What Santa Rosa was like on V-E Day
The war with Nazi Germany came to an end in the month of May, 75 years ago. The over-80s among us today may have clear recollections of that morning.
They may remember wondering why, if the news was as happy as it sounded, their mothers were weeping and their fathers listening closely at the Philco “radio cabinet” in the living room instead of heading off to work. For that matter, why weren’t we all in the streets, hollering out our joy to the world?
There may have been spontaneous cheers for the unidentified Santa Rosa fireman who heard the early news on the radio, commandeered a fire truck, draped it with a makeshift banner reading “GERMANY HAS SURRENDERED” and drove up and down the streets. Or they may have been drawn from the radio by the raucous call of an amplified gong on a welders’ truck — the hasty work of Ras Bjornstad and his partner Bob Mitchell — following in the wake of the fireman.
But that was pretty much the extent of public jubilation. Americans had been warned the previous week by their new president, Harry Truman — in his unfamiliar flat Missouri accent so different than the stentorian Harvard tones they were accustomed to — that the anticipated surrender in Europe should pass with minimal public note, that any celebrations must await the end of the War in the Pacific.
IT WAS MONDAY here, the one day of the week when there was no Press Democrat. But, alerted first by the gongs and then by radio, reporters, editors, Linotype operators, printers and pressmen headed to the PD office on Mendocino Avenue to write, print and “hit the streets” with a “VICTORY EXTRA!”
The news was punctuated by “artwork” that was ready and waiting — caricatures of a humiliated Hitler, Bill Mauldin-style GI Joes and Norman Rockwell-type advertisements from local firms, prepared in advance for the occasion.
Apart from the belated EXTRA and impromptu church services, it was Monday business as usual. Shopkeepers and business owners had agreed the previous week to honor Truman’s request to await the final ending.
If there was any controversy about this, or any grumbling even, it was not reflected in the news stories or in subsequent letters to the editor. There were no reports of speeches on the courthouse steps, no photos of marchers with signs.
Sonoma County’s citizenry, and, apparently, the rest of the nation, waited to be told when to laugh and cheer and parade and kiss strangers in the street.
That was pretty much “the norm” in the ’40s when war came, ended and, some would say, changed everything.
GIVEN THE ECHOES of those cries of “Extra! Extra! Germany Surrenders!!” that were news to many in the streets that day, it is interesting to make a quick comparison to the world we know now where technology ignores distance in favor of “real time.”
The German surrender was signed, officially, at Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters in Reims, northeast of Paris, on May 7, a Sunday.
On its way to Santa Rosa — from Reims to Paris to New York to San Francisco and finally, to Santa Rosa by Associated Press cable to The Press Democrat office — it was Monday morning, May 8. And there was nobody home.