Friday, September 6, 2013

V-J Day: It Was `Times Square' in Tulsa

By Ken Neal

"The War" was over. The news hit Sand Springs, Okla., in the late afternoon. Within minutes, sirens were wailing, auto horns were blaring, flags were waving. People poured out of their homes into the streets to celebrate.
            My dad was home from his job at Douglas Aircraft just in time to lash flags all over our 1939 Chevrolet. We drove "downtown" to join hundreds of others; later, the celebration moved to Downtown Tulsa where thousands had the same idea.
There, the celebration carried on through the night. It was, as the newspaper later described it, Times Square in Tulsa.
            There are famous Times Square pictures of celebration; they were repeated many times in Tulsa the night of Aug. 14, 1945. The events above happened in every hamlet and city of the United States. It was the end of the biggest human conflict in history; a victory for the democracies over some of the biggest tyrants in history. Yes, paper and confetti covered the street; yes, all of Tulsa was there in person; yes, men in uniform celebrated by kissing women; there were fireworks; there probably was even a bit of the bubbly and other spirits in legally dry Tulsa.
 The hot summer afternoon of Aug. 14 and that night of celebration are my most vivid memories of World War II, probably because I was older (9), than when other war events occurred. There was the death of Franklin Roosevelt (we had a thunderstorm that spring day in 1945); there was the death of Adolf Hitler; there was V-E (Victory in Europe) and The Bombs.
            But before that, there was the Downtown display of weapons and war machines, a promotion to sell war bonds. There was a massive rally at Skelly Stadium, the purpose of which was to build morale and sell war bonds. We all were given a kitchen match as we entered the stadium, and at the proper time, the field lights were turned off. We lighted the whole stadium when we lit our matches, a demonstration of what we could do if we worked together.
On the field that night, brave American soldiers     invaded a Japanese-held island. There were palm trees, tanks and cannon. You'll be relieved to know that the Japs were dispatched very quickly.
Very early in the war, there was a big sendoff at the old Municipal Airport for the crew of a bomber and six P-40 fighter planes. After the ceremonies, we watched the planes take off and then watched them out of sight. The bomber (either a B-17 or a B-24 was huge.
            Once, later in the war, there was an open house at Douglas, where my dad and thousands more like him built and modified planes; the B-24, the B-17, the A-20, the A-26. One day, President Roosevelt made a surprise visit. My father, a Republican who took me to a rally for Wendell Wilkie in 1940, wasn't a big fan of FDR, but he was proud to have been there for the visit.
            We gathered up scrap iron; we collected tin foil from candy bars and cigarette packages; we wore cardboard shoes; we stuck stamps in little books to amass an $18.50 war bond; there was rationing of gasoline, tires, meats, sugar, even canned goods. Through it all, there was the music. The big     bands, nostalgia songs, love songs made more poignant by separations, jitterbugging, Western Swing and "boogie woogie," the precursor of rock and roll. American factories hummed around the clock; so did the dance bands, which often played separate sets for each shift.
            My age group was the last to be shaped by World War II. I didn't fully realize that until I visited with counterparts in West Germany. Their memories -- of near starvation and American soldiers who gave them candy and food -- gave them a completely different perspective on world relations than later generations of Germans who had no memory of the hardships of World War II.
            Americans old enough to remember but too young to fight were exposed to all of the excitement and romance of the war but very little of the hardship. Our perspectives are different than those of the generations who came after us.
            That's why we, like our fathers and mothers who actually fought in the war, have little patience with those who would revise history to make Americans feel guilty over using the atomic bomb, or to change V-J Day to "the end of the war in the pacific," or to use the Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian to revise history to make Americans the villains of the war with the Japanese.
            To this day, by the way, I don't understand how the headline word, "Japs" is demeaning. It is short for Japanese, just as "Nips" was short for Nipponese, "Jerries" for Germans, or "Yanks" for Americans.
            Hitler and the Japanese started World War II. There was a time after Pearl Harbor when there was genuine doubt about the outcome.
            Scarcely a family in the country escaped sending its young men to war. There were flags in windows with one, two, three, even four stars on them, the stars signifying sons or daughters killed in action.
            Who could have explained to these people, or servicemen like my uncles (three were in the Pacific; one in Europe) that the United States had decided to invade Japan with conventional forces because it did not think it humane to use a new, powerful weapon?
            When the end came there was massive relief; there had been great hardship, great loss of American life. There had even been some hardship on the home front. But there was great pride in having been even a small part of the greatest showing of cooperation and productivity in world history.
            There was pride in being American.
            But I guess you had to have been there understand. I was there. I was a little boy, but the memories are clear.
            Happy V-J Day.

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