History Snapshot: Anniversary of VJ Day Approaches

by Doug McClure
photo courtesy of the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration/newspapers.com The August 15, 1945 Newport Daily Express reporting on V-J Day.

HARDWICK – Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of the surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945, which ended World War II after four years of battle. Japan’s surrender was prompted by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945. The Hiroshima bomb instantly killed an estimated 140,000 people, nearly half that city’s population, while the Nagasaki bomb caused approximately 74,000 casualties. Nuclear bombs have not been used in battle again since.

In 1945, Vermont had far more newspapers than exist today. Just two of the local weeklies operating in 1945 are still in existence: the Hardwick Gazette and the News and Citizen. Gone are Barton’s Orleans County Monitor, which covered Craftsbury and Greensboro, and Cabot’s The Contact, run by the United Church. Much of the detailed coverage of wartime events was left to the dailies, of which the Caledonian Record and Newport Daily News still exist, and in Montpelier the Evening Argus, which was later bought by the Barre Daily Times and became the Times Argus.

While weeklies carried some detailed items on the war, their stories preferred to focus on the impact of wartime events on local communities. Short on national events and politics, weeklies’ news items tended to focus on local happenings such as out of town visitors to prominent local families and injuries sustained by local townsfolk.

The August 9, 1945, Hardwick Gazette covered an upcoming vote in Greensboro on whether to close the high school (a week later it was noted the “loyal” citizens voted 111-6 to keep it open). Privation was on people’s minds, with an August 16, 1945, piece imploring locals to be cautious about their foodstuffs. It read, “All surplus food that is not needed for consumption in the fresh stage should be canned! Do not waste even a bean or berry. Current food shortages will not ease up until 1946 according to government agencies. This coming winter there will be smaller supplies on grocer’s shelves than any time during the war, due to heavy military requirements and large civilian demands.”

It was still summer when the war ended, and weeklies offered regular, detailed reports of baseball games between towns. One report noted a temperature of 104 degrees on August 19. Schools were scheduled to open on September 4. Ads for Holcomb Funeral Home and Hay’s Service Station ran in the paper, and a helpful column entitled “The Green Mountain Gardener” raised reservations about the garden chemical DDT, noting that while it was “thought to be no more dangerous than arsenate of lead or fluorine, two commonly used insecticides … One disadvantage which has been encountered is that some beneficial insects are killed by DDT.”

One account noted that with so many of Vermont’s young men and women away from home, “700 city boys and girls were enrolled this summer as Victory Farm Volunteers on Vermont farms.” It lauds “the hundreds of Vermont boys and girls who are working on farms near their homes in town and villages, or the other hundreds who are helping to carry the load on their own home farms.” Unlike another newspaper, the Gazette did not report that one of the Victory Farm Volunteers was arrested for theft.

The Gazette cited other weeklies in its mentions of V-J day, notably the Bellows Falls Times: “President Truman’s Tuesday evening announcement that hostilities had ceased in the Pacific was the most welcome news in every American home that could possibly have been received.” The Swanton Courier was cited in the story, “Secret Weapon Explodes:”

“The atomic bomb which fell on Hiroshima last week represents what may be described as the first actual use of a ‘secret weapon’ in the present war. Until the scientific experts reveal the exact nature of the process involved, we can only suppose that it is caused by the disintegration of the atom,” it read. “[T]he explosive power of the unexplained bomb evidently represents a successful attempt to transmute matter into energy, thus releasing the almost unbelievable force of nature that contain the mysterious electrons.”

The Island Pond Essex County Herald on August 9 reported “Local Lad Has Part on New Atomic Bomb.” The lead begins, “Local residents will be interested to know that the new atomic bomb which was first used on Japan on Tuesday of this week is the project on which Robert W. Harvey, son of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Harvey, has been working as a chemicals engineer since early in 1943.”    Harvey was a 1942 UVM Graduate, the article noted.

While the Orleans County Monitor mentioned a long ceremony in Barton to mark V-J Day, there is no mention in the Gazette of similar events taking place in Hardwick. In May of 1945, the Gazette had mentioned a somber ceremony to mark V-E Day.

Dailies announced Japan’s surrender in headlines so big they took up nearly half of the front page. The Evening Argus proclaimed the atomic bomb had brought the war to an end. “Emperor [Hirohito] Laments ‘Most Cruel Bomb”, the Argus’ August 15 headline read. Newspapers, including the Caledonian Record, the Barre Daily Times, and the Newport Daily News heralded the war’s end using language that today would be considered rife with racial slurs against the Japanese.