On this day in history, May 8, 1945, President Harry Truman announced to the American people that Nazi Germany’s forces had surrendered in World War II — and that “the flags of freedom fly all over Europe.”
The day has been known as Victory in Europe Day or V-E Day, with celebrations erupting all around the globe to mark the end of World War II in Europe.
The war had been raging for nearly five years when U.S. and Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, as defense.gov notes.
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That invasion signaled the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. In less than a year, Germany would surrender and Hitler would be dead.
But in his speech to the nation on V-E Day, Truman cautioned that the Allies must “work to finish the war” by defeating the Japanese in the Pacific.
In a news conference to the nation on May 8, Truman said, in part, “This is a solemn but glorious hour. General Eisenhower informs me that the forces of Germany have surrendered to the United Nations. The flags of freedom fly all over Europe.”
He added, “It’s celebrating my birthday, too — today, too.” (He was born on May 8, 1884.)
As author David A. Smith, writing in an op-ed for Fox News in 2015 noted, “When news of the German surrender reached New York City, Times Square was closed to traffic for six hours as hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets.”
“Times Square was closed to traffic for six hours as hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets.”
Smith also said, “The city’s telephone company reported the busiest day in its history and the subway had to rush extra trains into service to accommodate the crowds. Ticker-tape rained down in the canyons of Wall Street.”
Smith wrote as well, “British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said news of the German surrender was ‘the signal for the greatest outburst of joy in the history of mankind,’ and it was hard to disagree. Many soldiers in the field witnessed the joy firsthand. ‘You could hear the champagne corks going off all day long,’ said a sergeant with the storied 101st Airborne Division who, after the news broke, watched his buddies distribute the wine from Hermann Goering’s liberated wine cellar.”
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Truman, on May 8, went on during his press conference, “For this victory, we join in offering our thanks to the Providence which has guided and sustained us through the dark days of adversity. Our rejoicing is sobered and subdued by a supreme consciousness of the terrible price we have paid to rid the world of Hitler and his evil band.”
“We can repay the debt which we owe to our God, to our dead, and to our children, only by work, by ceaseless devotion to the responsibilities which lie ahead of us.”
He continued, “Let us not forget, my fellow Americans, the sorrow and the heartache which today abide in the homes of so many of our neighbors — neighbors whose most priceless possession has been rendered as a sacrifice to redeem our liberty.”
Truman also said, “We can repay the debt which we owe to our God, to our dead, and to our children, only by work, by ceaseless devotion to the responsibilities which lie ahead of us. If I could give you a single watchword for the coming months, that word is work, work, and more work.”
He said further, “We must work to finish the war. Our victory is only half over.”
Truman noted that “the Japanese people have felt the weight of our land, air, and naval attacks. So long as their leaders and the armed forces continue the war, the striking power and intensity of our blows will steadily increase, and will bring utter destruction to Japan’s industrial war production, to its shipping, and to everything that supports its military activity.”
Said Truman, “The longer the war lasts, the greater will be the suffering and hardships which the people of Japan will undergo — all in vain. Our blows will not cease until the Japanese military and naval forces lay down their arms in unconditional surrender.”
“Our blows will not cease until the Japanese military and naval forces lay down their arms in unconditional surrender.”
Also notable on May 8 is that Truman announced that Sunday, May 13, 1945, would “be a day of prayer.”
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He added, “I call upon the people of the United States, whatever their faith, to unite in offering joyful thanks to God for the victory we have won, and to pray that He will support us to the end of our present struggle and guide us into the ways of peace.”
As the Truman Library and numerous other sources have pointed out, after he became president after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945, Truman learned of the Manhattan Project, a secret scientific effort to create an atomic bomb.
(America’s secret development of the atomic bomb began in 1939 with then-President Roosevelt’s support, as History.com points out. “The project was so secret that FDR did not even inform his fourth-term vice president, Truman, that it existed.”)
The Potsdam Declaration, an ultimatum issued by the United States, Great Britain and China on July 26, 1945, called for the unconditional surrender of Japan. The declaration was made at the Potsdam Conference in Potsdam, Germany.
The Potsdam Declaration demanded the unconditional surrender of the Japanese government, warning of “prompt and utter destruction,” as the Truman Library notes.
Eleven days later, on August 6, 1945, having received no reply, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, destroying most of the city.
Three days later, on August 9, 1945, another bomb was dropped, this time on Nagasaki.
During this time, the Soviet Union also declared war on Japan.
Japan officially surrendered to the United States on August 15 — and “the war was finally over.”
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