A war that killed or wounded more than 1 million Americans and dragged on for nearly four years ended 70 years ago Wednesday with Japan's formal surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
"Today the guns are silent," Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the Allied Powers, said upon signing the document on Sept. 2, 1945, that marked the end of World War II. "A great tragedy has ended. A great victory has been won."
Witnessed by thousands of sailors crammed aboard scores of American warships that choked the Japanese waterway, the 23-minute surrender ceremony allowed millions of American GIs to go home.ExploreNYers who died in World War IIExploreWorld War II timelinePast coverageNewsday coverage of WWII
Families that had been sundered by war assignments were reunited, most of them for the first time in years. Soldiers had been stretched to the brink by battle after battle, serving an average of 33 months each.
David Sarfaty, 94, was from a Brooklyn family that had seen all three of their sons go off to war: David, a first lieutenant; Jacob, a corporal; and Emanuel, a private first class, all served in the Army.
Emanuel was gravely injured battling Japanese soldiers on the Philippines island of Leyte in December 1944. A bullet just missed his spine, but left such a gaping wound that a nephew born nine years later would amuse himself by placing his tiny fist into the cavernous scar.
During this same brutal December, Jacob was at war in Belgium, as German forces pushed the Allied troops to the brink during the Battle of the Bulge.
David Sarfaty had been shot down over Germany five months earlier, and would spend virtually the rest of the war at the Stalag Luft II German prisoner of war camp, 100 miles southeast of Berlin.
"I was dying to know what had happened to my brothers, but had no way of knowing" said Sarfaty, a retired economist living in Island Park.
More than 400,000 American troops were killed during World War II. Some 670,000 GIs were wounded, many of them horribly.
Japan's surrender was made official when Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, wearing a top hat and sitting awkwardly because of a wooden leg, signed the Instrument of Surrender in the same spot in Tokyo Bay where in 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry forced Japan to open its insular society to Western powers.
The signing ceremony was considered so threatened by anti-surrender holdouts in Japan's military that the Missouri's anti-aircraft batteries were staffed in the event of a kamikaze attack.
"It was a long road to Tokyo -- and a bloody one," President Harry S. Truman said during a 10 p.m. broadcast from the White House after the signing of the surrender documents.
"It is our responsibility -- ours, the living -- to see to it that this victory shall be a monument worthy of the dead who died to win it," Truman said.
Now the ranks of those who survived the war are rapidly dwindling. Of the 16.1 million Americans who served during World War II, only 2.1 million were still living five years ago, according to the Census Department. Since then, old age has claimed an estimated half of those survivors, leaving about 1 million World War II veterans alive today.
But all three Sarfaty brothers are still around, hale men who live in towns scattered across Nassau County.
Emanuel Sarfaty, 90, a retired mechanical engineer living in Hewlett, said a sense of mission -- defeating an enemy that threatened to sweep the world into its grasp -- allowed him to endure the anguish of not knowing whether his brothers were alive or dead in Europe as he faced gunfire in the Pacific.
Sitting with his two brothers at the Jericho home of Jacob Sarfaty, 89, a retired electrical engineer, Emanuel struggled with his emotions as he gestured first toward one sibling and then the other, while recalling the uneasy uncertainty of not knowing their fates in the months before the war's end.
"We had confidence, at least I did, that he was doing something important -- and he was doing something important -- even though we could not know what each other was doing," he said, his voice breaking. "And as luck would have it, we all came back."