Ken Beaton: V-E Day plus 75 years
“The next Trivial Pursuit card is, ‘What is May 7, 1945?”
“Ken, do you know the answer?”
“Yes, but my answer is involved.” The Supreme Allied Commander was Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. In early May the Allies were negotiating with the German army and unconditional surrender. Gen. Alfred Jodl, being a proud German, did not want to surrender unconditionally. Eisenhower said, “General Jodl, if you don’t surrender unconditionally, I’ll seal the entrance to the Allies’ sector of Germany. Your people will not be able to escape the Russians!” German troops and civilians would have the opportunity to “vacation” in one of the excellent Russian gulags. Jodl conferred with Hitler’s appointed successor, Admiral Karl Donitz; Jodl agreed to unconditional surrender.
FYI, on Jan. 31, 1943, 105,000 troops of Germany’s Sixth Army surrendered to the Russians at Stalingrad. The German POWs, prisoners of war, were transported to gulags in Siberia. Germany surrendered on April 8, 1945. A reasonable person would think the Russians would release the German troops in late 1945 or early 1946. Wrong! Russians have the best memories. They never forgot the atrocities committed by the German army against Russians soldiers and civilians. Of the original 105,000 German prisoners, 5,000 were released in 1955, less than 5% lived to be released.
Jodl grudgingly signed the unconditional surrender document. The May 7, 1945 signing was at Supreme Head Allied Expeditionary Forces in Rheims, France. However, the official date for V-E Day, Victory in Europe, is May 8, 1945.
Why? Because Marshall Joseph Vissasrionovich Stalin, the communist dictator the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, demanded the Germans surrender in Berlin to rub salt in their defeat. So, the official unconditional surrender of Germany was in Berlin on May 8, 1945. Jodl signed the surrender document representing the German army. Eisenhower was represented by his Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Walter Beddel Smith. Gen. Ivan Susloparov represented the USSR. Gen. Francois Sevez signed for France.
While everyone in Europe celebrating, half way around the world on Okinawa, USMC Cpl. John P. Fardy, USMC Pvt. Dale M. Hansen and USMC PFC. Albert E. Schwab were killed in action and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for their bravery. The war was over in Europe, but not on Okinawa. The fighting ended on June 22, 1945. In less than five months, Nov. 1, 1945, the first invasion of Japan, Operation Downfall, would begin.
To begin demobilizing, the U.S. armed forces created a point system, the Advance Service Rating. If a GI in Europe had 85 points or more, he qualified to return home. You received one point for each month of service. You received one point for each month of overseas service. You received five points for each battle star or decoration like a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Silver Star or Medal of Honor. If you were a parent, you received 12 points for each dependent up to three dependents. If you didn’t have 85 points, you were going to be on a troop ship for Okinawa, the staging location for the invasion of Japan.
How would you feel if you were a GI enjoying time with your unit somewhere in Germany when you were informed that you had 84 points? One more point and you would be on your way home. What thoughts went through your head, when you heard the scuttlebutt, “the brass expects 1 million casualties with one to two years of fighting to defeat Japan?” What will you write in your next letter to your gal? Do you believe there’s a Japanese bullet with your name on it? Forget about the bullet, be concerned about the shrapnel with everyone’s name on it. Has your sleep been interrupted by nightmares of a Bonsai charge?
On Aug. 15, 1945 what was your reaction when you heard President Harry S. Truman on your troop ship’s public address speakers? Did you believe your ears when you heard? “The unconditional surrender of Japan.” Within minutes your troop ship changed course for San Francisco. What’s the first thing you planned to do after you ran down the gang plank when your ship docked in San Francisco? Was it kiss the USA soil, call your girl, buy a ticket on the first train to your home, buy a diamond ring, get roll in the gutter drunk, kiss every young gal within reach or all of the above?
The 75th anniversary of V-E Day is cause to mark the moment. You and your spouse, adult children, adult grandchildren and great-grandchildren are here today because you returned vertical from the War. Thank you for your service.