Thursday, August 10, 2017

VJ Day and its National Significance

VJ Day stands for “Victory over Japan Day.” On the afternoon of August 15, 1945, the Empire of Japan made the announcement of its surrender. While August 15th is the official VJ Day, September 2nd is when the official signing of the surrender documents happened on board the Battleship Missouri (BB-63), officially ending the deadliest war of our time. 

As the nation found out about their victory, it rejoiced- “as if joy had been rationed and saved up for the three years, eight months, and seven days since the Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.” Countless photographs were taken this day, including the very famous, “Kissing Sailor in Times Square.” Shot August 14th 1945, shortly after the much anticipated announcement by President Truman. This image is strongly associated with VJ Day, capturing the sincere joy as a symbol of victory in the war.
The famous photo taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt tells a bigger story than one might think. George Mendosa a sailor who was 22 at the time of this photograph is seen kissing a “nurse”, while his date, shown smiling on his left looks on.  The “nurse” who is actually a dental assistant is Greta Zimmer, a complete stranger George decided to plant an unexpected smooch on after a couple drinks and hearing of the news of the Japanese surrender. Later as luck would have it, Rita Petry (the onlooker) would become his wife.

Images from this day were taken all around the United States reflecting pure exhilaration and a giant sense of relief.

During the 50th anniversary of VJ Day, President Bill Clinton referred not to VJ Day but to the “End of the Pacific War” in the official remembrance ceremonies. These remarks sparked much controversy as some thought it to be insensitive for the Veterans of WWII.

Here at the Battleship Missouri Memorial, we are fortunate to have the iconic VJ Day kissing statue on our pier. This statue symbolizes VJ Day 3 weeks prior to the official signing of the Instrument of Surrender on September 2, 1945.

Often imitated but never duplicated because we will never know the exact genuine happiness of what these two strangers felt in that moment.

“Lest We Forget.” We honor those that fought for America not only today, but every day.

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