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WWII milestone highlights sacrifices for freedom

OC-based museum hosts survivors, talks, memorabilia -


World War II, the most destructive war in human history, caused more than 60 million military and civilian deaths, and ended 69 years ago with Japan’s surrender on Aug. 14, 1945.

Photo Credit: HISTORIC PHOTO COURTESY: 41ST DIVISION - The U.S. Army's 41st Division Jungleers are pictured fighting in the South Pacific during World War II.The Museum of the Oregon Territory in Oregon City commemorates armistice with “The End of WWII: Victory in the Pacific Remembered,” from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 14.

Photo Credit: PUBLIC DOMAIN - Navy VJ Day This free event includes a biographical exposition of an Oregonian prisoner-of-war liberated from capture in the Philippines, WWII memorabilia and vehicles, and a film on the Pacific Northwest 41st Infantry Division’s contributions to battle in the Pacific Islands.

The United States entered World War II on Dec. 8, 1941, one day after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The following 3 1/2 years resulted in a massive mobilization of U.S. industry, powered by a work force dubbed the country's Greatest Generation of committed civilians and military personnel, which grew to transcend former divides of race and gender.

After Germany’s surrender, the U.S. was preparing to redeploy military from Europe to join Pacific forces in the invasion of Japan. With several hundred thousand U.S. servicemen and women already dead, the prediction of countless more American deaths in a Pacific invasion was sobering.

Celebration of the victory in Europe in May 1945 was tempered — subdued by official efforts to limit sales of alcohol on VE Day, and seeded with reminders that the conflict was far from over.

When Japan refused the Potsdam Declaration and President Truman’s July 26 demand for surrender, the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, killing more than 150,000 Japanese citizens, approximately half of whom died instantly.

The Japanese surrendered a week later on Aug. 15, 1945 (Aug. 14 in the Western Hemisphere). Emperor Hirohito stated, “Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.” The official surrender signing occurred Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

The end of WWII was a cause of great relief and celebration for the U.S. military, their families and the entire country. Public celebrations drew the largest crowd in history to New York’s Times Square. Servicemen embarked on delirious kissing rampages coast-to-coast, and a memorable display of fireworks lit up Portland’s own Chinatown. Life magazine reported an outpouring of emotion nationwide, "as if joy had been rationed and saved up for three years, eight months and seven days since Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941," especially for those whose lives and loved ones remained yet unharmed.

At Oregon City's Museum of the Oregon Territory, 211 Tumwater Drive, Thursday, Aug. 14, a seated program will begin at 7 p.m. with professional speaker Sig Unander, a journalist and filmmaker with experience in aeronautics, veterans history and multi-cultural political relations.

Unander will present his research on Claire Phillips (1907-1960), the only Oregonian woman to receive the highest U.S. civilian decoration — the Medal of Freedom — for her espionage, imprisonment and humanitarian activities in the Philippines during the Second World War.

Unander is working on a documentary film and a biography on Phillips, and leading a committee to develop a public memorial to honor her legacy.

Starting at 4 p.m., “The End of WWII” at MOOT includes screenings of the documentary film “Jungaleers in Battle” directed by Oregon National Guard Lt. Col. Alisha Hamel, a rare 1942 Plymouth Marine Corps staff car, representatives of the B17 Alliance Group (Bomber Restaurant Museum of Milwaukie), Historical Outreach Foundation, and the Military Vehicles Collectors Club of Oregon.