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Subtle Celebrations of VE-Day’s 75th Anniversary

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Today marks 75 years since Victory in Europe (VE) Day, a time which should be full of momentous celebrations for all Allies. Regrettably, our current adversary (COVID-19) will force many of us to commemorate this significant occasion more quietly through virtual events or delaying commemorations to future dates.

Black and white photo of Trafalgar Square filled with people.
VE Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square, London. May 8, 1945. Prints and Photographs Division. 98505807

Don’t despair though!  There are still ways to celebrate the day the guns fell silent in Europe and to honor the contributions of the men and women who were forever changed fighting for liberty.

You can hear directly from the members of “the Greatest Generation” who had a front row seat to history.  Virtual events such as the Arsenal of Democracy (AOD) World War II Heroes Panel (today at 11:30AM EST via the AOD Facebook page) will highlight conversations with select veterans (including Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee, World War II Ace Bud Anderson, C-47 Normandy and D-Day veteran David Hamilton) who served in the global conflict in the air.

More interested in the aircraft? Take a peek at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s 75th Anniversary of World War II blog series.

Airpower played a tremendous role in the success of the War.  It is, therefore, extremely fitting that this September the Arsenal of Democracy organization will host a flyover of approximately 100 World War II warbirds flying in thematic formations over the National Mall. The flyover will serve as a visible reminder that the cost of victory and the commitments to global peace will not be forgotten.

Color graphic the US Capitol, four airplanes and the US World War II Memorial.  Text reads "Arsenal of Democracy - 75th World War II Victory Commemoration Flyover Washington, D.C. - September 24-25, 2020"
Graphic provided by Arsenal of Democracy.

The Veterans History Project (VHP) is delighted to be collaborating with the Arsenal of Democracy to connect the historic aircraft participating in the flyover to the stories of service of the men and women who flew them. The Library of Congress and the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (where the planes are currently scheduled to be on display following the flyover) will feature commemorative “Aviators Flight Log Books” tying VHP collections and veterans’ memories of World War II to the aircraft. These stories will also be highlighted here at Folklife Today and via social media for those who cannot make the flyover in person.

Color photo of brown book that says "Aviators Flight Log Book" and has text and photos.
Aviators Flight Log Book for Elvin E. Thomas. Based on the Elvin E Thomas Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC/2001/001/33621.

Though only a handful of collections will be featured through the “Aviator Flight Log Books” and Folklife Today posts, the Veterans History Project will remain a treasure trove of some 60,000 personal memories from World War II.

Whether a B-17 Bomber pilot’s narrow escape from a German POW camp, or even a Marine Infantryman describing the divine taste of peaches after surviving his first battle, these accounts make us laugh, cry and remember.

Clip from Theodore Cummings VHP oral history.  Theodore Cummings Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC/2001/001/78232

Having had the opportunity to interview some of these individuals myself, or even in viewing the collections others contribute, I know I will carry a piece of these veterans’ stories with me forever. Sadly, but not surprisingly, this 75th anniversary may be the last major VE-Day milestone we will have with those who experienced VE-Day firsthand. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, fewer than 389,000 were alive to celebrate Victory Over Japan (VJ) Day in 2019. We lose approximately 370 World War II veterans a day and with them, their personal recollections of pivotal times in our country’s history.  These are sobering numbers that really highlight the importance of VHP’s mission.

What can YOU do to help?

My suggestion: get to know your local World War II veteran before it is too late.  As our country is facing yet another uncertain time in our history, we can all use some compassion and support.  Call or even write to veterans like D-Day survivor and U.S. Army Paratrooper Sam Sachs, who celebrated his 105th birthday at home on April 26th.   When it is safe, and both parties are comfortable to do so, consider working with your local World War II veteran to preserve their memories for their families, for yourself and through VHP, those who may never have a chance to meet him/her in person.


Did you catch Megan Harris’s latest blog post?  Check out VHP’s latest Experiencing War web series entitles “End of World War II – 75th Anniversary” for more stories of service from the men and women who served, remembers, and shared what it was like at the War’s end.

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