On this day in 1945, 75 years ago, pandemonium and celebrations erupt throughout the world from Moscow to Los Angeles upon the formal surrender of Nazi Germany; after six brutal years, WW2 in the European Theater was finally over. In the United States, the victory happened on President Harry Truman’s 61st birthday. He dedicated the victory to the memory of his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died of a cerebral hemorrhage less than a month earlier, on April 12.
US flags remained at half-staff for the remainder of the 30-day mourning period despite the joyful tumult. Truman said in dedicating the victory to FDR’s memory and keeping the flags at half-staff it was his only wish “that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day.” Truman humbly observed that the victory made it his most enjoyable birthday, as massive celebrations occurred in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and most especially in New York’s Times Square.
In the United Kingdom, more than one million people celebrated in the streets to mark the end of the European war. In London, crowds massed in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of the palace before the cheering crowds. Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth II) and her sister Princess Margaret were allowed to wander incognito among the crowds and take part in the celebrations.
Due to a minor glitch in authority, the Soviets had the instrument of surrender signing reenacted May 8. Since the USSR was to the east of Germany, it was May 9 Moscow time when the military surrender became effective; Russia, Israel, and most of the former Soviet republics always commemorate Victory Day on May 9 instead of May 8.
World War 2 was the deadliest military conflict in history in absolute terms of total casualties. Over 60 million people were killed, about 3% of the 1940 world population (est. 2.3 billion). The death, disease, destruction and privation endured by combatants and civilians alike are unimaginable to many in the 21st century; this is as intended by those men and women who fought the war and kept the larger peace over the last four generations.
As a brief post-script, looking to the “brackets” of time, more years have elapsed since 9/11 and today, than between VE day and the birth of many of us mid-centurions. Your humble scribe frequently reminds his own children and others what a profoundly long shadow was cast by WW2. For tail-end baby boomers, the conflagration informed and affected our politics, religion, popular culture and consciousness so thoroughly, it was simply always there.