Looking Back on V-J Day 75 Years Later

How Americans celebrated the end of World War II

Victory over Japan Day (V-J Day) on Jackson Square, Oak Ridge. August 1945. The town of Oak Ridge was established by the Army Corps of Engineers as part of the Clinton Engineer Works in 1942 on isolated farm land as part of the Manhattan Project. The site was chosen for the X-10 Graphite Reactor, used to show that plutonium can be extracted from enriched uranium. Tennessee, USA. (Galerie Bilderwelt / Getty Images)
SMITHSONIANMAG.COM | Aug. 14, 2020, 7 a.m.

As word of the Japanese surrender spread throughout the nation on August 14, 1945, Americans of all ages amassed in the streets. Servicemen in New York City’s Times Square climbed lampposts to wave flags. Trumpets blared. Champagne bottles popped. After nearly four long years of war, the United States, with the rest of the world, finally had something to celebrate—the deadliest and most destructive conflict in recorded history was over.

Nazi Germany had surrendered three months earlier marking victory in Europe, but World War II continued to escalate in the Pacific. June’s Battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest Americans had seen. And then, on August 6, the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima, and a second one three days later over Nagasaki, claiming the lives of more than 200,000 Japanese. In between the two bombings, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, further pushing an end to the conflict. On August 15 (the 14th in the Western Hemisphere), President Harry S. Truman announced that Emperor Hirohito had accepted the terms of unconditional surrender. (The agreement would not be formally signed until September 2, 1945, on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.)

Seventy-five years later, few Americans are alive to describe the revelry that followed Truman’s V-J Day announcement, but the relief they clearly felt is captured in black and white. Newspapers with headlines declaring “PEACE” rain from Manhattan’s skies as conga lines form on the White House lawn. Beeping cars overflowing with smiling sailors blaze pass palm trees near Pearl Harbor. Women march arm-in-arm wrapped in American flags, ready to welcome their families home. Take in the scenes of a countrywide exhale of relief as Americans processed the news.

Celebrating at Zanibar
Celebrating the end of World War II (V-J Day), at the Zanzibar Club, sailor Sal Provenzano stands on head while Rita Watson serves him champagne from her slipper. (Bill Meurer / NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Women wrapped in flag
Women, wrapped in American flags, during the celebrations following the end of the war in the Pacific. (Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
Conga Line at White House
Sailors and Washington, D.C. residents dance the conga in Lafayette Park waiting for President Truman to announce the surrender of Japan in World War II. (Bettmann / Getty Images)
Robert Lyle age 5
Robert De Lyle, age 5, celebrates end of World War II (V-J Day). (Art Edger / NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
VJ Day in Chinatown
A crowd marches through New York's Chinatown to celebrate the end of World War II. (Weegee (Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography / Getty Images)
Soldier with lipstick
An American soldier with lipstick on his face after V-J day celebrations. (MPI / Getty Images)
News studio parade
A group of men and women rejoice in front of the NBC studios on V-J Day at the end of World War II. (Gene Lester / Getty Images)
Jubilant sailor
Jubilant sailor with his girlfriend blowing toy horns as they stand amidst group of revelers standing in line outside railroad station during V-J Day celebration. (Ralph Crane / The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images / Getty Images)
GIs in Newark, New Jersey
A white soldier and an African American soldier hug while being lifted onto the shoulders of a mixed race crowd in Newark, New Jersey. (Afro American Newspapers / Gado / Getty Images)
NYC celebrations
Crowds are shown madly cheering on Broadway in New York City as word is received of Japan's acceptance of Allied surrender terms. This photo was taken shortly after 7 p.m. on "V-J" day. (Bettmann / Getty Images)
GIs Read the News from Abroad
American troops at Place de l'Opera in Paris read news of the Japanese surrender in the newspaper, Libe-Soir. (Keystone / Getty Images)
Japanese-American Soldiers
A small group of Japanese-American soldiers celebrate the end of World War II at Fort Snelling in Minnesota. (Minnesota Historical Society / CORBIS / Corbis via Getty Images)
Crowd Celebrating
Crowds in New York City celebrating V-J Day. (Bettman / Getty Images)
Carmen Miranda
Standing on the back seat of a car, actress Carmen Miranda puts her all into "one of those Miranda" dances as she joins with others of the Hollywood clan in celebration of V-J Day. (Bettman / Getty Images)
Courtney Sexton About the Author: Courtney Sexton, a writer and researcher based in Washington, DC, studies human-animal interactions. She is a 2020 AAAS Mass Media Fellow and the co-founder and director of The Inner Loop, a nonprofit organization for writers. Read more articles from Courtney Sexton

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