Sydney M. Williams
August 14, 2009
Sixty-four years ago today Mama drove her four children from Peterborough to Nashua (I believe, though it could have been Manchester) to pick up Papa who was returning from service in Italy. The day constitutes one of my earliest memories. I recall the honking of car horns, the waving of hands, lights flashing, as we drove the twenty or so miles. The exhilaration was palpable, even to a four and a half year old. I remember the troop train arriving and, then, Papa coming toward us and us rushing toward him.
The emotions associated with this reunion of my parents of relief and joy had to have been stronger than anything I can imagine. Literally millions upon millions of people had died, including in excess of 600,000 Americans, over the previous six years. That my father had survived, unscathed, must have seemed miraculous.
Driving back to Peterborough we stopped at a field between Milford and Wilton – across a small metal bridge – for a picnic, whether lunch or supper I do not recall.
As I think back on that day, I realize that the War ended prematurely because of the dropping of two atomic bombs in Japan (August 6 – Hiroshima and August 9 – Nagasaki), killing close to 300,000 civilians – a tragedy of almost incalculable measurement. Yet I am glad that Truman authorized the use of atomic weapons. Had he not, most certainly the United States would have staged the planned October invasion of the Japanese mainland. The official Allied estimates assumed a million casualties, most of whom would have been Americans. When Papa left Italy in late July to sail home, his division was expected to be part of the landing force. He was expected to be home for a month’s leave before heading west to train for the invasion. It was aboard ship that his unit received the news of Japan’s surrender, which meant peace and life for so many.
In the last letter Papa sent Mama from Colorado, as he was being mustered out of the service, he wrote, “I become more and more surprised that I ever lived through it at all. There would have been very few of us left if it lasted any longer.”
V-J Day is a day we should all remember and one for which we should all be thankful. Every time somebody raises the question of the morality of Truman’s decision think of my father’s words.