It was an amazing time -- for New Yorkers and people throughout the world.
April 1945 -- Breath-taking days for the people of this city and the world. The events we heard about seemed unbelievable. Allied and Russian armies were sweeping through Europe, from west and east. Hitler's armies crumbled. Our commander-in-chief, Franklin Roosevelt, died suddenly. He was immediately succeeded by Harry Truman. Hitler committed suicide inside his bunker amid the rubble of Berlin.
Then, in the dramatic first week of May 1945, New Yorkers marveled at the magnitude of the German defeat. Army after army, commander after commander surrendered. On May 8, New Yorkers listened on their radios as Truman officially confirmed the unconditional surrender of Germany and called on every American to keep at his post until the last battle in the Pacific war against Japan was won.
New Yorkers -- and Americans everywhere -- celebrated. It was estimated at least 6 million New York citizens heard the news from Truman. On the previous day, celebrations were touched off spontaneously when it became clear the war was ending. But now it was official and the city sounded happy and noisy -- a celebration in true New York style.
In the harbor, ships blasted their horns. In the streets, motorists sounded theirs. Trolley bells clanged. Rain temporarily halted the celebration but, by evening, 250,000 people, including soldiers, sailors and civilians, gathered in Times Square.
The lights in Manhattan, which had been dimmed by a brownout for months, were turned back to full stength. In the harbor, the torch of the Statue of Liberty became bright again too. As the Times reported, the torch "gleamed once more across the waters of the bay, while Broadway once more became the Great White Way that it was before the submarine menace forced the original dimout in April 1942."
The scene was happy, "almost riotous," reporter Frank Adams noted. Sailors and soldiers filled bars and night clubs to rejoice.
On the mall in Central Park, the tone was different -- sober and reverent, as thousands at the official city celebration offered prayers of thanksgiving. Some war manufacturing plants had closed down for the day. Crowds filled places of worship throughout the city. The war in Europe had taken the lives of an estimated 136,000 American soldiers, sailors and marines.
The mood was quite different out in the Pacific. I was an officer on a small Navy ship awaiting orders to join a fleet poised to invade the Japanese home islands. When we heard about the celebrations back in the states, many in the crew were angry. "They're acting like the war is over. What about us?" That was a common refrain.
VE Day is a day that will live in history, a proud day for America and our allies. As the years pass, now 64 and counting since that triumphant moment, memories dim. Many of those who celebrated then are gone. But for Americans of all ages, it's a day that should never be forgotten.