Walter Jadezuk was among the millions of American GIs who heaved a sigh of relief 70 years ago Friday when Japan's emperor announced his country's surrender in World War II.
The surrender ended the most widespread and deadliest fighting in human history -- and averted the need for an invasion of the Japanese mainland that could have doubled American war casualties.
"I didn't cry or anything, but I was just glad it was over," recalled Jadezuk, 90, of Syosset.
When Japan surrendered, the Marine sergeant was in New York recovering from machine gun wounds suffered on Iwo Jima. He worried his "luck would run out" if he had to return to combat.
"I would have gone back if I had to, but I didn't wish to go," he said. "I'd already been hurt twice. . . . I'd seen guys lying next to me on the beach at Iwo. After 3 1/2 years, I'd had enough of it."
More than 16 million Americans served in the U.S. armed forces during World War II, which for the United States began on Dec. 7, 1941. Some 407,316 Americans perished in the fighting, according to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Another 671,278 were seriously wounded, many more than once.
Civilians also bore a burden during more than four years of war. Key commodities were in short supply, as meat, butter, sugar, heating oil and other items -- even rubber tires -- were rationed to free them for use by the military. Motorists on highway-dependent Long Island were limited to 3 gallons of gas a week, with exceptions made for truck drivers, emergency personnel and "politicians." Driving for pleasure was banned.
The war officially ended on Sept. 2, 1945, when representatives of Japan and the United States signed a peace treaty aboard the USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo harbor.
Celebrations had begun in the New York area three weeks earlier, as word spread that Emperor Hirohito would accept the Allies' terms of surrender unconditionally.
"The enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable," Hirohito said in announcing the surrender six days after America exploded a second atomic bomb over Japan.
Jubilant revelers began pouring into the streets of Long Island villages and towns, as rumors of Japan's capitulation blossomed into full-blown fact.
Crowds a dozen deep lined the sidewalks and poured into the street at the confetti-littered intersection of Fulton and Main streets in Hempstead. In Freeport, children in party hats clanged pots and rang cowbells. Flag-waving revelers rode on the hoods of cars through the streets of Rockville Centre.
In Manhattan, an estimated 2 million people poured into Times Square, turning the nation's best-known intersection into a giant jitterbugging, stranger-kissing block party.
The next day, motorists started flocking to gasoline stations after three years of rationing ended.
"Nursing hoarse voices, tired feet and hangovers after the wildest night of celebration in the county's history, Nassau stayed home today to rest and offer up grateful prayers of thanksgiving," Newsday wrote of the celebrations.
Still, word of war's grim casualties continued to filter home.
Amid its reporting of nearly universal celebration, Newsday's Aug. 15 edition reported the death of Staff Sgt. Thomas F. McKeon of Baldwin, a 24-year-old radio man whose B-24 had been shot down over Yugoslavia.
In 1945, Peter Fabregas, now 89 and a retired teacher living in Massapequa Park, was hoping his name would not be added to the list of the dead.
A survivor of the carnage at Iwo Jima, the Marine corporal was preparing to take part in the invasion of Japan when the war ended.
"I asked the captain what kind of losses we were facing," he recalled. "He said, 'One out of two of you will die. It won't be a clam bake, it will be a slaughter.' "
"Truman, wherever he is, I thank him," Fabregas said, referring to President Harry Truman's controversial decision to drop the atomic bomb. "He saved my life."