The Last Days of World War II

World War II was a long and brutal war. After three years, eight months and eight days, the fighting for American forces was over. It is estimated that more than 60 million people were killed in the conflicts, many of them civilians. Sixteen million Americans had been sent to war; 406,000 never returned. Soon the focus could change from sacrificing to rebuilding.


Transcript

Near the end of April 1945, Dean Lettington's unit had been moving across Germany without much difficulty. As his artillery company approached Munich, they were stopped and ordered to await instructions. The Dachau Concentration Camp, located nearby, had just been liberated. “So then they let us go in and see what tragedies we seen. And it didn't take long to get me infuriated. I was just crazy mad. And I come to this one building where the prisoners billet. There was three of us there together, and I just kicked the door in. I didn't bother to open it; I just kicked it in. In the far right-hand corner of that building I seen something move, so I immediately had my carbine and I eased my way down there. There was a little old person just scrunched way down in the corner just shaking like a leaf. Then he recognized the American uniforms, and it calmed him down a little bit.” 

On May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered. On august 6 an atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese City of Hiroshima. On August 9 a second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. The unprecedented destruction helped bring about the unconditional surrender of the Japanese imperial government on august 15, 1945. On September 2, 1945, representatives of the Japanese imperial government surrendered to General Douglas MacArthur on board the battleship U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Henry Leonard, who had been appointed to MacArthur’s honor guard in May, was not on duty that day, but he was at the ceremony. On board one of the ships next to the Missouri, Leonard had climbed to one of the highest spots possible to get a better view. 

“I thought, man alive, I’m still alive and I’m going to stay that way probably, unless I get run over by a jeep, because we don't have to take this damn place. I don't think we had enough men in America anymore to take Japan or Kyoto or any of those islands. I don't think we had the power, because they would have -- the women and children and everybody else would have had sharpened bamboo poles, if nothing else. They would have fought us to the last man.” After three years, eight months, and eight days, the fighting for American forces was over. In the United States, there was dancing in the streets, long parades, and colossal victory celebrations. Soon the focus could change from sacrificing to rebuilding. Sixteen million Americans had been sent to war; 406,000 never returned. 

“It was a long time before I was able to hear taps at any memorial service or hear taps at all, because of the memories I had with that, but I have overcome that. But it just brings back those rush of memories.”


Excerpt from "Iowa's WWII Stories," Iowa PBS, 2006