The peaceful world of the American people, separated from the national animosities in Europe by the wide Atlantic Ocean, was deeply troubled but still seemed quite safe when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939, beginning World War II.
Adolf Hitler’s aggression caused Britain and France to respond militarily.
But Poland was rapidly overcome by the Germans and by the Communist Soviet Union, which invaded days after the Germans.
German conquest continued.
The ill-prepared French, unwisely confident behind their defensive Maginot Line, suffered quick defeat to Hitler.
France fell to the Nazis in June 1940.
Britain, separated from the European mainland by the English Channel, was besieged in the terrifying aerial Battle of Britain, as wave after wave of Nazi bombers inflicted terrible civilian casualties and destruction.
German conquest of Britain seemed imminent.
On the other side of the world, in Asia, Imperial Japan had already swept across much of China in the preceding years. And on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and in the Philippines — thrusting the United States into World War II in alliance with Britain and France and every other nation that stood against the Nazis’ aims.
There were dark days as the militarily unprepared United States and its beleaguered friends suffered defeats but “held on.”
And yet the tide began to turn. On June 6, 1944, the Allies invaded Nazi-held France across the English Channel.
There were many terrible battles as U.S. and Allied forces fought their way across Europe, suffering untold casualties before Nazi Germany finally surrendered!
“V-E Day” — victory in Europe — happily came in 1945.
Some observe V-E Day on May 7, while others celebrate it on May 8.
Why the difference? The actual surrender of Germany was signed on May 7, 1945, at Reims in France, but was ratified in Berlin on May 8.
There were tremendous celebrations throughout the United States, Britain, France and other Allied nations. World War II in Europe was finally over — with victory for the forces of liberty!
Nonetheless, terrible battles still had to be fought across the Pacific Ocean before the U.S. Air Force dropped the first atomic bomb in war on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945, and the second on Nagasaki, on Aug. 9 — finally bringing Japanese surrender on Aug. 14, 1945!
Today, it is difficult for many people who did not live through those frightening times to understand the tragic losses of life as well as the anxiety that the American people felt.
But those who lived through those days — and especially those who fought to gain those victories — will never forget them!
None of us should.