62nd AW Historian honors 75th anniversary of VE Day

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On May 8, 1945, Germany formally surrendered to Ally forces, ending the war in Europe. Crowds gathered in major cities throughout Europe and the United States and celebrated the end of World War II, which had devastated most of Europe since 1939. In London, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth waved to crowds from the balcony of Buckingham Palace, while in the United States, President Harry Truman dedicated VE Day to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died only the month before. American forces in Europe breathed a sigh of relief while governments began to plan how to rebuild their annihilated countries.

While McChord Field played an important part in the war in the Pacific, the 62nd Airlift Wing’s flying squadrons were instrumental in the fight against the Axis Powers in Europe and Africa. Starting in 1942, the 4th, 7th and 8th Troop Carrier Squadrons (today Airlift Squadrons) flew C-47 Skytrains for the Eighth Air Force. They found themselves in the midst of war that November, flying combat resupply and evacuation missions during Operation Torch, the Allied invasion into North Africa. The squadrons’ participation helped the Ally forces push Nazi Gen. Erwin Rommel and the German army out of Africa.

During July and August 1943, the three Troop Carrier Squadrons towed gliders and performed other combat missions over the skies of Sicily during Operation Husky. The Allied invasion of Sicily, followed by the invasion of Italy, forced Benito Mussolini to flee and Italy to end its alliance with Nazi Germany. The 4th, 7th and 8th TCS continued to fly troops and supplies into Italy and carried out clandestine missions in the Balkans. Under the cover of darkness, these unarmed C-47s landed on rough airstrips and delivered guns, ammunition, Jeeps, mules, gasoline and medical supplies to partisans fighting both the German army and their own Nazi sympathetic governments. After delivery, the C-47s brought back injured partisans and escaped prisoners of war.

After Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy, in June 1944, the three squadrons participated in the invasion of Southern France during Operation Dragoon. Originally planned to coincide with Overlord, the southern operation was hampered with logistical problems until late summer 1944. The TCS’s carried paratroopers and supplies into the region before it resumed its missions within Italy and the Balkans.

By spring 1945, Nazi Germany’s military superiority was nearly diminished. The United States and Britain regained power in the Atlantic Ocean and the Allies all but destroyed the entire German Luftwaffe. The German army survived, but lacked the numbers and might that it possessed in the early days of the war, when it terrified Europe with its blitzkrieg. In April, the Allies pushed into Germany and raced toward Berlin, taking hundreds of thousands of German troops prisoner. The United States and Britain stormed in from the west while the Soviet Union pushed in from the east and agreed they would meet in Berlin, where Nazi leaders were already discussing surrender. Rather than meeting his fate at the hands of the Allies, Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, leaving detailed instructions for his military commanders to resume fighting. Rather than continue a losing endeavor, Hitler’s successor, Karl Donitz, agreed to Germany’s surrender on May 8, 1945. The war in Europe was over.

Allied leaders gave pause for celebrations, but quickly reminded the world that the whole war was not over yet. Ever eloquent, Winston Churchill addressed Great Britain with first a congratulations and then…

We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead. Japan, with all her treachery and greed, remains unsubdued. The injury she has inflicted on Great Britain, the United States, and other countries, and her detestable cruelties, call for justice and retribution. We must now devote all our strength and resources to the completion of our task, both at home and abroad.

President Truman, in his Proclamation 2651, also reminded the United States not to forget its ongoing struggle in the Pacific…

Much remains to be done. The victory won in the West must now be won in the East. The whole world must be cleansed of the evil from which half the world has been freed. United, the peace-loving nations have demonstrated in the West that their arms are stronger by far than the might of dictators or the tyranny of military cliques that once called us soft and weak. The power of our people to defend themselves against all enemies will be proved in the Pacific war as it has been proved in Europe.

It would be another three months until WWII finally came to an end with Japan’s surrender in August 1945.

WWII was the most deadly military conflict in world history. In Europe, nearly 45 million civilians were killed and 30 million were displaced during the war. More than 17 million military members perished. Nearly 14 million of those deaths occurred during the German-Soviet conflict alone. The Soviet Union suffered a loss of nearly 14 percent of a population of 194 million people. Six million Jews and somewhere between 4 and 7 million other victims including Roma, homosexuals, communists and religious dissenters were killed during the Holocaust.

WWII also produced what some historians call the “Greatest Generation” of men and women who rose up from the depths of the Great Depression and fought against oppression and injustice. More than 16 million men and women served in the U.S. Armed Forces and another 3.5 million worked as federal civilians during the war. U.S. war production boomed and, in the span of four years, produced more than 100,000 tanks, 290,000 aircraft and 1,216 large ships including 124 aircraft carriers, and spent more than $106 billion on munitions. Men, women and children collected scrap metal, grease and fabric for war production. They built victory gardens, worked in wartime factories and bought more than $180 billion worth of war bonds. The U.S. military awarded 472 men the Congressional Medal of Honor, the most awarded in the 20th century, and millions of other medals and decorations to men and women who served valiantly in the face of tyranny and evil.