If today were 50 years ago, Rod Lord would see downtown Spokane explode with joy all over again.
At 4 p.m. on Aug. 14, 1945, victory over Japan was realized. World War II finally was over.
Spokane, like the rest of the nation, became a sonic boom of celebration.
Lord, a timid 15-year-old at the time, was mesmerized by the commotion.
Sirens screamed. Whistles wailed. Church bells chimed. Horns honked. Paper confetti snowed from office windows. Cars clogged the streets.
Many people howled in hysteria and danced in the streets, deliriously happy. Others were paralyzed with disbelief.
Lord and a couple of Rogers High School classmates stood on a corner and watched the older folks - strangers, many of them - hug and kiss like lovers.
“We all looked at each other like we should go out there and kiss somebody, but we were too shy to go up and kiss a total stranger,” Lord says.
Instead, a woman in a nurse’s uniform came out of nowhere and planted a fat kiss on his lips.
“I’ll never forget that as long as I live,” Lord says. “Of course, I was a big hero with the other guys.”
On those same people-saturated streets of Spokane, somewhere near Howard and Riverside, Annette Hyne and about 100 of her co-workers at The Crescent department store exchanged hugs and kisses with a busload of servicemen from Idaho’s Farragut Naval Station.
A photographer gathered Hyne and a crush of others to pose for a snapshot. She was in the center of the crowd.
“I didn’t know it was someone from the newspaper until the next day,” Hyne said.
The photograph appeared on the front page of The Spokesman-Review with a headline, “SPOKANE GOES WILD OVER NEWS OF PEACE.”
Hyne, unnerved by the frenzied crowd, was searching for a bus to ride home to her aunt, Mildred Worley, who was celebrating her birthday. But many of the buses had to change their routes because of the throngs of people in the streets.
Rile Pickett was but one pair of legs in a two- to three-block-long millipede of people, each grabbing the hips of the person in front, snaking all over downtown, through stores and movie theaters.
It’s likely they interrupted the 3:15 showing of “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” a film classic starring George Sanders and Angela Lansbury, at the State theater.
“It was like New Year’s or the Lilac Parade,” says Pickett, now 63, then a Libby Junior High School youngster.
All over the region, people reacted to the war’s end.
In North Idaho, the celebration brought death. Three men were killed by gunshot wounds to the heart in Wallace when a tavern argument developed in the middle of a peace celebration.
Former Washington Gov. Clarence D. Martin walked through downtown Spokane streets soberly with his son, Frank, who was a pilot in a dive bomber.
Downtown, an Army sergeant wildly waved his pants in the air from his car. At Comstock Pool, several hundred children stopped splashing to sing “God Bless America.”
Parking meters were snapped off near First and Lincoln.
Spokane police Sgt. Dan Mangan left his motorcycle by the scene of a riot, and it was stolen moments later. Shortly after, Sgt. John Domit retrieved it from the thief.
Although the war would not be officially over for nearly three weeks, the announcement of Japan’s surrender and the spontaneous celebrations that followed are what most people remember when V-J Day is mentioned.
Not everyone scaled lampposts on the corners of Howard and Riverside when the war’s end was announced. For S.J. Lake of Spokane, V-J Day meant a double shift at his job.
“I was working,” says Lake, at the time employed in the maintenance department at the Trentwood aluminum rolling mill. “Some of the fellows didn’t come to work, so I had to pinch-hit for them.”
Lake worked a double shift. He didn’t get home to his wife, Pauline, and two young daughters until 2 or 3 a.m. the next day.
During a time when sexism and racism were rampant, a time when it was common to read ads in the newspaper such as “Spike the Jap, Get a Railroad Job Now!” or “Colored Help Wanted at The Crescent,” Lake, who is black, thought about what social change would come in the war’s wake.
“I sat up that night listening to the news, wondering if there would be a difference in race relations, living conditions and opportunities for the guys who were coming back home,” Lake says. “There was a difference, but it wasn’t overnight, and we had to demand it.”
News of Japan’s surrender traveled slowly in pre-television days.
As revelers were recovering the morning of Aug. 15, a young counselor at Camp Reed picked up the day’s mail at a roadside box in north Spokane County.
The war had drawn everyone over 17 into uniform, and at age 16, Tom Foley was a senior among the camp staff - so senior, he was entrusted to ride the camp’s horse, Traveller, the mile or so for the daily mail pickup.
The camp had a firm rule about the powerful horse. He could be walked or trotted but never galloped.
Foley opened the copy of The Spokesman-Review and read the War Extra edition headline: “Japs Surrender!”
If ever there were a time to disregard the no-galloping rule, this is it, Foley decided. He turned the horse, dug in his heels and hung on.
He reined Traveller to a stop in front of the camp mess hall, jumped off and stumbled into the dining room where campers were preparing for lunch.
“The war is over!” he shouted.
As pandemonium broke out, the future speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives thought to himself that announcing news of the war’s end undoubtedly was the highlight of his young life.
Spokane, like the rest of America, finally was released from the chains of rationing food and clothing, air raid drills knifing the still of the night and telegrams announcing another brother, son or husband had been killed or wounded.
No more blackout curtains. No more buckets of sand in case of incendiary bombs. No more war bonds.
No more war.
If today were 50 years ago, Dorothy Powers would be a 23-year-old reporter for The Spokesman-Review, watching the world go from war to peace in one day.
“V-J Day was too euphoric, too emotional and too heart-shaking to do anything but exult,” Powers writes in a letter remembering V-J Day. “And Spokane did, yet never forgetting those who wouldn’t return.”
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Isamu Jordan staff writer Staff writer Jim Camden contributed to this story.
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