Seventy-five years ago on the other side of the globe, the world’s most devastating war officially ended on a Sunday morning. People crowded around their radios to learn of the surrender on V-J (Victory Japan) Day, and special editions of newspapers soon rolled off the presses screaming “Victory” or “Surrender.”
On Sept. 2, 1945, shortly after 9 a.m. in Tokyo Bay aboard the battleship USS Missouri, representatives from both Japan and the United States signed the Instrument of Surrender to end World War II in the Pacific Theater, almost four months after Germany surrendered on May 8. The news arrived late Saturday afternoon on the West Coast because of the time difference.
“On that day in 1945, World War II came to an end aboard the USS Missouri moored in Tokyo Bay,” said Vietnam veteran and Carson City Mayor Robert Crowell, who retired as a Navy captain. “On the forecastle flew the United States flag that flew over our nation’s capital at the start of the war. Also flown was the personal flag of Admiral William ‘Bull’ Halsey as the Missouri served as his flagship. And little known, the 31-star national flag flown by Commodore (Matthew) Perry with the opening of Japan in 1853 was flown from the United States Naval Academy to the Missouri.
“One can stand on the bow of the Missouri at the exact location where the surrender documents were signed marking the end of the war and at the same time, look at the Arizona memorial marking the beginning of the war. In between the beginning of the war and its end, we witnessed the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
On the darker side, though, more than 400,000 American servicemen and women died during the war, and every state lost many of their sons and daughters in Europe and the Pacific or back in the United States from training accidents. Ormsby County, with 2,478 residents, lost nine men during the war, all from the Army and Army Air Corps according to the National Archives. During the early to mid-1940s, Ormsby County sent hundreds of residents off to war to fighter either the Germans or Japanese.
Churchill County resident Richard Walter Weaver of Fallon, though, was one of three Nevada sailors killed aboard the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The other two came from Wells and Reno. A total of 1,177 sailors and Marines died aboard the USS Arizona.
Nevada’s only Medal of Honor recipient — Cmdr. Bruce Van Voorhis, a Churchill County and U.S. Naval Academy graduate — and his crew were shot down in their PB4Y-1 Liberator 31992 near the Solomon Islands in 1943, a year after his brother, Wayne, died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the Philippines. The legend of Cmdr. Bruce Van Voorhis is etched into Nevada military history with the current mission of the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC) at Fallon. Rear Adm. Richard Brophy, who assumed command of NAWDC in 2019, said Van Voorhis represents the giants of naval aviation and what they endured.
“I talk about that story of Van Voorhis,” Brophy pointed out. “It’s very inspirational. He was clearly on a one-way mission, and he was critical to our mission to win the Pacific.”
Brophy lauded the “Greatest Generation” for their fighting and sacrifice by creating a world order many people have enjoyed for more than 70 years.
“They were innovative, self-sacrificing and eagerly accepted the challenges that they faced,” he said. “We are all humbled to stand on the shoulders of the giants of this generation, and we aspire every day to honor their legacy.”
In 1942, the Civil Aviation Administration and the Army Air Corps established fields around the state including Fallon and Las Vegas, which later became Nellis Air Force Base. Other air fields sprung up at Reno, Tonopah and Indians Springs. The Navy, however, chose Fallon as a preferred training site, and in 1943, the Navy assumed control of the two 5,200 foot runways. According to the history of NAS Fallon. On June 10, 1944, Naval Auxiliary Air Station Fallon was commissioned.
From its humble beginnings more than 75 years ago to its present-day significance, Fallon has met the Navy’s challenges of the 21st century.
“The lessons learned in the crucible of combat during WWII are directly reflected in how the Navy is currently trained and organized for combat,” Brophy said. “The Navy’s primary force element is the carrier strike group (CSG), developed and refined in WWII and only modified to account for technological advances since then.”
Brophy said the carrier air wing with more than 70 aircraft and 1,700 aviators/maintainers on the aircraft carrier remains the striking power for all carriers. He said today’s aviator would feel completely at home on a Battle Group as they were called during WWII.
“One of the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center’s primary missions is training carrier air wings,” Brophy pointed out. “This level of training was ad hoc during WWII but is now formalized and remains the pinnacle of training evolutions for all carrier air wings and occurs at Fallon.”
During WWII, Brophy said one of the pioneers in tactical development was Lt. Cmdr. John S. Thach, who created the “Thach Weave” by designing a tactic to defeat the superior Japanese Zero fighter aircraft. According to Brophy, the platforms may have changed over the years but one constant — the Navy’s greatest combat advantage — still includes its aviators and aircrew.
“NAWDC’s entire syllabus is designed around training our people, and it’s the heart of our mission,” Brophy said. “The other focus that comes from WWII is that tactics are never static. Rather, they are constantly evolving to account for technology improvements and enemy capabilities. The aviators and aircrew at NAWDC are highly innovative and are developing the tactics, techniques and procedures to fight and win tomorrow’s conflicts.”
Maj. Gen. Ondra Berry, Nevada’s adjutant general, said V-J Day was a definitive moment in world history when good prevailed over evil, and freedom claimed victory over oppression.
“Looking back and remembering events like the 75th anniversary of V-J Day help us take note of how we got here,” Berry said. “ It also reminds us of the fragility of our freedoms and great democracy which we've fought at great cost to uphold and must continue to fight to keep. We must never forget this important time in our history and the reminder that we as Americans stand on the shoulder of those great warriors.”
This year is the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, and the Nevada News Group has featured numerous articles since January on the events or on the men and women who served stateside or overseas.