Feel the Joy That Still Lingers

I would like you to take a moment about 6 o’clock this evening, maybe a little after, to pause and reflect on the fact that 75 years ago, President Harry S Truman was announcing that the war with Japan was over. Try to imagine the joy and the relief. So many days of sacrifice had been spent in order to bring about this day.

The narrative below is from I’ll Remember You All. The characters are mine, but the details were largely taken from a story in the Winchester Star, August 15 edition. What they termed a “snake dance” we now call a conga line.

Read, reflect, and above all, remember. That’s the least we owe the boys and girls–for that’s what they were–who saved the world

13 August 14, 1945: VJ Day

I have received this afternoon a message from the Japanese Government . . . in reply to the message forwarded to that Government by the Secretary of State on August 11. I deem this reply a full acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration, which specifies the unconditional surrender of Japan. In the reply there is no qualification.

Arrangements are now being made for the signing of the surrender terms at the earliest possible moment.

Margaret Bittner sprang from her seat in front of the radio. President Truman was still talking, but Margaret had heard all she needed to hear.

“My God, Gerald, it’s over! It’s really over; the whole thing is over!”

She grabbed Gerald, who could only smile, and skipped about like a child. She stopped suddenly.

“Come on!”

“Where are we going?”

“I don’t know, but let’s go!”

Without waiting for Gerald, Margaret burst out the door and ran down to Peak Street. She hadn’t actually run anywhere in 20 years, but then, at this moment, she felt 20 years younger. She saw people streaming from the Paramount Theater. The manager had stopped the movie and had run into the theater shouting, “The Japs have surrendered! The Japs have surrendered!” She soon heard a commotion coming up the hill. The entire work force at LeBeau’s had abandoned their sewing machines and were running into town. The fire siren began to blare, and soon the fire truck formed a one-vehicle parade, which turned randomly up and down the streets of Marsh Point. It was soon joined by an old farm truck driven by Tom Marsh. He was waving out the window, while Millie waved from the passenger’s side. Buck was standing in the bed, hanging on with one hand and waving with the other. So was Hannah and every one of the Victory Farm Volunteers.

The parade quickly numbered 10 vehicles and 200 marchers, but came to an end just as quickly when it became apparent that there was no one left in any house to parade past. The celebration itself was just beginning. Separate groups had begun to snake dance throughout town, and the idea that they should join their lines together seemed to occur simultaneously as they danced their way toward each other. More and more people joined, and soon the giant dance line was actually snaking its way across the bridge. A roar of laughter arose from the front of the line, when they saw, coming down the Queen City Pike, a group of snake dancers from Mike’s Place. Johnny Hall was in the lead, and Veronica was hanging on to his hips, kicking and smiling and singing, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” along with the rest of Mike’s patrons. Mike and Joyce were bringing up the rear.

The entire group—which is to say, most of the citizens of Marsh Point and the surrounding area—made its way back across the bridge and into town. People milled about, hugging first one neighbor, then another, then acquaintances, then strangers, not that there were many of those.

Johnny and Veronica found the Marshes, along with Hannah and Joe, across from the Paramount. They were soon joined by Margaret and Gerald. Johnny reached for Buck and hugged his fellow Marine. They had survived it all and had lived to see this moment. Instinctively, the others, who had taken note of this long embrace, knew that they were thinking of their comrades who had not made it to see the end.

“Now, Elizabeth can come home,” said Margaret, when Johnny and Buck separated. “If we had her here tonight . . .”

“Don’t worry, Miss Margaret,” as Johnny had taken to calling her now that they were sharing the Bittner’s home, “She probably got to send the telegram to MacArthur telling him that the Nips were finished. We’re just out here making noise, and she’s out there making history!”

Margaret smiled. The boy had a way of cheering her up.

“Mike!” hollered Gerald, seeing his old friend making his way through the crowd to join them. “Who’s tending the bar?!?”

“Nobody. After about 10 toasts to the news and Truman and MacArthur—”

“And the Marines,” interrupted Joyce.

“—And the Marines, everybody just danced their way out, and I mean everybody! So, we just locked up behind ’em and joined ’em!”

“Come to think of it,” added Joyce, “I don’t think we actually locked the place.”

“Nobody cares tonight,” said Mike, who suddenly turned to Hannah and Joe. “Don’t you kids ever forget this night. And what it cost.”

“How could they?” asked Johnny. “How could any of us?” he added, then began to laugh. “Look.”

He pointed up at the theater marquee, which read, “Jack Benny in, The Horn Blows at Midnight.”

“Well, that’s appropriate!” said Gerald. Indeed, it was well past midnight before folks started to drift home, and even as the first light of the new day began to show, a car crossing the Rowatoba bridge could be heard honking its horn.

My parents saved two newspapers from that time. The other is dated December 8, 1941.

About Austin Gisriel

You know the guy that records a baseball game from the West Coast in July and doesn't watch it until January just to see baseball in the winter? That's me. I'm a writer always in search of a good story, baseball or otherwise.
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