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The War's End

  • Published
  • By Jeremiah D. Foster, Historian
  • 90th Missile Wing History Office

“The War’s end. Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended. A great victory has been won. The skies no longer rain death – the seas bear only commerce – men everywhere walk upright in the sunlight. The entire world is a quietly at peace.”

– General Douglas MacArthur, U.S. Army, 2 September 1945


In our present time, we can little fathom the enormity of the Second World War (1939-1945), a conflict which for six long years bore witness to the most powerful nations on earth battling each other by land, sea and air in a desperate struggle for national survival. Worldwide it is estimated that 15 million soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen died during the war and another 25 million were wounded. Attending these astounding military casualty numbers is an additional estimated 45 million civilian deaths. To those who lived through this harrowing epoch of turmoil and destruction—MacArthur’s words represent not some exaggerated sentiment but rather the lived reality of an entire generation.

Although Germany surrendered in May 1945, the United States and its Allies found themselves still engaged in a ferocious war in the Pacific with little hope of a quick victory in sight. The Empire of Japan was a formidable enemy which had made the Allies pay dearly for every advance. In contemplating the invasion of the Japanese mainland, senior U.S. military officers estimated that U.S. casualties would be in the millions, with approximately 400,000 to 800,0000 of them being fatalities. However, U.S. Army Air Force bombing campaigns against Japan which culminated in the dropping of the atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ultimately lead to Japanese capitulation.

The celebration of this momentous occasion—the end of humanity’s bloodiest and most destructive war—came to be known as Victory over Japan Day or simply V-J Day. Of course, as is the case with most of history there is some nuance to when this moment is observed. Almost a week after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, at 7 p.m. on Aug. 14, 1945, President Harry S. Truman announced from the White House that the Japanese government had agreed to an unconditional surrender. The following day, on the 15th, the Japanese Emperor Hirohito gave a radio broadcast on Radio Tokyo also announcing the surrender. For this reason, both of these days are sometimes considered V-J Day, however, there is also one other contender.

Sept. 2, 1945, a group of senior U.S. and Japanese military officers on board the battleship U.S.S. Missouri (BB-63) signed the “Instrument of Surrender for the United Nations” which represented the official surrender of the Empire of Japan. Thus, Sept. 2 is also considered to be V-J Day. Technicalities aside however, the surrender of Japan and the end of the war marked a watershed moment in human history—a major global conflict had ended that completely re-shaped the political, economic, military and technological structure of the world.

For the Mighty Ninety, V-J Day also holds a place of special significance. The end of hostilities in the Pacific marked the end of a hard-fought struggle by the 90th’s namesake and heritage unit, the 90th Bombardment Group (90 BG). Originally deployed to the Pacific Theater in late 1942, the 90 BG had battled the forces of Imperial Japan from northern Australia to the Japanese mainland. Indeed, on the day that Japan signed the official surrender agreement on board the Missouri, the 90 BG’s B-24 Liberators were still flying over the skies of Tokyo armed with 500-lbs bombs ready for any contingencies.

Word of the official surrender marked the end of a storied wartime legacy. The 90th had flown thousands of bombing missions, downed 100s of Japanese aircraft, earned nearly 5,000 individual commendations, six campaign streamers, two Distinguished Unit Citations and a Philippine President Unit Citation. However, these exploits, which helped pave the way for the Allied victory in the Pacific, came at no small cost. In all, the 90 BG lost 820 airmen in the pursuit of victory.

Their sacrifices and their deeds remain enshrined in this wing’s name—the Mighty Ninety.