World War II

VJ Day in Boston

 ... Celebrating the surrender announcement

by Irving Smolens

When this photo was taken of me on May 7, 1945, we were just south of Munich, about six miles from the Austrian border. Germany had actually surrendered. The 105mm Howitzer is unattended. We had nothing left at which to shoot. The surrender documents were not signed until the next day, hence, V-E Day was May 8, 1945.

I had returned to the US after 18 months overseas and 11 months of combat beginning with D-day in Normandy and ending on VE-day, six miles from the Austrian border in Bavaria, Germany. I had landed in New York harbor on July 7, 1945 debarking from a converted Italian luxury liner renamed by the American Navy "Hermitage"

That ship, although no longer a luxury liner, afforded my Fourth Infantry Division a luxurious passage compared to the Franconia, an old English "tub" on which we had sailed for Britain in early January 1944.

After a well-deserved 30 day R&R (Rest and Rehabilitation) furlough I was scheduled to report to Fort Devens for three days in quarantine prior to transfer to what was to be my new training post, Camp Butner, NC.

On the day my furlough ended I was saying good-bye to my mother preparatory to going to the North Station to board a train to Fort Devens. As I recall, it was mid-afternoon and our radio was on. A terse voice came over the radio announcing that the US had just dropped an Atomic Bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. From the inflection in the radio voice it seemed fairly clear to me that the announcer had no idea of the significance of what he had just announced; but I knew.

As a youth of about 12 or 13 I remembered my father telling me about an article he had read in the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper about the potential explosive power of the atom. At the time the article was written, nobody was quite sure that they could control that explosive power. They did not know if they could control the chain reaction that had the potential of destroying the Earth. At least that's the way I had interpreted what my father had told me.

Upon hearing the announcement I turned to my mother and said, "Ma, if that's what I think it is I'll be home soon and you won't have to worry about me any more." I had not told her that I was supposed to be part of a retraining program preparing us for the invasion of Honshu, the main Japanese Island in the spring of 1946. After my first day at Fort Devens, the second Atomic Bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and then, at last, we began to hear rumors that the Japanese were considering accepting our Unconditional Surrender terms.

A member of my gun section, also a D-day veteran, Dave Fine from Brookline said to me, "Irving, why are we hanging around here? Let's catch a bus to Harvard Square. Nobody is checking on us and nobody will miss us and we can return to camp in the morning." Dave was about 10 years older than I and had been like a father to me when I had joined our 29th Field Artillery Battalion just a few days after my 19th birthday. He had 83 points just 2 shy of the number needed for discharge. So I listened to him.

We casually wandered over to a different section of the post and boarded a bus with members of the 10th Mountain Division who had just returned from many months of combat in Italy. When we arrived in Harvard Square, Dave called his girl friend. She had a girl friend who also had a car and some gas ration coupons and we all drove to Park Square. Parking was no problem during the era of gas rationing. We all went to what was possibly the best steak house in Boston at that time, the Town House Restaurant on Warrenton Street.

As we were eating dinner, I think it was shortly after 7:00 PM, President Truman announced on the radio that the Imperial Forces of Japan had agreed to surrender. The atmosphere in the streets became electric. The excitement became unbelievable. I can't remember finishing dinner or even paying for it.

After a long night and early morning of revelry we returned to Fort Devens. Dave's orders were changed. He remained at Fort Devens to be discharged there almost immediately. I had not been in the army long enough to have acquired his number of points so I was sent to Camp Butner and discharged from there on October 21, 1945, 13 days shy of my 21st Birthday.

November 2, 2001

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