By Naval History and Heritage Command, Communications and Outreach Division
“This is the day we have been waiting for since Pearl Harbor,” Truman said that evening from the White House. “This is the day when Fascism finally dies, as we always knew it would.”
To mark the occasion, Truman announced a two-day holiday for Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 15-16, 1945, holidays shared by the allied nations of United Kingdom and Australia.
Why two days? “The reason we are making it two days is because we didn’t get to celebrate for the other,” Truman said, referring to the May 8 Victory in Europe Day.
Truman spoke directly to Federal employees on the need for a two-day holiday: “One of the hardest working groups of war workers during the past four years – and perhaps the least appreciated by the public – has been the Federal employees in Washington and throughout the country. They have carried the day-to-day operations of the government which are essential to the support of our fighting men and to the carrying out the war. On behalf of the nation, I formally express thanks to them.”
He requested all heads of departments, agencies and bureaus throughout government to excuse their employees for Wednesday and Thursday, operating with only skeleton staff.
“I hope all of the employees of government will enjoy this well-deserved – though inadequate – holiday,” Truman said in Press Statement 102.
Truman was quick to make sure all workers – federal, state and private — would get their pay during the 2-day celebration. That evening, he amended Executive Order No. 9240 on the overtime wage compensation regulations to temporarily add V-J Day to the list of time and a half holidays.
And celebrate the nation did. The U.S. had endured four years of food and gasoline rations, recycling home appliances to produce more steel for more ships to be built and sending hundreds of thousands of young men into battle while women went to work in droves to take their place.
So across the country there was much rejoicing, revelry and even riotous behavior as inhibitions dropped with increased imbibing of alcohol. Bands played patriotic songs for impromptu parades, church bells were rung and people danced in the streets. In the garment district of New York, seamstresses threw out bits of fabric and ticker tape that piled up to five inches on the streets below. Women jumped naked into fountains in San Francisco, and crowds surged onto the White House lawn.
It was that evening at Times Square in New York City that Life Magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt snapped the iconic picture of a sailor planting a kiss on a very surprised dental nurse. A Navy photographer snapped this similar picture from a different angle.
Another reason to celebrate was Truman’s approval to reduce inductions of young men into the Armed Forces from 80,000 per month to 50,000 and for only those aged 26 and younger. The draft couldn’t end completely, he explained, since the war department would still need people to cover those who would get relief of long-service men overseas.
“In justice to the millions of men who have given long and faithful service under the difficult and hazardous conditions of the Pacific War and elsewhere overseas a constant flow of replacements to the occupational forces is thought to be imperative,” Truman noted. “Mathematically and morally, no other course of action appears acceptable.”
After two days of near riotous behavior, Truman had another announcement to give to members of the press during an Aug. 16 briefing.
“I have issued a proclamation setting aside Sunday as a day of prayer. After the two days celebration I think we will need the prayer,” Truman said to the laughter of the room.
The proclamation declared “This day is a new beginning in the history of freedom on this earth. Our global victory has come from the courage and stamina and spirit of free men and women united in determination to fight. It has come from millions of peaceful citizens all over the world turned soldiers almost overnight who showed a ruthless enemy that they were not afraid to fight and to die, and that they knew how to win.”
Calling upon the people “of all faiths,” Truman asked his “countrymen to dedicate this day of prayer to the memory of those who have given their lives to make possible our victory.”
Truman warned during an Aug. 16 press briefing there wouldn’t be an official V-J Day until Japan — with more than two million fully armed — formally signed the surrender document. Sadly, he was correct. As Americans were celebrating the end of the war, some members of the Japanese Imperial Army went against Emperor Hirohito’s announcement to put down arms. After surviving years in prisoner of war camps, hundreds of POWs were killed in the days following the Aug. 14 announcement.
Did the president envision V-J Day as a national holiday, the press questioned? Ever pragmatic, Truman said no. “I think they have had their holidays,” he said, referring to the 2-days of celebration. “There is too much to do to declare too many holidays.”
Sixty-nine years later, only one state celebrates what had been V-J Day. Rhode Island recognizes the second Monday in August as the end of World War II, although it is now called Victory Day.