If you liked 'V-I Day,' shoulda seen 'V-J Day'

Baltimore Glimpses

March 05, 1991|By GILBERT SANDLER

THIS NEWSPAPER called last Wednesday "V-I Day," for "Victory over Iraq." There was some horn-blowing and congregating of happy people the next day. People drove with their lights on. There were tears of immense relief, and hundreds celebrated at end-of-war rallies over the weekend -- but no massive public outpouring, no dancing in the street. That is not the way the enemy's surrender was greeted in World War II (to say nothing of World War I). Consider the scene in downtown Baltimore Aug. 14, 1945, the day of the Japanese surrender.

Beginning the night before and all the next morning and afternoon, the country was electric with rumors that the Japanese were going to make the historic announcement. In late afternoon, The Evening Sun published an "Extra." "THE WAR IS OVER," glared the headline. "Japan Accepts All Terms, U.S. Orders 'Cease Firing.' "

At 7 p.m., President Truman made it official from the White House. The word touched off monstrous demonstrations in Allied countries. Within hours, nearly 200,000 people were downtown. They came by streetcar, automobile, bus, bicycle and on foot. They brought cowbells, flags and confetti. Capt. H.C. Kaste, head of the traffic division, said that at 10 p.m., the height of the celebration, 100,000 people were on Baltimore Street between Eutaw and the Fallsway, another 75,000 on Howard from Centre to Baltimore and 25,000 on Lexington Street. The center of it all was Sun Square at Charles and Baltimore, where the TransLux along the sides of the Sunpapers building blinked out the news in lights.

At Light and Baltimore streets, a sailor grabbed a young woman around the waist. He said, "I came all the way from Okinawa for a kiss from you!" She said, "Help yourself!"

Streetcars had to be rerouted. National Guardsmen were called out -- just in case. Gov. Herbert O'Conor ordered the bars closed for 24 hours and declared Aug. 15 a legal holiday in Maryland.

On Pennsylvania Avenue, juke boxes were moved to the sidewalks, and crowds jitterbugged the night away. Carlin's amusement park told police it could not longer control the crowd and had to be shut down. From the Inner Harbor came the clanging of bells and endless whistle blastsfrom every ship afloat. In Little Italy, they hanged Hirohito in effigy. Lithuanians danced in the streets.

Baltimoreans thought it had been one heck of a party. But M. Joseph Wallace, chief inspector of the Police Department, remembered Nov. 11, 1918. "And I can tell you this. This one did not measure up," he scoffed.

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