6 Things to Know About VE Day

This is it. May 8, 2015. Seventy years ago it was VE Day for the first time in history, and the crowds went wild. Unfortunately, many people are going to head to work today praising the fact that it’s a Friday and never considering the historical anniversary. Even in my own family I got puzzled looks when I tested their knowledge of the day. (Yikes! And they have a historian living in the house…)

Women reading news of VE DaySo what exactly happened on VE Day? Why is it significant? How does it impact us today? Here’s six things you need to know about the historical event.

1. VE stands for “Victory in Europe”

May 8, 1945, was a historic, never to be forgotten day in European history. It was the day the Allied leaders announced the surrender of Nazi Germany.

2. VE Day ended World War II in Europe

Six years earlier – in 1939 – Germany, at the instigation of Hitler, invaded Poland, beginning the Second World War in Europe. In the following year, German tanks swept through Western Europe, conquering the smaller nations and France. To the south, Mussolini’s Fascist government controlled Italy and worked in league with the Nazi Reich. For months, Britain held on, alone, but supported by a life line of American supplies while in the skies British and German pilots fought for air superiority.

When the Americans joined the war in 1941, manpower for offensive campaigns became available. Fighting in North Africa, Italy, and Southern France weakened the German hold on the continent. In June 1944, Allied Forces landed on the shores of Normandy and pushed their way toward Paris. While the Russians advanced from the east, the Germans launched a desperate assaulted in the frozen woods in December 1944; this is now called Battle of the Bulge.

However, with Allies controlling the skies and steadily advancing their armies, Hitler’s “fantastic” plans crumbled like the city of Berlin itself. The Russians captured Berlin on May 2, 1945, and the following week, German generals met Allied commanders to discuss terms of surrender. The documents were signed on May 7th and the leaders of the Allied nations – Truman, USA; Churchill, UK; DeGaulle, France; Stalin, USSR; – made their announcements of victory on May 8th.

Ve_Day_Celebrations_in_London,_8_May_1945_HU418083. VE Day was celebrated with great enthusiasm

United States, Britain, Russia, France, and all the small European countries rejoiced. Crowds cheered wildly as their leaders announced the electrifying news: the war in Europe was over! Citizens danced in the streets. Women kissed soldiers. Russians and Americans toasted the success of their armies.

There’s a book on our WWII history shelf and it’s titled “VE Day in Photographs.” When I open it and glance through a few photos, I can’t help but smile. The incredible joy and enthusiasm can be “felt” through the smiles and expressions captured in the photos.

However, as I turn to the last pages in the book, I see the photos of German civilians, and I think it would be wrong not to comment. They’re not smiling; some look bitter and sad. But others look relieved. Perhaps one of the most startling photos shows Soviet troops ladling soup into a container for an old woman. The German woman is looking at the soldier – her former enemy – in amazement; there’s a sense of relief on her face. The war’s over…maybe life will get better.

4. VE Day was not the end of World War II

Victory in Europe, yes. End of WWII, no. Remember, there were two theaters of war in this global conflict: the European theater and the Pacific theater.

So, while the war ended in Europe, the island fighting in the Pacific continued. While doing some research on VE Day, I found an interesting photo of American soldiers on Okinawa; they are listening to a radio broadcast of Europe’s news. They are full battle uniform and the looks on their faces clearly show that for them the war is not over. (I’m sorry I haven’t found these photos digitally yet, I’ll keep looking and if I find them I’ll share them on Facebook.)

5. VE Day was the beginning of a new era

The Russian advance from the east and their “liberation” of Berlin became the setting for a new era: The Cold War. Less than five years after the celebrations of VE Day, Winston Churchill would proclaim an iron curtain had fallen on Europe, separating East from West.

Though the Russians and Americans celebrated the victory in WWII together, there were underlying squabbles. The generals didn’t always agree. Stalin – the Soviet leader – irritated Churchill and Truman by insisting that he be the first Allied commander to announce the victory. And even while the Soviet and American troops partied together, there was an ever-present awareness of their differences, particularly in their ideology, religion, and government forms. The beginnings of the Cold War simmered even in the victory days.

Winston Churchill waving to crowds on VE Day, 1945

Winston Churchill waving to crowds on VE Day, 1945

6. VE Day is still important

“Why?” you’re asking. I’m going let one of the victors answer your question…here’s Winston Churchill, speaking to the British people on VE Day:

I say that in the long years to come not only will the people of this island but of the world, wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts, look back to what we’ve done and they will say “do not despair, do not yield to violence and tyranny, march straightforward and die if need be-unconquered.” Now we have emerged from one deadly struggle…

Victory in Europe Day is important because it reminds us to have courage. To fight on against forms of tyranny in our world today. To never lose heart, to never lose faith, to never lose courage.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What does VE Day mean to you? Your thoughts?




Harry S. Truman: The “Neighborly” President

Once upon a time I was studying U.S. History in high school, and I was reading a biography about President Harry S. Truman. While I came to the conclusion that I didn’t agree with everything he did, I decided that if I could’ve picked a historical president to be my next-door neighbor it would’ve been Mr. Truman. (After-all, Andrew Jackson would’ve been fighting duels at all hours, Teddy Roosevelt had a zoo of pets, and George Washington might chop down my cherry tree…)

My favorite story about Truman took place after his presidency. He’d moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and every day he would walk to his presidential library and volunteer! One morning he arrived especially early and answered the telephone saying, “Good morning, this is the old man himself.”

So meet our U.S. President of the week: Harry Truman!


Highlights of Truman’s Presidency

There’s a lot we could discuss here. I’m just going to mention the highlights, and if any readers want to add more in the comments, please go ahead.

As World War II was drawing to a close, Truman became president in 1945, after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Weeks into his presidency, Truman made the hard and controversial decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan.

After the end of World War II, Truman was instrumental in establishing the United Nations. For better or for worse, America would now take an extremely active and leading role in international affairs. He also oversaw the enforcement of the GI Bills as the American servicemen came home and re-entered civilian life.

The Soviet Union refused to give up the European Territory it had captured in the last weeks of World War II. Communism became America’s new enemy, and the Cold War began. Truman introduced the Truman Doctrine, which basically stated that the United States would use resources (economic and military) to prevent the overthrow of democracy in free nations threatened by Communism. The Truman Doctrine was an important precedent during the Cold War.

Truman was president during the Korean War (1950-1953).

Harry Truman’s Legacy

I believe the Truman Doctrine is one of the most lasting precedents from his presidency. It firmly established the American stand against communism and a willingness to combat it economically and militarily. While its interpretation may have caused trouble farther down the road, the precedent and decisive action was good.

Two of Truman’s best character qualities were decisiveness and humility. He could make a decision, follow through with action, and defend his choice. On Truman’s desk in the Oval Office was a sign which read “The Buck Stops Here.” He was the president; he could and would make decisions. He was humble. He wasn’t looking for glory. He could make fun of himself and had a pretty good sense of humor.

The Buck Stops Here Sign, Harry Truman

Inspirational (& Humorous) Quotes by Truman

“Some of my best friends never agree with me politically.” (Harry S. Truman, 1947)

“I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.” (Harry S. Truman, 1947 – part of the Truman Doctrine)

Regarding the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution which limited the terms of a president: “They couldn’t include me in it because I was the President, and I can be elected as often as I want to be. I’m going to run again when I’m ninety. I’ve announced that a time or two, and you know, some —- fool looked the situation over and said, “When you’re ninety, it’s an off year,” so I can’t even run then. I didn’t know I was going to stir up all that trouble . . . “ (Harry S. Truman, 1958)

“A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.” (Harry S. Truman)

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” (Harry S. Truman)

Why I Like Harry Truman

He was a president who could make hard decisions and get things accomplished. He took responsibility. He was humble. He was “down-to-earth.” He loved his family. He liked to play the piano while his daughter sang.

I like Harry Truman because of his humility and his “common American” attitude. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Harry Truman seems like a person who you’d want as your next-door neighbor.

“Good Afternoon, Mr. Truman. I just baked some oatmeal cookies. Are you and Mrs. Truman at home? Could I bring some over? Could we discuss current politics and foreign affairs? I know, we kind of got into an argument last time, but I still respect your opinion.  Sure, I’d be happy to play the piano too. Okay, I’ll be over in a second. Bye…”

Well, Mr. Truman is not alive any longer, so I will never have him as my “presidential next door neighbor.” But it does make me consider: what type of person (neighbor) do I want to be? I’d say we Americans have a pretty good example in the unpretentious, patriotic, humble, and humorous character of Harry Truman.

Happy Belated Presidents’ Day, Harry S. Truman!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Which U.S. President would you want as a next-door neighbor?