Tag Archives: V-E Day

What Does Victory Feel Like?

“Photograph of a Young Nazi”

It was clear that it was May 8, 1945, but in his eagerness to reach out to his family in Bowling Green, Kentucky from “the Heart of Germany,” Captain Harry Jackson misdated his letter April 8.  “To-day is VE day in Europe!” he exclaimed, but rather than “a day of great revelry and excitement . . . the day has been spent in sober reflection and rest.” 

Casting his mind back on the struggle – which, for him, had begun at Normandy only days after D-Day – Jackson found it difficult to appreciate the significance of the occasion.  He and his men felt less like conquering heroes than “bewildered children contemplating something too powerful to comprehend.”  No one could quite believe that, all of a sudden, “there will not be any more guns, snipers, buzz bombs, rockets, mortar shells, blood, suffering, death, and devastating destruction. We cannot realize that the hour is free – that the fighting here is over.”  Overshadowing any relief Jackson felt were the ghosts of “our men drifting and driving through the maelstrom of battle endlessly, tired, weary, footsore, cold,” and of those “who have fallen along the roadside in the mud . . . awaiting the Graves Registration units to come pick them up.”  His reserves of emotion, he admitted, were empty – “and yet moist tears even now trickle down my cheeks.”

Three days later, Jackson took up his letter again.  Still unable to sort out his reactions, he had wandered the sunny streets of the medieval village in which he was staying, then tried to shake off his indolence and reenter the “world of reality” and resume his officer’s duties.  “I must finish this letter now,” he wrote apologetically, “although I have failed miserably to fulfill my intentions when I began it.” 

But if Jackson could not yet understand the meaning of victory he had, only a month earlier, contemplated the wages of hubris, aggression, and defeat.  Billeted in a house in Hanover, Germany, he had come across a photograph of a German soldier. The discovery had moved him to compose a poem “Written Upon Finding a Photograph of a Young Nazi”:

Oh!  Imperious young man – Thou!
Where lies thy destiny?
Has the pillars of thy philosophy withstood
The gamble of the conqueror’s game,
the fanatic’s creed –
Which leads blindly into hate?

Think! – when returning to the remains
of thy heritage,
Of what price you have paid
Weep! and survey the ruin.

Harry L. Jackson’s papers are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Special Collections Library. Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Sober Rejoicing”

World War II-era envelope illustration (SC 1819)

World War II-era envelope illustration (SC 1819)

On May 7, 1945, only two weeks after the funeral of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the White House press office issued a short statement: the new president, Harry S. Truman, planned “to make an announcement to the nation by radio at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning.”  The end of World War II in Europe was at hand.

The press release was probably typed by Elizabeth (Phillips) Brite, a Bowling Green native, graduate of the Bowling Green Business University, and secretary to White House press secretary Jonathan W. Daniels.  Elizabeth was uniquely situated to witness Washington’s anticipation of the Nazi surrender.  On May 1, Truman had authorized Daniels to state that should hostilities cease, the President would “emphasize the necessity for thankfulness and for continuation by all Americans in the great war job which still lies before us.”  On May 2, the State Department released a chronology of the week’s negotiations with Germany–the summons of a Swedish intermediary, German commander Heinrich Himmler’s secret peace offer and his claim that Hitler was fatally ill, and America’s coordination with its British and Soviet allies.  Having demanded that capitulation be unconditional and delivered to all three Allied governments, President Truman agreed with London and Moscow that their announcements of victory would be simultaneous.

In Truman’s May 1 message, he had hoped that “there will be no celebration” in light of the unfinished struggle against Japan.  Fred Vinson, a Kentuckian directing the Office of War Mobilization, took a similar stance.  The government would “not attempt to prescribe a rigid rule of conduct” for local celebrations of victory, but he urged that there be no break in war production and “no greater interruption of normal activity than the peoples’ sense of sober rejoicing demands.”  Although many heeded his request for restraint, Victory in Europe Day–May 8, 1945, which also happened to be President Truman’s birthday–nevertheless brought jubilation.

Press releases and other materials relating to V-E Day are part of the Henry and Elizabeth Brite Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives holdings of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For other World War II collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

World War II-era envelope illustration (SC 1819) mocking Hitler by using the name of his father's unwed mother.

World War II-era envelope illustration (SC 1819) mocking Hitler by using the name of his father’s unwed mother.

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