This article was originally published in Newsday on Wednesday, May 20, 1998, as part of the Long Island: Our Story series.
LONG ISLAND: OUR STORY / IT'S OFFICIAL: PEACE AT LAST / LONG ISLAND MARKS V-J DAY WITH QUIET REMEMBRANCES OF THOSE WHO DIDN'T COME HOME. V-E DAY: THE FIRST TASTE OF VICTORY
On Sunday, Sept. 2, 1945, Americans commemorated the official end of World War II with the first observance of V-J Day - "Victory Over Japan." On Long Island, as in many other places throughout the nation, it was a quiet holiday of thanksgiving.
That Labor Day weekend marked the end of almost four years of loss and sacrifice for the nation. More than 300,000 Americans in the armed services had died in Europe and the Pacific arenas - and there was a sense of collective relief when the impending invasion of Japan was unexpectedly canceled by the advent of the atomic age.
In the towns and villages of Long Island, the boisterous celebrations came three weeks earlier.
In early August, America's secret weapon - the atom bomb - devastated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and rumors of peace began to circulate. Still, many Americans feared that the final battle of Japan was inevi-table. Then, on the evening of Aug. 14, the rumors were confirmed: Japan's army had agreed to lay down its arms. Throughout the Pacific, the fighting ceased.
That night, more than 2 million people poured into Times Square, turning the plaza into one great back-slapping, jitterbugging, hugging-and-kissing reunion. In such villages as Port Washington, auto horns, fire sirens and church bells sounded the good news. Residents lined the streets in a "writhing spectacle of ela-tion," the village weekly observed. In Glen Cove, shopkeepers went home early, hanging out signs that read: CLOSED FOR PEACE.
By Sept. 2, when the instruments of surrender were signed on the deck of the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, officially marking the war's end, V-J Day turned out to be a day of reflection.
There were block parties and a few small parades as well as "solemn community ceremonies," as Newsday reported. People relaxed at the beaches that Sunday or traveled to New York to see the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants split a doubleheader. Baseball was not yet televised.
Movies such as "The Corn Is Green" with Bette Davis, "Thrill of a Romance" with Van Johnson, and "Son of Lassie" with Donald Crisp and Peter Lawford were playing at the local theaters. On Broadway, theatergoers could choose among "Carousel," "Life With Father," "Oklahoma!" or newcomer Leonard Bernstein's "On the Town." There were Sunday services of thanksgiving and there were the inevitable political speeches.
More than 2,000 people assembled at Floral Park's Village Hall Sunday night to hear a speech by Mayor Fred Heidtmann, who paid tribute to the dead - 48 men from the village. "I don't like to think of this as a day of victory. We fought to protect our people," he said.
In Oyster Bay, Judge Percy Stoddard told an audience of 150: "This was no time for rejoicing - too many families have gold stars in their windows." The stars signified the loss of a relative in the armed services.
At a somber turnout in Glen Cove, Rep. Leonard Hall, later the Republican Party's national chairman, reminded the audience that thousands of servicemen would be needed in the future for occupation duty in Japan and Germany.
Others still mourned their dead at home. Some families waited for relatives to return from the armed forces. Many were still a long way from home.
Al Silver, a Massapequa Park resident who had survived the Bataan Death March and 44 months in a prisoner-of-war camp, found himself wandering about downtown Tokyo on V-J Day, looking for U.S. patrols to take him home. Frank Puglisi, a 23-year-old Marine, was on the captured island of Pelelui that Sunday, more concerned with die-hard Japanese snipers than a victory celebration, the West Babylon resident recalled recently.
But there were cheerful moments, too, the first signs of the return to suburban normalcy. At Morgan Memo-rial Park in Glen Cove, a 2-year-old named Linda Lee Lewis won the beautiful-baby contest. There was a water carnival that afternoon and, at night, more than 1,500 danced at a block party on Elm Avenue.
The three-day holiday had begun with blue skies and temperatures in the 80s. The weather turned cool and gray on V-J Day and the movie theaters were jammed. But more than 100,000 fans turned out at the Bel-mont and Aqueduct racetracks, and, despite threatening weather, Jones Beach and other Long Island beaches were packed.
The government had announced an increase in supplies of butter, canned salmon, ice cream and whipping cream, but meats would continue to be rationed, except mutton, kidney and tripe. For the first time since 1941, there was plenty of gasoline for the prewar roadsters, and the highways were filled with Sunday drivers on the first weekend of peacetime. V-E DAY: THE FIRST TASTE OF VICTORY T he nation celebrated its first taste of victory on May 8, 1945, when President Harry Truman proclaimed V-E Day.
In a radio broadcast, the president announced that the German armies had signed surrender papers the day before in a schoolhouse in Reims, France.
The nation was still stunned by the death just a month before of President Franklin Roosevelt, leader of the nation through the Great Depression and the war years - and V-E Day was a sober celebration in most towns and villages.
The memory of the war dead, said Nassau County Executive J. Russel Sprague, "should serve to make our observation of Victory Day' one of prayer and thanks." Long Island churches and synagogues held special services that evening, and Newsday reported that worshipers had sought "divine guidance to carry them through the difficult days ahead until victory in the Pacific had been won."
Some schools held assemblies to commemorate the day; others dismissed their students soon after Tru-man's broadcast. In Hempstead, thousands of students marched through the village to the beat of the high school band. No more blackouts, people chanted. No more air raid drills. At Mitchel Field, a brief V-E Day ceremony was held on the parade grounds, with an address by Maj. Gen. Frank O. Hunter, commander of the First Army Air Force. Many stores closed early that day, and war plants such as Republic, Sperry and Grumman sent employees home early.
At the time, families were still placing gold stars in their windows, marking the loss of loved ones. Many had expected the war to go on for months, perhaps years, until Japan was defeated. Then came the atom bomb.