Bells, Whistles, Horns, and Tears … Remembering August 14, 1945
Today is Charlie Willoughy’s 87th birthday. He’s a tough ex-marine with a tender heart.
He’s working this week at Dry Creek Camp beside other volunteers from Louisiana Campers on Missions. After singing happy birthday to him this morning, Charlie was asked to give the breakfast blessing. He began, “Lord, I thank you for another day and that I’m still able to work and be used by You.”
When he finished thanking God for life, blessings, and good friends, there weren’t many dry eyes in the dining hall.
I led a devotion with Campers on Mission this morning and chose to share about the tabernacle as outlined in Exodus. I related it to Dry Creek’s most famous building, the Dave Sargent Tabernacle and shared a story about Dry Creek Camp on V-J Day: Tuesday, August 14, 1945. (More on that later).
Most of the Camper on Missions are over seventy and I asked, “Where were you on V-J Day when you heard the news of the war being over?”
The birthday boy, Charlie Willougby, raised his hand. “I was in the Hawaiian Islands training for the coming invasion of Japan.* We’d been learning Japanese so we could give simple commands and read road signs.”
Charlie paused and scanned the room. “If it hadn’t been for that bomb, I wouldn’t be at Dry Creek today. It saved my life and many others.” His voice broke and the room was filled with awed silence.
Others in the room shared their memories from that August 1945 day: Fred Hunter was a boy living near his grandparents. His grandmother always blew a cow horn at mealtime. On this afternoon, she blew the horn repeatedly. Having the only radio, she’d heard the news and used the cow horn to gather everyone.
Clarence Cole told how his father shut down his steam-operated sawmill and blew the mill whistle over and over to spread the news.
A lady stood and, in a rich South Louisiana accent, said, “They say Bayou LaFourche is the longest street in America. The postman was the first to break the good news as he began his daily southward journey. Before he reached the end of the Bayou, folks were waiting to tell him the news of the Japanese surrender.
In Dry Creek, the yearly ten day camp was taking place. Gilda Sweat Richmond shared this moving account. “It was mid-afternoon and thousands of campers were spread across the grounds. The camp bell began pealing and word spread for everyone to come to the Tabernacle.
“Once assembled, camp leader Uncle Dave Sargent announced that the Japanese had surrendered and the war was over. People began shouting, crying, and running out of the building. “ Mrs. Richmond sighed. “It was such a bittersweet moment for me. My brother Pete had been killed in the last days of fighting in Europe. Two other young men from my church had also died that year. Many others would be coming home, but my brother wouldn’t be one of them.
“It was such a bittersweet moment in the Tabernacle. Everyone had at least one close family member serving in harm’s way. I was happy for all of them but sad for me. My brother Pete wouldn’t be coming home.”
I write for a reason. I list these reasons as to “entertain, educate, and encourage.”
I also write to remember. My job—my calling—is to capture the stories and memories of others and share them within my circle of influence.
Stories of bells, whistles, and horns.
Stories of joy and sadness.
Do you remember V-J Day? If so, tell us about where you were. If, like me, you weren’t around, ask those who were. They will share rich and vivid memories of that day.
*The Invasion of Japan was planned but never happened. General MacArthur expected one million Allied casualties and ten million Japanese, mostly civilians.
The use of the first two atomic bombs will always be controversial, but its hard to doubt its use was essential when you hear an 87 year old ex-marine, voice shaking, say, “If it hadn’t been for that bomb, I wouldn’t be here today.”