Happy Victory in Europe (V-E) day! (8 May) http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/may/7/letting-out-the-light-on-v-e-day/ Just as WWI set the stage for WWII, WWII set the stage for the cold war and our modern world. On a personal level, my parents would not have met if it weren't for WWII, so in a real sense I owe my very existence to that tragic upheaval. It's a time for reflection and to celebrate the great experiment that is a peaceful Europe. And, of course, to be thankful for all the brave men and women who stepped up to the plate and made enormous sacrifices to beat Hitler. How were you touched by it? Happy V-E day!
I was just starting school at the beginning of WWII; memories from that time are a little fragmented. There was the sense that all of America was involved in doing whatever was necessary to win the war; kids got involved in paper drives and other sorts of recycling (cooking grease and any metal were carried to the grocery store). I remember the relief that came with V-E Day; there were parades and my uncles came home. My sailor cousin came home with a bride! Once more we could drive our car to the country to visit relatives and there was sugar for baking. Today I attended the celebration at the Arc de Triumph in Paris. This day is celebrated as a holiday in France. There was military marching with bands playing. Strangely, there were few spectators. Rain may have kept people away.
I'll be visiting my 95-year-old grandfather this weekend, who survived the beaches of Anzio, the forests of Bastogne, and the liberation of Paris to become the cantankerous old coot he is today. My grandmother was married at the start of the war but her first husband was killed in North Africa in 1943. She married my grandfather in 1948, and rarely spoke of her first husband. I was about 13 before I even knew of his existence.
Likewise, my grandfather doesn't talk a whole lot about Europe. He did tell my mother, however, he wants every d*** thing he ever did to be in his obituary. We'll do our best to oblige.
Thanks for reminding us. This may turn into a downer of a topic, but that's ok. VE Day is important to me, personally, because my future father survived the war in Europe, and VJ Day came before he had to ship out for the invasion of Japan. I also would not exist otherwise. My father's younger brother is buried in the American military cemetery in Brittany; he was killed a few days after D-Day, just a few miles from my father in the same campaign, yet Dad never learned of this until after the war. Looking at the big picture, it is hard to grasp the suffering and terror endured by the millions who died, and millions more who lived with the memory of that time. But let's not forget them.
I wasn't born yet but my Dad landed during the Invasion at Omaha Beach, was part of the liberation of Paris and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He came home safe and sound and was an amazingly wonderful man and Dad. He died 3 years ago at age 97. I still miss him every single day. There were so many brave and courageous men and women that made VE Day possible. To all of them, and to all the good people that died, I feel immense respect and gratitude.
France TV2 showed a segment tonight taken at the cemetery in Colville today. A very old US verteran surrounded by his family was honored; French friends of the Cemetery put flowers on the graves. It brought back the same emotion that so many of us have felt during our visits to Colville: not a dry eye in our house.
Just hearing about that is so heartwarming and touching Bets, thank you.
Both sides of my mother's family were navy people and lived in Portsmouth, a lot of which was extensively re-modelled by the Luftwaffe from mid-1940 onwards. Between them my great-grandparents were bombed out of 3 separate houses before the summer of 1941, and by 1944 much of the city was just rubble, so they were relieved when it all ended. They were even more relieved when VJ Day happened, as my great uncle was fighting in Burma. For my parents, as very young children, ironically the end of the war brought more privations. Bread and potatoes went on ration for the first time in 1945 and '47, clothing remained on ration until 1949, petrol until 1950, sugar until 1953 and meat and many other foods until the summer of 1954. My father still talks about the struggle to get enough to eat, and he never grew to the size he might have done.
"Bread and potatoes went on ration for the first time in 1945 and '47, clothing remained on ration until 1949, petrol until 1950, sugar until 1953 and meat and many other foods until the summer of 1954." I've often wondered. Can the post-war food rationing in Britain have any contribution to why British cuisine endured such a lousy reputation for so long? The more time I've spent in Europe, the more my initially American-tinged view of the war has changed. I've come to see it less as a triumph of good over evil and more as one brutal power savagely destroying a moderately more brutal genocidal power and all who stood in between, with us in the West providing the necessary assistance to the former. Not to take away anything from the bravery of those who served, or even to doubt the moral and strategic necessity of our involvement. But I've become somewhat jaded at the depictions of WWII as the heroic "good war". For most of Europe, the period of 1939-1945 (and much of the next few years in the east) was nothing more than one of the most ghastly periods in recent human history.
" I've often wondered. Can the post-war food rationing in Britain have any contribution to why British cuisine endured such a lousy reputation for so long?" I think that is certainly one of the reasons. There was a book published last year - I didn't buy it, but read the reviews - that made that very point. It similarly said that the reputation of US food being so bad was because of the prohibition era, followed by the depression (basically, if I understood it right, US restaurants could not survive without alcohol profits so reduced food to the cheapest meat cuts - burgers not steak - and so on, but just when the alcohol was allowed, there were many people who could not afford to eat out and so returning to good food didn't take off). Similarly, British restaurant food keeping its bad reputation was because just as rationing no longer mattered, pretend exotic (foreign) food and "fast food" (in a 1950/60s sense), came in. Whether this is a true explanation I don't know, but I do recall in the late 1960s a sudden push for industrial type food - "Angel Delight" was a particular one.
Try standing on the beach with your dad twenty years ago, who, as an engineer went up the cliffs with the rangers on Day One Wave One, leading a bunch of guys humping a zillion tons of explosives on their backs ......... and all he talked about was the funny parts. Flash forward to a month ago on his ninety-first birthday. When he could recognize a bluebird by its flight path a hundred feet outside his window ......but couldn't remember that his wife had died the month before.
PS- Every year since I've lived in Europe, I make an annual trek to the US cemetery in Epinal, France. My grandmother's cousin is buried there. He survived the Normandy invasion and you can even see him in the famous photo of the US troops marching down the Champs Elysee. As the German resistance in France collapsed, he was leading his platoon in the chase across eastern France. They walked straight into a machine gun ambush. Last time anyone saw 2LT Joseph Pauza alive, he was running for cover into the woodline. My grandmother knew the story, but she could never bear to tell it. I learned it from the documentation at the visitor's center. He was unmarried, had no kids, nobody to pass on his memory. If I don't honor his grave, who will? War sucks. The moral of the story? If you're taking a trip to Europe, look closely at your route. Is there a US/UK/Canadian military cemetery somewhere along the way? Sure, the Allied cemeteries overlooking the beaches in Normandy are the most famous, but there may be another just begging for some rare visitors to stop off. Think about all the soldiers buried there who probably have no heirs, whose friends and immediate family are probably all now dead. Pay them your respects, and work for a better world where young people like them don't have to die in battle.
I've been reading Millions Like Us a book about women's experience in Britain during WWII. VE day was clearly welcomed by them, but it was also a strange sort of let down for them. A few years ago I read the book A Woman in Berlin which is an amazing book about Berlin from April 1945 through June. My Dad was not in WWII. He broke his leg very thoroughly when he was mugged in Boston in 1943 and that was the end of him military career. The thing that struck me in the book about women in WWII was the reaction to the atom bomb. According to this account it took the wind out of a lot of people's sails regarding the end of the war. Of course, also in Britain, the privations continued through til the 50's. PAm
Well said James... totally agree. Too many Americans take freedom for granted. They never think about it. They have no comprehension of the blood, sweat and tears of so many... then, and now.
"A few years ago I read the book A Woman in Berlin which is an amazing book about Berlin from April 1945 through June." I've seen the film adaptation. To put it mildly, it is not an easy movie to watch.
As our small tour group of 6 walked around the house size craters on top of the cliffs overlooking the D-Day beaches, a group of teens on a tour walked past. Overheard in passing, "so, are we going to see anything cool here"? One, this tells me she knew nothing about this ahead of time, and two, how could she ignore these huge bomb craters and concrete bunker emplacements she has just walked past. Mind boggling. My step-father got called up when he was a senior in high school. Served in Italy and had to finish high school when he returned. Said it was bizarre to be back at school with kids planning homecoming and proms, in comparison to what he had just been doing in Italy. Went in as a private and by the end of the war was a 1st Sgt. When I got back from Boot Camp, I was very interested in the war, so I asked him what he remembered the most, because he never spoke about his time there. He said it was the smell of burning flesh. He could never get this out of his memory. What a thing to go through life remembering. I think every one should visit the D-Day beaches, no matter what country they are from. Living in Germany, there is little to nothing done on V-E Day. Today though, they are having memorials commemorating the book burnings that took place in the university towns on 10 May, 1933.
Some very moving stories here. Thank you. Here in Austria, I often find a residual good-will towards Americans from those years. Vienna was partitioned after the war like Berlin. It is an often repeated story that they had a big parade in 1955 when the occupying forces marched out. The Russian Army band played bombastic military marches, the French played French patriotic tunes, the Brits also played British marching music. When the Americans marched by, they were playing Waltzes and the crowd went wild. I've heard the story a dozen times, told by Austrians with real affection.
Of course most Americans don't care and take their freedoms totally for granted. And when a terrorist attack like 9/11 or Boston compels them to pause the DVR, stop eating, pull up their sweatpants, and pay attention for a second, they'll gladly hand back some of the liberty earned and protected by others for over 200 years to the first person who says he'll keep them safe from Muslims. Warrantless wiretaps? Check. Invade Iraq? Check. Extra-judicial imprisonment? Check. Americans didn't care. Why, then, should we be so surprised that they don't care to visit the memorials in Europe? Yet, the same people pay lots of attention and get all worked up after they've been conditioned to believe someone is going to take away their Second Amendment rights when a bill about background checks is introduced. Muslims attack, and we hand over our liberties to stay safe. White people attack, and we're hell bent and unbelievably passionate over protecting our rights. The other 364 days of the year, all we seem to collectively care about as a country is eating ourselves into type 2 diabetes. Cynical but true.
Going to Normandy was deeply moving for me. The idyllic beaches of today belie the tumult of the past. I was blinded by the white crosses when I tuned into the expansive US military Cemetery. A highlight for me was when I picked up a map in a TI that showed 17 small British cemeteries dotting the Normandy countryside, kept up by the French in perpetuity. I am told that the Brits believed in burying their soldiers where they fell. One could not keep a dry eye reading the poignant personalized headstones: He has heard the great reveille It is morning All is well
kat, those cemeteries in Normandy are amongst the 23,000 managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, in around 150 countries. They always employ local staff.
Very interesting question, Thomas. Despite being born 4 years after WWII it affected my life (and millions of others) profusely. Because of that I was born and grew up in a communist country. Ultimately I succeeded to escape and now I live in a beautiful Northwest of the USA. Tom from Huettenfeld is absolutely right when he writes about WWII: "I've come to see it less as a triumph of good over evil and more as one brutal power savagely destroying a moderately more brutal genocidal power and all who stood in between, with us in the West providing the necessary assistance to the former." By the time of D-Day the war was already decided. However opening of the second front in the west shortened the war and stopped Russians from overrunning Europe all the way to the Atlantic. Unfortunately for many countries of the eastern and central Europe it was already too late. What a pity that Roosevelt didn't prevail over Churchill when FDR was pushing for invasion in 1943. Allies would not be as strong as in 1944 but neither German defenses would. Russia is still celebrating Victory Day on May 9th (until 1989 all Soviet satellites were). Prague was the last European capital held by Germans. Uprising there started on May 5th. Germans wanted to drown it in blood. Prague called for help. Americans were already in Pilsen 100 km away but according to agreement with Stalin Prague was to be liberated by Russians and Americans kept agreement. I think Russians in similar situation would not be bothered by any agreement. The last chance of Czechoslovakia to remain democratic was lost. Prague was ultimately liberated by Vlasovs Army (Russian turncoat fighting on the side of Germans then turning against them) on May 7th. May 8th Germany unconditionally surrendered. May 9th first Soviet tanks from Berlin arrived. In order to be able to claim liberation of Prague Victory Day was postponed to May 9th.
Gosh, I must have missed the 1000's and 1000's of Americans touring the D-Day beaches, visiting the cemeteries, visiting battlefields in Belgium and France, going on 3rd Reich tours in Germany, visiting concentration camps in the various countries, walking through Anne Franks house. Of course some people don't care about history, but lumping an entire nation under one derogatory label seems harsh, as well as false.
My father served under Patton in the Battle of the Bulge. He was in the engineers. I have a few photos of him in France and Belgium during the war. I also have his army blanket which is a treasure. Unfortunately he passed away when I was 15 so I do not know what his war experience was. How I wish I did. I am reading the Stephen Ambrose series of books on WWII so I have some idea. I have also visited the Normandy beaches and the cemeteries. Very moving. My mil lived through the blitz in England when her husband was fighting in Africa so I have her stories as well. We should never forget their sacrifices.