Celebration At A Cost

Reflections on the End of the War and the Dropping of the Atomic Bombs

World War II concluded with the German surrender on May 8, 1945 (V-E Day) and the surrender of Japan about three months later on August 15, 1945 (V-J Day). By listening to the following voices, students will explore the emotions surrounding the announcement of the end of the war. Americans celebrated victory through block parties, parades, and bonfires, reveling in the relief that the war at home and overseas was finished. For many, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945 played a major role in prompting the Japanese surrender and saving American lives. Unlike Robert “Bob” Carter, who worked as a physicist on the Manhattan Project and witnessed the explosion of an atom bomb, the average American knew little about the capabilities of nuclear weapons. As news about the bomb’s destruction reached the public, Americans struggled to justify victory at the cost of human life. The variety of opinions about the bomb expressed in the stories below largely mirror arguments present in modern-day debates about the decision.


Featured Stories

The War is Over—Leslie Prince Raimond

So the story that I would like to tell you all and that I do have a memory of, and the memory was always kind of vague and floating along, and I’d never really stopped to analyze it. But I do know that one time, I was at a beach, and a voice from the heavens came down (and this was an isolated beach which I’ll explain more exactly where it was) but this voice came from above which said, “The war is over, the war is over, the war is over,” And I’m with my mom, my sister, some cousins, and everybody’s screaming with glee. Later, much later like last week or something, I’m like how, what was I hearing? We were on this isolated beach. And as it turned out, we were not far from the Whidbey Air Force Base which blasted out over there, over the water. I think it was probably only a couple miles away or maybe only a mile that across the Puget Sound up in Washington state, this voice came out.

VJ Day Celebration—Lyle Feisel

I remember more about V-J Day because, you know, well, I don’t know why because. I guess it was a greater celebration because it was really the end of the war. I think I remember these things. I remember them, whether it’s true or not, I don’t know, but I remember them. It was in August something or other, and one of the crops that was growing around in Iowa where I grew up was sweet corn. And at that time, sweet corn was all picked by hand so you do it out of the field with these wagons and picked sweet corn. And the tradition there was for neighbors to help each other so we were picking sweet corn. I was driving the tractor in the field, and suddenly somebody started yelling, “Hey, what do you hear, what do you hear!” And we lived about two miles from this little town of Tama, Iowa. And we heard the whistle at the paper mill going off, just continuously. And pretty soon somebody came running out, and said, “The War is over!; The War is over!” Well, that was the end of the sweet corn. Everybody took off for town, and they even took us little kids along which was kind of interesting because they were all going in to party and celebrate. So we went in, and I can still remember they had a big bonfire in the middle of the town. They were burning tires. Saving tires was one of the big deals, and we don’t need to save those suckers anymore so we burned tires. It was a great celebration. We had a lot of relief because we all had brothers and sisters and cousins and what not in the military, and this was now over with so—quite a thrill.

Hearing about Hiroshima—Lew Halin

I also remember the day that I was coming home from school, and I guess I was a freshman in high school. The school was quite a bit of distance from my house so I had to take a trolley car to get there. It went down to the station where all the trolley cars originated at the end of the run where I got off to go to high school. And I remember coming back in to that station to take the trolley car home after school, and I heard the announcer announcing that we had dropped an atomic bomb. But it was the A-bomb on Hiroshima —that was harnessing the power of the sun. And, of course, a couple days later, they dropped the second one, and then it was all over. Of course, nobody really had any idea of what they were talking about, at that time. Of course, the newspapers had crude pictures of things; I mean, they really didn’t know what (laughs). Nobody knew what a nuclear bomb was at that time.

Atomic Bombs on VJ Day—Helen Tyson

HT: I don’t remember them specifically, but I remember everybody saying, ‘The war is over! The war is over!’ And ‘Oh yippeedoodles’ And then we would hear, well there was a little fight here where the people had not yet heard that the war was over and people were killed. We didn’t hear much about prisoners of war. At least as a child, I did not hear much about prisoners of war. But when it was over, some of that started to leak out, that there were still people over in Europe who had not been released. Of course, the atomic bomb was such big news that we heard an awful lot about the damage in Japan, or Hiroshima, because of that bomb. And you know, many years later, Bob [my husband] and I went to Pearl Harbor as a tour, and we stopped at a museum for Hiroshima, and they had in the museum a stone lintel, maybe a foot by two-and-a-half feet, and there were marks on it. And they said they’ve begun to fade now, but what had happened was somebody had been sitting there when the bomb exploded, and material from the body was soaked into the concrete, and stained it. It was kind of eerie to think that somebody’s tissues were on that stone. We didn’t hear that much gory stuff during the war. after the war. But, we did hear a lot of people disfigured. And certainly many years later the effects of the chemicals on the genes so that they had deformed children. I think to this day they still are suffering the effects of that.

MD: At the time, the United States [citizens] supported the droppings of the two bombs?

HT: Oh, yeah. Yes. We’d already been hearing that bombs had been dropping. On the newsreels, they would frequently show a plane with bombs going ‘weeoo’. So the atomic bomb, to me, was just another bomb, and I was glad that it ended the war. But I did not realize that it was radioactive, that it did damage as extensive as it really did.