The War Ends!
Before the war ended, the news was still bleak. By the spring and summer of 1945, headlines in the York Daily News Times trumpeted Allied gains in the war. The D-Day invasion landed Allied troops in Europe a year before. In March, Gen. George Patton crossed the Rhine River into Germany. In Japan, thousands of U.S. planes dropped incendiary bombs on Tokyo creating a firestorm and killing 120,000 civilians and military personnel. Yet, the prospect of mopping up Germany and invading Japan frightened everyone. Some predicted that U.S. casualties would run into the millions with additional millions in enemy losses.
So, it’s not hard to imagine the sense of cautious relief that poured out when the headlines proclaimed “V-E Day,” Victory in Europe. there was still a lot of fighting left to do in the Pacific Theatre of war, but ending the war in Europe, at least, meant that even more resources could be directed there by the Allies. It might be bloody, but there was sense that we now couldn’t lose.
For Harry Hankel (right), V-E Day meant the end of a harrowing POW experience. For four months, Harry was among 200 Allied prisoners herded east by the Germans in advance of the Allied Armies. In the middle of winter with little food, Harry lost almost half his weight winding up at 96 pounds. “We was really happy when they [the liberating troops] came in,” Harry says. “And the Germans never give any resistance at all at our camp… They didn’t want to fight any more than we did.”
Jim Chenault (right) had completed a difficult tour of duty flying bombers over Europe and was back in the U.S. training to go back overseas with another squadron. V-E Day cancelled those plans, and so, was a welcome relief. But, his group and the community around them didn’t really celebrate. “So, it kind of came and was gone,” Jim says. There was still work in Japan to be done.
What very few people in the world knew was that a new kind of bomb was being built in New Mexico, and a special B-29 Superfortress bomber was being built in Omaha to carry it. Col. Paul Tibbets had been chosen to lead the first atomic bomb mission and he came to the Martin Bomber Plant south of Omaha to pick out the plane he wanted. He named the plane the “Enola Gay,” after his mother. Many of members of Tibbets’ 11-man crew had been trained at the rural Fairmont, Nebraska, Army Air Field.
Eventually, Tibbets, his crew, the Enola Gay and the bomb arrived at Tinian Island south of Japan. In the early morning hours of August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb over Hiroshima. At 8:15 a.m. it exploded, killing over 100,000 people.
Three days later, another Nebraska-built B-29 named “Bock’s Car” dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki killing 70,000.
It still took from the 9th of August until the 15th for the Japanese Emperor to go on the radio and announce to his people that Japan had been defeated. All across America the celebrations were loud and joyous.
The York Daily News Times broke out the biggest typeface they had and proclaimed PEACE!
In North Platte, Nebraska, folks piled into cars from all the rural towns and farmsteads around and drove up and down main street. Somebody was there with a film camera to capture it. Watch this film closely – even the mounted policemen were celebrating. Everywhere from rural York to New York’s Times Square, soldiers grabbed women and kissed them.
The war was over. Life could return to normal.
But in truth, “normal” was never the same again. The war had changed everything, and it changed agriculture profoundly.