Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Happy V-J Day!

On August 15, 1945, the Japanese government announced that they would be surrendering, effectively ending World War II (the European Axis powers surrendered three months earlier). With this news, one of the bloodiest wars in our nation's history came to a close. On September 2, 1945, the Japanese and American officials gathered on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay where the Japanese signed the formal terms of surrender. President Truman declared September 2, 1945 to be the official V-J Day (Victory over Japan Day).

The news of Japan's surrender resonated around the world. Due to time zone differences, Japan's August 15th announcement reached the United States on August 14th. One of Life magazine's most famous photographs was taken on August 14th as news of Japan's surrender reached New York City. Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt was wandering around Times Square taking candid photos of people reacting to the news of the war ending. Supposedly, he saw a sailor “running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight . . . Then suddenly, in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse." Eisenstaedt took four exposures of the kiss and printed what he believed to be the best one. This photo has come to represent the relief people felt at the end of one of the most violent and destructive conflicts in history, which resulted in roughly 300,000 American casualties. While most people probably aren’t aware of the terms of Japanese surrender, or can name those present at its signing, many people are familiar with this photograph. Eisenstaedt attempted to identify the nurse and sailor of this photo, but was unable to confirm either’s identity. A nurse named Edith Cullen Shain later contacted Eisenstaedt saying she was the nurse in the photo, and Life magazine believed her claim. The magazine then tried to find the sailor, which resulted in 20 readers claiming to be the man in the photo. To this day, the identity of the sailor is unknown. I think the photo is more interesting if we don’t know the identities or personal histories of the two people involved. That way, we can all be stands in for this moment in history, and imagine what it must have been like to either fight the war on the front or serve as a civilian at home, and to feel the relief of knowing that the war was finally over.

Images via Lest We Forget, NY Times, and (Photographer: Alfred Eisenstaedt)

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