Chicago, V-J Day, 1945

There have probably never been moments of collective happiness greater than those felt on V-E Day and V-J Day. H-Day wasn’t quite as happy.

Let me explain some of this to the Millennials and Gen Zs out there.

Remember playing Call of Duty: World War II ? This is the war we’re talking about. After several years of the worst war ever seen in human history, the Allied nations celebrated V-E Day on May 8th, 1945: the day the Allies excepted German’s formal and unconditional surrender. The title is short for “Victory in Europe Day”. The war’s use of term victory is also where the peace sign/bunny ears gesture came from.

Indy Star. 8/15/1945

However, V-J Day took an additional two months to come ’round and wasn’t celebrated until August 15th, 1945, when the Emperor Hirohito of Japan announced Japan’s surrender in a radio address. It’s short for “Victory Over Japan Day”. Americans were heavily invested in the War in the Pacific, so V-J Day carried real significance.

Although the United States was a somewhat late entry to World War II, we made up for it in personnel and industry. In America, 1942 to 1945 were all about war production. The end of the Pacific war meant our collective sacrifices could slow. Better yet, it meant the soldiers were coming home (except for the half million Americans tragically lost).

V-J Day in Times Square

H-Day is a forgotten—and accidental—holiday which took place the day after V-E Day (August 16th, 1945) and wasn’t as much celebrated as experienced by the citizens of all the Allied nations. It was a day when the sun was a little too bright, the kids were a little too loud, and when thousands of Americans woke up with their heads feeling like microwaved cantaloupes.

H-Day is short for “Hangover Day.”*

*Technically, January 1st is National Hangover Day, but we’ll ignore that. 

The most famous image of V-J Day “Kissing the War Goodbye.”

The first V-J Day was a kind of free-for-all party over a few days. It wasn’t a mass of debauchery or a Caligula orgy. Americans deserved to be happy that day, and if they wanted to cut loose, so be it. They earned their Hangover Day.

Today’s youngest Americans might forget that during World War II, America fought in Europe, fought in the Pacific, AND supplied Allied nations with $50 billion in oil, food, and armaments (just under $700 billion today) through the Lend-Lease Act. It was monumental. We were a late entry to the war (the UK entered in September 1939; the US entered in December 1941), but when the time came, we were all in.

Most American families today have World War II stories, ranging from rationing to industry to fighting overseas. Chances are, though, grandparents or great-grandparents haven’t mentioned H-Day.

Not all the stories had happy endings. Although the V-J Day celebrations were overwhelmingly peaceful across the country, San Francisco was the exception. Now known as the “Peace Riots,” a thousand Naval recruits (most hadn’t even shipped out) were responsible for 13 deaths, 6 rapes, a thousand injuries and millions of dollars worth of damage in the West Coast city. Much like a hangover itself, such reprehensible behavior sobered Americans up very quickly.

Sailors celebrating V-J Day on the USS Ticonderoga

Want to Know More?

If you’re interested in how Hoosiers celebrated the end of the War, check out the article ” ‘It was bedlam’: VJ Day on Monument Circle” from the Indy Star‘s Dawn Mitchell.