Victory in Europe Day is the day celebrating the formal acceptance by the Allies of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender on Tuesday, May 8, 1945. This year marked the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, otherwise known as V-E Day.
The war began on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. The United Kingdom responded with an ultimatum to Germany to cease military operations, which was ignored, bringing the British Empire and France into the war. Ultimately, the vast majority of the world’s countries were involved, forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history and the course of history changed forever. The war took the lives of as many as 85 million people, most of whom were civilians.
Many of the events that were planned to celebrate the milestone this year were canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. This has left European leaders and community organizers no choice but to pivot their plans toward alternative celebrations that account for social-distancing measures. Originally, this year was expected to commemorate the day with of parades and celebrations that would transcend borders and bring generations together. Instead of such events, leaders in European capitals observed the 75th anniversary of V-E Day at a significantly diminished level.
Military flyovers were one of the only large-scale celebrations that could take place safely. At ground level, remembrances were smaller than they have ever been and certainly much smaller than the events that had been planned to herald the landmark anniversary. Political leaders urged people to stay home in order to battle the unseen enemy – the coronavirus.
Because of health risks that the disease poses, many veterans of the war were forced to avoid travel and keep their distance at public gatherings. This is terribly unfortunate since this is one of two major anniversaries that will be observed this year. The next major anniversary will be on September 2, marking the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in the Pacific.
In the United States, V-E Day commemorations honored the 16 million Americans who served during the war, even as only a small share of those veterans are alive today. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 300,000 U.S. World War II veterans are still with us. Most living veterans from the war are in their 90s, though some are considerably older. Of the 350,000 women who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during the war, about 14,500 are alive today.
By the time that V-E Day arrived, over 275,000 American servicemen had already discharged their duty, giving the ultimate sacrifice in service of their country. Today, 14 American cemeteries, monuments and scattered burials continue to honor those lost in the European Theater of Operations during World War II. Marked by flawless white marble monuments, over 76,000 American soldiers rest in hallowed ground on or near the battlefields where they fell. Many thousands more were repatriated to the United States for burial in the years after the end of hostilities. The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) operates these solemn grounds which were in an entirely different state 75 years ago.
The U.S. Army Cemetery at Caronia, Sicily, was one of the temporary cemeteries set up in Italy, where simple wooden crosses marked the graves. Each cross had one of the soldier’s dog tags securely affixed for identification purposes. The fallen were brought to temporary cemeteries laid out by the Graves Registration units where appropriate religious ceremonies were performed by military chaplains. Temporary cemeteries were established wherever they were needed, often tracing the paths of field hospitals and major battles. As the battlefields moved across Europe, so did the Graves Registration units. By the end of the war, hundreds of temporary cemeteries were scattered all over Europe, a testament to the cost of the campaign.
In Washington, President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the World War II Memorial. The President saluted as “Taps” was played, with World War II veterans and current military service members attending.
President Trump then briefly spoke of the veterans (from a distance) and walked around the memorial, which is ringed with pillars marking each State’s role in the war effort and especially the lives that were lost in the struggle. The large engraving on the memorial reads “Here we mark the price of freedom.”
Italy’s Liberation Day – Festa della liberazione, also known as Anniversario della Resistenza (Anniversary of the Resistance) takes place annually on April 25th, roughly two weeks earlier than V-E Day. It is a national holiday commemorating the victory of the Resistance in Italy, bringing an end to the Fascist regime and the Nazi occupation during World War II. This is distinct from the Republic Day (Festa della Repubblica), which takes place on June 2, which celebrates Italy’s 1946 vote by the people to abandon the monarchy and become a republic.