Memories of the day the war ended


Unforgettable moments for two soldiers and a child

Back Story

Taking Note of History

August 20, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Jim Panopoulos, home on a 30-day furlough, was in a North Avenue movie theater when the action outside of the theater turned greater than that on the screen.

Jerry Zarend was visiting relatives in Mount Clemens, Mich., when news of the Japanese surrender raced through the then rural suburb north of Detroit.

Milton Bates, serving with the Army in Europe, thought of only one thing when he heard the news: "I'm going home."

These are some of the reminiscences that reached me after my column last week on the end of World War II, when a war-weary nation let go in a coast-to-coast explosion of joy tinged with sadness for those who didn't live to see victory.

Panopoulos, 79, was born and raised on 28th Street in Waverly, and shortly after graduating from City College in 1943 was drafted into the Army.

"I went over to Europe in class on the Queen Elizabeth - me and 15,000 other guys," said Panopoulos, a retired personnel administrator with the state Division of Correction and an Oak Crest Village resident.

Serving with the 87th Infantry Division, Panopoulos, who had survived some of the bloodiest fighting of the war at the Battle of the Bulge and had participated in the historic crossing of the Rhine River into Germany, was at home in Baltimore for a month's rest before being sent to the Pacific.

"It was during that period when I was at home, I heard on radio of the dropping of the atomic bombs," he said.

"Many today say it was a mistake to drop those bombs. What they don't understand is the carnage that would have ensued with the invasion of the Japanese homeland. What would have been my chances of surviving?" wrote Panopoulos in an e-mail.

"No doubt the bombs killed many innocent people. However, to balance the picture let us not forget the Bataan Death March, the rape and slaughter of the Chinese people, the brothels set up for the pleasure of the Japanese soldiers, the Battle of Britain, and the many atrocities committed by the Germans. No one knows better than those that have been in it that war is hell," he wrote.

"I was in a second-run movie house when we heard that the war was over. It was an exhilarating feeling. And when we heard President Truman tell the world that Japan had capitulated, suddenly a heavy load had been taken off our chests," Panopoulos said in an interview.

"And then I became a part of that big crowd downtown. I did my share of hugging and kissing the girls, and I don't mind saying, I had had a few drinks and was somewhat inebriated," he said.

"I was 9 years old when the war ended. We were in Mount Clemens visiting my mother's niece," recalled Zarend, a retired educator, the other day. "We were all in the living room talking and we heard a slowly increasing crescendo of noise outside, horns honking, people shouting and gunfire."

The family rushed to the back porch where they heard jubilant shouts: "The war's over!"

"I remember everyone breaking into broad smiles and clapping each other on the back. My cousin then went in and got his shotgun and fired off a few rounds off the back porch," said Zarend, a Brooklyn, Mich., resident.

Bates, 84, a retired Baltimore businessman and writer, was serving with the Signal Corps in Europe and after the German surrender was sent with six others from his unit to Cannes.

"Oh, yes, this was tough duty being sent to the Riviera. I had six unbelievable months in Cannes," said Bates.

"The latrine rumor was that we would be sent to the Pacific and we'd be inoculated with square needles. So, early in August the atomic bombs were dropped, and at first I didn't quite get the significance of it," he said.

"And then they surrendered and it was apparent we were going home."

Bates recalled reading of the surrender in Stars and Stripes, the Army's newspaper, and that the celebration was somewhat "muted" because the "war there had ended in May."

"Nevertheless, where we were concerned, we didn't need much of an excuse to go to the bar, and the cognac flowed. I could have been sent to the Pacific, and that was something I didn't want to contemplate," he said.

Bates' ship, the SS Sea Quail, docked in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the early spring of 1946.

"I got off and literally kissed the ground. And the first thing I did was order a real, whole milk, chocolate milkshake," Bates said. "Then I was sent to Camp Kilmer, N.J., where I was mustered out."

"I bear no malice toward the Germans or Japanese of this generation. After all, I own four electronic products from Sony, a Toyota Avalon, and once owned a VW Passat," Panopoulos wrote. "Although we should never forget the past, let's not blame this generation for past deeds."

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