At 5:30 on the morning of Aug. 14, 1945, Geraldine Wyatt heard shouting. That evening, she would write to her husband, Bill, who was stationed in Italy, “I was awakened by boys calling ‘Extra! Japan Surrenders!’ Joanna [her sister, who had spent the night] and I ran up the street in our pajamas to catch the paper boy.”
But a formal surrender had yet to be signed, the paper said. For most of the day, the era’s less-than-instant communications dealt hand after hand of uncertainty. Was it true? Should they celebrate, or keep emotions in check? She and her toddler, Betsy, along with Joanna and a girlfriend, went to the movies on Capitol Street in Charleston, still hoping for an official announcement. After watching Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in “Anchors Aweigh!” she window shopped until about 7 p.m.
Her letter continued, “We were in front of Weylands Drug Store when I noticed I was hearing horns blow and it kept getting more, and cars started up Capitol Street at a steady stream so I knew what had happened. Honesty, I could hardly keep from crying, I was so happy.” Of the drive back to their home in St. Albans, she added, “Betsy got her fill of horn blowing.”
The next day, Bill’s 13-year-old sister, Nancy, wrote to her big brother. “When the first news came, we got up about 4:00 a.m. and didn’t go back to bed. You could hear car horns and whistles. When it came over the radio that the [official announcement] hadn’t come yet, there wasn’t any more noise. In the evening I was doing dishes when [President Harry Truman’s] announcement came. The war was over. I finished the dishes as the horns and whistles started again. We got everything we could and went up and down the hill carrying flags, ringing bells, and blowing horns. Amelia Riddle’s grandma took me and Jeanette [another sister] over town to Capitol Street. Everybody was hollering, horns tooting, flags waving and everything, so many people that they had to close the street. Plenty of people had bottles of whiskey and beer. A loud speaker was playing ‘I want to go back to West Virginia.’ ” She added a PS: “It just came over the radio that gas rationing has ended.”
In Italy, Cpl. Bill Wyatt had heard rumors that Japan had surrendered, but it was not until the following day that official word came through to the troops.
“Everyone here took the news calmly,” he wrote to Geraldine and his little daughter. “About all anyone has talked about is home. We did our usual work today and at chow this evening the cooks were even celebrating. They made cake and each fellow got a piece with the letters V-J on it.”
He had been in Italy for a year and would stay there until early January 1946, when he boarded a Liberty Ship for home. Four weeks later, he sailed by the Statue of Liberty, the stoic Lady who beckoned to my father, his brother, Stanley, his brother-in-law, Norris Brown, and many, many others who served, as if to say, “You are home now. Well done.”
He was processed out of the Army in New York and, a week later, on Feb. 7, 1946, in the wee hours of the morning, he stepped off the train at the depot on the south side of the Kanawha River in Charleston. His father was there to meet him, as was Geraldine. It was their fifth anniversary.