75th V-J Day Commemoration, Events, Stories and Resources
To celebrate “Victory Over Japan” Day in the Pacific, World War II veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team Terry T. Shima was featured in a five-minute, 27-second video (vimeo.com/453870321) as part of a daylong virtual celebration of the 75th anniversary of the end of that war, hosted by the Friends of the National World War II Memorial on Wednesday, Sept. 2.
“What V-J Day did 75 years ago was to reset the world order — and also to reset our lives. Former adversaries, Germany and Japan, recipients of the Marshall plan, joined the free world under U.S. leadership,” explains the 97-year-old veterans’ advocate from Laupähoehoe, Hawai‘i island, who had achieved Technician Four status within the 442nd during his time served in Italy in the war’s European Theater, according to the Veterans History Project.
“The U.S. became a leader of the free world at that time. The free world attempted to build peaceful relationships with their adversaries, the communist nations, such as Russia, China, North Korea,” adds Shima. After his time in the Army, Shima worked for the Foreign Service for 30 years according to the U.S. Army website.
Among several online videos created for that anniversary, the Memorial (wwiimemorialfriends.org/about/) included Shima’s informative talk which also drew connections between Japanese American military workers who had fought and served in the war and their community’s historical experience of being interned in concentration camps despite their U.S. upbringing, nationality and patriotism.
“Japanese Americans, whose loyalty to their nation was questioned, proved their loyalty on the battlefield of Europe and also in the Pacific…Nisei helped America win the war and played a role in the postwar development of Japan as an industrial power,” explains the former executive director of the Japanese American Veterans Association in the clip, who goes on to describe the story of nisei serving in the Military Intelligence Service. (See this issue’s Lead Story on nisei interpreters during and after the war.)
These V-J Day short videos fulfill the Friends of the National World War II Memorial’s longer-term mission “to honor and preserve the national memory of World War II, and to create the next ʻgreatest generation’ of tomorrow,” says Jane Droppa, Vice Chair of the Memorial and “proud daughter of a World War II veteran.”
This and other commemorative events have been offered by the Memorial over the past four years to parallel the length of the war (“1941-1945 / 2016-2020”). Its educational campaign started with “Pearl Harbor Day” activities in Dec. 2016, and finally closed with this series of Sept. 2020 online shorts exploring the meaning of V-J Day as the much-heralded end of the war. World War II has been viewed by many around the globe as the “deadliest conflict in human history,” with over 400,000 people from the U.S. and many more worldwide killed, she summarizes.
The Memorial’s four years of educational activities have marked every major battle in which the U.S. participated during World War II. The latest round of online clips streamed on Sept. 2 to mark the official surrender, on the Pacific Fleet’s flagship USS Missouri in Tökyö Bay, of nine delegates from Japan to the U.S. and other Allied forces, represented by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Adm. Chester Nimitz, and others. Japan was the last of the Axis powers to end their global expansion and battles against the Allied forces — officially signing off on its defeat on the battleship’s deck that morning three-quarters of a century ago.
Many veterans and their families on the U.S. continent, as well as in the Pacific-Asia region including Hawai‘i, were disappointed that most personal gatherings at commemorative activities for the 75th anniversary of V-J day had been canceled. They considered Sept. 2020 to be the last significant anniversary of the war where surviving veterans could show up to celebratory activities in person and feel respected for their sacrifice and patriotism. However, as COVID-19 posed a serious risk to many aging and medically vulnerable veterans, careful organizers generally decided to cancel physical festivities and try out virtual ones instead.
At Pearl Harbor earlier this month, Shima, for instance, the official 75th World War II Commemoration Ceremony was significantly curtailed from its planners’ original events with only a few guests of honor, high-level military officials and dignitaries in attendance. For the smaller crowd, military aircraft flew over in a missing-man formation in honor of fallen heroes; the exciting closing-fireworks display was shown over video (donated by the city of Nagaoka).
Organizers were able to use the virtual format to present some visually powerful moments, such as the “International Wreath Ceremony,” to engage different nations involved in World War II (including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Myanmar, Portugal, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.). The colorful and vibrant display of wreaths were hung on the deck rails of the “Mighty Mo” as symbols of peace. Veterans of the war, including those from Hawaiʻi and the mainland, who had been on the Missouri in the morning of the conflict’s historic ending, spoke movingly via video.
For World War II veterans, keeping younger generations informed about this war remains a challenge, as their fellow soldiers pass away and fewer who remember it survive to share their experiences. Since moving to Maryland, Shima, for instance, has been active in the East-Coast-based Japanese American Veterans Association to educate Japanese, Asian and other Americans about vets’ contributions to U.S. history.
For these community efforts, the veterans’ activist has received President Obama’s 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal, the country’s second-highest civilian award, and the 2013 “Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette” award, which comes from both the prime minister and the emperor of Japan (according to JAVA and the U.S. Army).
Shima’s striking speech illustrates both the risks that Japanese American veterans took within their own (culturally prejudiced) armed forces and also multiple cases of nisei courage in frontline battle. By the video’s end, he teaches his audience not only about European combat history, where AJA soldiers of the 442nd RCT and the 100th Battalion had famously staked their claim to heroism, but also about the war in our Oceanic region as well, where
“Nisei working on the frontlines were assigned two Caucasian bodyguards to protect them from being mistakenly shot by Americans. They did not take shower[s] alone — always with their bodyguards standing close by.
“Many nisei serving in the Pacific were given combat awards like [the] Purple Heart, Silver Star, the Combat Infantryman’s badge — which were awarded only to those serving in frontline duty,” Shima recounts of the Pacific Theater.
[Note: For the Friends of the National World War II Memorial video on V-J Day, see vimeo.com/453421886. For a two-part video interview of Terry T. Shima from the Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, visit memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/story/loc.natlib.afc2001001.87657/.
In addition to checking out the Memorial webpage, stay-at-home families who want to introduce young people to World War II history and the road to V-J Day, can explore the National World War II Museum in New Orleans website (nationalww2museum.org), which has posted accessible new articles on the 75th anniversary of the war’s end including a riveting two-parter on the internal struggles that Japan itself went through, when deciding to end its imperial ambitions, entitled “‘To Bear the Unbearable’: Japan’s Surrender.”]