, the more than 400,000 who died and the millions who supported the war effort from home.
Symbolic of the defining event of the 20th century, the memorial is a monument to the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the American people to the common defense of the nation and to the broader causes of peace and freedom from authoritarianism, fascism and racism throughout the world. It now stands as a lasting reminder of the nation’s enduring gratitude to our “Greatest Generation” who – through sacrifice, valor, dedication, and determination – preserved our freedom, saved this nation and literally saved the world.
I am proud of my work with Sen. Dole, which helped the World War II Memorial take its rightful place on the National Mall. And, I’m proud of my continued support of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial, the only organization hosting a full four-year WWII 75th Anniversary Commemoration marking ever major battle in which American troops took part. Seventy-five years after the end of the war, the Memorial in D.C. and the Friends’ work to capture and archive the memories of our WWII veterans are helping to honor and preserve the national memory of World War II and the legacy and lessons of our “Greatest Generation.”
Frederick W. Smith is the chairman and CEO of FedEx Corp. and member of the Friends of the National World War II 75th Anniversary Honorary Committee.
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