On the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 14, 1945, the city of Vincennes and all of the other communities in Knox County (along with the rest of the country) erupted in wild celebration upon news of the unconditional surrender of Japan ending the long and bloody Second World War. President Harry Truman made the announcement stating: “This is the day we have been waiting for since Pearl Harbor. This is the day when Fascism finally dies, as we always knew it would.”
Next week marks the 75th anniversary of Victory Over Japan Day or V-J Day. The surrender fell on Aug. 14 in the U. S. and Aug. 15 in Japan.
As Truman noted in his statement, the United States had been involved in the war since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Fighting in Europe had ended three months earlier, with Germany’s surrender. The capitulation of Japan came only after the use of the atomic bomb against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, respectively. The formal surrender did not take place until Sept. 2, aboard the battleship USS Missouri, in Tokyo Bay.
Impending news of the surrender touched off premature celebrations in many American cities on the morning of the 14th before official word came down that evening. In Knox County, most coal mines shut down, as the excited miners wanted to celebrate.
On that Tuesday evening, downtown Vincennes was filled with people, and automobiles packed the streets. As the Sun-Commercial reported: “There were bells ringing, auto horns were screaming and a thousand other kinds of noise-making devices were in use.” The paper went on to state that “traffic rules on Main Street were forgotten.”
A rain shower at 7 p.m. hardly curbed the enthusiasm. People were back out on the streets even before the rain ended and the procession of autos continued unabated.
As was always the case when major news broke, telephone lines were jammed with calls.
Taverns in the county closed and churches opened their doors to worshipers.
George Field, the Army Air Force Training Command Pilot School in Lawrence County, sent military police to both Vincennes and Lawrenceville, Illinois, in case they were needed to maintain order. There wasn’t much crime, although a plate glass window of the Kroger store at Second and Busseron streets was broken.
The scene was much the same in Bicknell and in Lawrenceville. A Bicknell police officer was quoted as saying: “I didn’t know there were so many cars in Knox County.”
Indiana Gov. Ralph Gates declared Wednesday, Aug. 15, and Thursday, Aug. 16, legal holidays in the state. Vincennes Mayor Noble P. Barr issued his own proclamation making those two days holidays. Stores, banks, and the public library closed, and meetings were cancelled. Grocery stores then had to open on Thursday morning, since many people found themselves low on food.
Some rural households south of Vincennes didn’t learn the news until Wednesday, since a storm had caused power outages and they couldn’t listen to their radios.
On the evening of Aug. 15, a big religious and patriotic service, attended by some 2,500 people, was held at the Vincennes Coliseum. Among the many speakers was George Field Chaplain Omer Idso. Judge Curtis Shake, President of the Vincennes Chamber of Commerce, spoke in place of mayor Barr, who could not be present.
President Truman set Sunday, Aug. 19, as a day of prayer.
The biggest immediate change for Americans was the end of gasoline and canned food rationing. In fact, that was the news that made the headline in the Aug. 15 edition of the Sun-Commercial. Other rationing would end gradually.
One piece of news that Americans learned as the war came to an end was the July 30 sinking of the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis by a Japanese submarine. The ship had delivered parts for the atomic bomb. Only 316 of the 1,200 men on board survived, hundreds dying in shark-infested waters. The horrific news was withheld from the public until Aug. 15, so it could be revealed along with news of the surrender. The Sun-Commercial called the sinking “one of the great tragedies of the war.”
Brian Spangle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest book, “Hidden History of Vincennes & Knox County”, published this year by The History Press, is available for purchase at the Knox County Public Library and on Amazon.