May 7, 1945, brought the long awaited news that the war in Europe had come to an end. After years of intense fighting across the continent, the German Reich finally surrendered and President Harry Truman and Prime Minister Winston Churchill proclaimed the complete victory in Europe. Hostilities were set to formally cease on May 8 at 6:01 pm Youngstown time, just an hour before midnight in Central Europe. Germany’s unconditional surrender came after nearly six years of bloody conflict which saw the death of 50-60 million military personnel, prisoners of war, and civilians along with persecuted communities through the Holocaust. Adding in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Theatre (ended May 15, 1945) and the Pacific Theatre (ended September 2, 1945), the War’s total death toll was 75-80 million people. President Truman declared that “this is a glorious but solemn hour,” and called on Americans to stick to their tasks until the last battle was won. Both Truman and Churchill urged their nations to turn their attention to the War in the Pacific and to finish the conflict with Japan.
In Youngstown, most folks celebrated the news together. The presidential announcement was hardly finished before the city’s church bells rang. At St. Columba Cathedral, a trumpet sounded “Taps” while 24 altar boys held lit torches in the shape of a V. At Central Square, people were gathered around a speaker to listen to the announcement. Initially, the group was silent, listening intently to President Truman. Women began to cry, people leaned out of office windows to hear the speech, a painter standing on a roof stood motionless with his brush in hand. A group of about 20 teenage boys clung to the sides of an old car, shouting and singing as they drove down Federal Street. Bits of confetti flowed from the windows of the Home Savings and Loan building. A downtown business owner locked his doors and told his employees, “no work today!” He added, “this may mean my boy comes home.”
Business ads throughout The Vindicator had turned their attention to messages of thanks, love, respect, and continued dedication.
The Vindicator’s coverage continued with “a soldier was surrounded by girls showering him with kisses on a sidewalk near The Vindicator. The serviceman, blushing furiously, was trying to walk away but the crowd of women rushed him up the street. Near the Bus Arcade was a soldier waiting for a bus to Akron. ‘Madame,’ he said with a gleam in his eyes, ‘I’ve been waiting for this for two and a half years – in China, Africa and a dozen other places. I’m on my way home and this is going to mean something.’ Another soldier said, ‘I spent my time in the Pacific. This means the supplies are going out there. Boy, am I happy!’ He pulled out a cane he had been holding behind him and limped away.”
Not everyone shared in the celebrations as they noted the continued fighting elsewhere in the world. Families with loved ones serving in the Pacific Theatre maintained their concerns, hopes, and fears. In commenting on the day’s celebration, a mother stated “it doesn’t mean anything to me. My boy is in the South Pacific.”
A Youngstown Vindicator headline read “City’s Youth Pays Victory Price in Blood” along with a list of area casualties. The Youngstown area had had nearly 9,000 casualties, including those who were killed, wounded, missing, or taken prisoner. “Gold Stars in service flags, crippled bodies, thousands of graves in distant lands, aching hearts at home – these are the price the United States has paid for its part in the victory over Germany and advances against Japan.”
The Mahoning Valley’s role in supporting the war effort did not go unnoticed. At the time, the Valley was the nation’s fourth largest industrial center, producing 10% of the nation’s steel. Some companies offered to transition their output for the war effort, like the William B. Pollock Company which produced blast furnaces, but their regular work was still needed. Others, like Republic Rubber, created airplane hoses and inflatable life preservers (famously known as “Mae Wests”). The number of industrial workers increased by the thousands as production ramped up. In addition to more standard gear, some companies were working on targeted projects for the military. These included steel landing mats used on the beaches during invasions, steel sheets in machine gun belts, and even casings for the atomic bomb.
While the communities relished this industrial growth, the community still faced its share of challenges. Families relied on coupon books and rations while food, clothing, and other supplies were scarce. To offset the limited workforce, many women went to work in jobs that had been generally done only by men. Women worked on assembly lines, operated machines, and drove trucks in their effort to support the war industry. The importance of Youngstown’s role in the war effort was clearly noted in a video produced by the US Office of War Information as part of their “American Scene” series.
See the film here at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/47018/.