However they received the news that Japan had surrendered, the thought that followed next was pretty much universal.
Home — they would soon be going home.
And accompanying that thought, for many a homesick American serviceman, was a particular face.
A sweetheart’s. Their mother’s. A close sibling’s. Even a beloved hunting dog’s, as was the case for at least one I’m aware of.
For Kenneth Bacon, the face that first flashed in his mind was that of his fiancée, Bessie.
As Bacon, whose story we are sharing Friday as our main V-J Day feature, tells it, she wasn’t his fiancée when he left for the war.
But after gazing at her face every day in a photo he carried in his billfold, it inspired him to propose marriage.
Unable to ask her in person, he did it the only way available.
He wrote her a letter.
The challenge with V-J Day
When interviewing WWII veterans, there are at least two questions I usually try to work in.
First: Where were you on Dec. 7, 1941, when you heard about the Pearl Harbor attack?
And also: Where were you on Aug. 14, 1945, when you heard Japan had surrendered?
For Americans of that generation, those two moments, separated by three and a half years, would never be forgotten.
The first, on Dec. 7, marked when everybody’s life changed — where the war that had been someone else’s problem became ours as well.
With the second, which ended the war, it was time to start again, resume the lives we’d been forced to put on hold.
That was the challenge with V-J Day. After all the world had been through, how exactly does one do that — pick up and go on?
For some at least — the couples and families lucky enough to be reunited — it probably looked a lot like the Bacons.
I asked Bessie, who sat in on our interview, how she felt when she read Kenneth’s proposal letter.
“It sounded all right to me,” she said.
Two months after he got home, they exchanged vows.
The Bacons, who celebrated 74 years of marriage earlier this year, were far from alone in that. In those first few months of peacetime, couples everywhere were tying the knot.
People were ready, it seemed, for some return to normalcy. Ready to start living life again.
All of which makes me think of our present situation.
Like WWII, the COVID-19 pandemic is one of those rare events that’s truly global in scope, altering everyone’s life in some way.
There’s no avoiding it. It’s a common experience we all have a share in.
So really, the 75th anniversary of V-J Day this year couldn’t be more timely. If you’re like me, you could use a reminder that — while times of tribulation can appear to have no end — deliverance does come.
No doubt our own “deliverance” won’t look like the war generation’s did. There won’t be a surrender and a big announcement. No ticker tape will fill the air. No spontaneous parades erupt.
But it will come.
And when it does, here is my hope: That we can look back on this time, and know — like our parents’ and grandparents’ generation — that we got through it together.
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