Sixty-five years ago today, Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered to the Allied forces, bringing an end to the War in the Pacific and ultimately World War II.
The Japanese government sent U.S. President Harry S. Truman a cable, delivered through the Swiss diplomatic mission in Washington, to advise the Allies of Japan's unconditional surrender. At noon Japan standard time, Hirohito's announcement of Japan's acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration was broadcast to the Japanese people.
The day came to be known as "Victory in Japan" or "V-J" Day—a day that ended the most destructive war in history. Three months earlier, Germany surrendered to the Allies during "Victory in Europe" or "V-E" Day.
"This is the day we have been waiting for since Pearl Harbor," Truman told a crowd that gathered outside the White House after hearing news of Japan's surrender. "This is the day when fascism finally dies, as we always knew it would."
British Prime Minister Clement Atlee confirmed news of Japan's surrender in a radio broadcast. "The last of our enemies is laid low," he said.
Atlee thanked all nations who supported the effort, but expressed particular appreciation to the United States, "without whose prodigious efforts the war in the East would still have many years to run."
The Allies had delivered Japan the Potsdam Declaration, demanding an unconditional surrender, two weeks earlier. When Japan ignored the ultimatum the U. S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945.
Japan's formal surrender took place aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander, joined nine other Allied officers to accept the surrender from Japan's foreign minister and the commander of Japanese forces. The eighteen-minute ceremony ended a war that began for the United States three years, eight months and 22 days earlier at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The jubilation that followed the announcement of V-J Day 60 years ago is best remembered through Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous photograph of a sailor giving a nurse a celebratory kiss in New York's Times Square. Offices and schools temporarily closed and newspapers heralded the news that the war was over.
But the celebration followed years of struggle, and the initial outlook for the Allies was bleak.
The United States entered the war after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. After the attack, the Japanese quickly gained control over a vast area of the Pacific, with Guam, Wake Island and Hong Kong all falling within the next three weeks. The following April, the Allies faced another major defeat with the fall of Bataan in the Philippines.
The turning point of the war came in June 1942, when U.S. naval forces halted the Japanese advance during the Battle of Midway.
After that battle, the Allies launched a counteroffensive, beginning with Marine landings on Guadalcanal, a critical move to protect Australia. After six months of bloody fighting, the Allies finally took control of Guadalcanal.
Meanwhile, Army troops and their Australian allies succeeded in taking New Guinea's Papua peninsula.
From that point, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz and MacArthur engaged in island-hopping campaigns that struck at Japan's weak points and stopped Japanese advances. By 1944, they had reached the Marshall Islands and secured the Kwajalein and Eniwetok atolls. The Marianas Islands followed in mid-June 1944, and the Allies liberated the Philippines in mid-1945.
Despite continued defeats and the Allies' intensive bombing campaign, Japan continued to refuse to surrender until atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The bombs had been developed by the United States with assistance from the United Kingdom and Canada under the code name "Manhattan Project" and tested in the New Mexico desert in July 1945. Less than a month later, Truman ordered the bombings to bring a quick resolution to a war that already claimed so many U.S. lives.
Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson supported the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan as the "least abhorrent choice," and the best way to avoid sacrificing thousands more U.S. service members.
Without each and every one of the brave men and women involved in the effort, who are now in their 80s and 90s, the America we know today would be vastly different. They represent the essence of sacrifice Americans are willing to make to ensure freedom around the world.
I wish I could hug each and every one of them.
The video embedded here best exemplifies the elation of those on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii on that day. It was a much different experience from the horror of the attack on Pearl Harbor in which more than 2,300 Americans were killed.