65th anniversary of V-J Day

  • Did you know ... ?World War II lasted from 1939 to 1945.

    405,000 Americans died during the war.

    Rhode Island is the only state with a dedicated V-J Day holiday.

    Worldwide, V-J Day is celebrated on two days: Aug. 15, ...

  • SHOW ALL »
  • Did you know ... ?World War II lasted from 1939 to 1945.

    405,000 Americans died during the war.

    Rhode Island is the only state with a dedicated V-J Day holiday.

    Worldwide, V-J Day is celebrated on two days: Aug. 15, the day fighting ended with Japan, and Sept. 2, when Japan surrendered.

    92 Victoria veterans died in the war.

    Sources: History.com, Joe Kovar, Crossroads area veteran

The iconic image of a sailor smooching his girl in Times Square comes to many people's minds when they consider V-J Day, but that isn't the whole story. Millions fought for their countries and freedom, and each person boasts tales of the battles, friendships and struggles they experienced.

Thursday is the 65th anniversary of V-J Day, which marks the end of the Second World War, the day Japan officially surrendered.

Here, three Crossroads veterans share their memories of the war and its end.

Front-row glimpse at history

Dr. Charles L. Borchers got an unexpected front-row seat to V-J Day while stationed with the Army.

Borchers, now 85, and his unit boarded a ship off the Philippine islands, where they'd spent about four months, and embarked on a 12-day sail to Tokyo Bay after the first atom bomb fell on Japan.

Although the unit got word there had been a verbal surrender, they hadn't yet heard whether the United States accepted.

Borchers and the others in his unit awoke Sept. 1, 1945 to find themselves docked about 300 yards from the USS Missouri, the site of Japan's surrender ceremony. He watched from his ship's deck.

"It was a wonderful climax," Borchers said, explaining he was overseas with the Army about 18 months in total. "There were literally hundreds of B-29s - our biggest bombers - flying overhead during the surrender ceremony in the opposite direction from where the ones that bombed Pearl Harbor flew. They say there were a thousand of them."

And, while the troops were proud of their victory, Borchers said they still presented themselves professionally.

"We were dignified victors, let's put it that way," he said. "We didn't scream and holler or act as poor sports at all."

Borchers remained on with the occupation Army and made his way home in 1946. He said he counts himself fortunate to have made it safely home.

"It sure wasn't my prowess or my skill that got me through," he said. "It was luck."

Although the time was a meaningful part of his life, Borchers said he doesn't consider it an occasion to brag. It's simply important to place meaning on the sacrifices people made throughout the war.

"We lost tens of thousands of American military people," he said. "We need to remember."

A hero's welcome

Joe Kovar was a child during World War II but, with three older brothers who fought, it holds a place in his heart. A story involving his brother Leonard J. Kovar stands out in his mind.

The Marine was on Peleliu Island, which troops believed to be secure, when Japanese soldiers emerged from a cave and fired machine guns. Leonard Kovar was among those selected to "knock the machine gun nest out."

"They had bazookas. They fired and scored a direct hit," Joe Kovar said, explaining said the Marine's didn't realize a second machine gun was hiding in the terrain.

The second shooter shot Leonard Kovar's friend in the back and got him in the shoulder. Although he tried to help them both, he passed out after going for help and woke to find himself on the beach, getting plasma, Joe Kovar, now 77, said.

By the time the troops came home, Joe Kovar was about 13 years old and said he went to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars hall to meet with the brave men he'd heard so much about from his family.

"These were my heroes," said Joe Kovar, who later grew up to join the Navy. "My heroes were coming home."

On the European front

Victoria native John Michael DeLane recalled landing on Normandy Beach with the Army one stormy day.

"It was kind of cool and wet, but we had to dig in because the enemy was right in front of us," DeLane, now 90, said. "There were airplanes in the air so thick it was like blackbirds."

The water was full of vessels trying to land, he said, and the Germans flew low to try to knock soldiers out of the landing.

"Shrapnel was falling and hitting me in the back," he said. "I had a backpack on, which gave me protection."

During the Attack on Hill 192, many people came together to achieve victory.

"We attacked and put up such a tremendous amount of artillery fire that the tall pine trees that were there were cut down in shreds," he said. "The fire power started on the British side and came on down toward us. It was a complete rumble."

His unit was near Pilsin, Czechoslovakia the day they learned the war had ended.

"An announcement came over the radio," DeLane said. "It was from General Patton and it said to cease fire."

So many years later, he said the observance still brings back memories of his time with the military.

"The amount of soldiers that were killed, my friends, my buddies and the amount of Germans that we killed, it was terrible," he said. "And there's not a whole lot of us left."