Past Times

World War II ended with dancing in the streets of Raleigh

Crowds in New York's Times Square celebrate the announcement of the Japanese surrender in 1945.
Crowds in New York's Times Square celebrate the announcement of the Japanese surrender in 1945. Library of Congress

Although Victory in Europe had occurred some weeks before, the surrender of Japan on Aug. 14, 1945, launched celebrations nationwide. Writer Bill Womble described the jubilant scene in Raleigh.

War’s end, bursting upon Raleigh at 7:02 last night, sent the Capital City into its wildest celebration in a generation, with thousands swarming through uptown streets, blowing auto horns, ringing cow bells, sounding trumpets, and employing whatever other means at hand to make a noise.

Fayetteville Street – the city’s chief thoroughfare – was packed and jammed with automobiles within 10 minutes after the radio and news wires brought President Truman’s official announcement of Japan’s capitulation. Sirens screamed, horns raised an unearthly din, and crowds along the street yelled jubilantly.

Even the Fire Department joined in the celebration, sending out its big hook and ladder truck on which was displayed a large sign reading “Victory is Complete.” The big siren cleared a path for the truck until traffic became so jammed that drivers had no room to pull to one side.

Despite the noisiness of the celebration, police reported that the crowds were refraining from damaging property, and there had been no major accidents at a late hour.

Like the rest of America, Raleigh had waited in suspense for nearly five days to hear the word that the Japs had quit. There had been little work in local business offices yesterday, most employees staying close by radios to keep up with latest developments.

When word did come, it was as if a dam had broken.

Suddenly, hundreds of cars converged upon the business district, all of them trying to crowd into Fayetteville Street. Horns blew continuously; and happy occupants of the cars yelled and shouted. Paper streamers were thrown from many cars. Youngsters perched on the front fenders of scores of machines.

By 7:30, an estimated 20,000 persons were on the sidewalks of the main street. Several hundreds of them milled up and down, shouting at the top of their voices, but most of them stood on corners, watching the big motor parade.

Within a few minutes after the President’s announcement, practically all of Raleigh’s beer and wine places had closed. Military police, patrolling all uptown streets, asked the few remaining ones to close, and they did so promptly. Later, Governor Cherry officially requested the closings by radio, broadcast State-wide.

Police Chief Ralph Hargrove called in extra patrolmen here shortly after 7 o’clock, and they were assigned to direct uptown traffic. Auxiliary policemen, who had been instructed to stand by, were ready when summoned and were assigned to prevent the turning in of false fire alarms. Only one such alarm had been received late last night.

City buses found it impossible to keep up with their schedules, due to traffic jams uptown, but they continued on their runs throughout the celebration.

Hundreds of servicemen, a majority of them overseas veterans visiting here from Camp Butner, joined heartily in the celebration. A few residents had managed to find pre-war firecrackers, and these were brought into play to help out in the noise. Several youths were seen parading downtown, wearing Nazi helmets that had been sent back home as souvenirs. One boy brought along his bugle and merrily sounded the “Attention” call as he walked along with buddies. …

Police said the usual New Year’s Eve night celebrations here were like “Sunday School picnics” as compared with last night’s. The N&O Aug. 15, 1945

The festivities extended beyond Raleigh to all corners of the state.

From Manteo to Murphy, in the villages and in the cities, North Carolinians last night celebrated the end of the Japanese war – with shouts and whistles and parties and with thanksgiving services in the churches.

In Charlotte one of the worst traffic snarls in the city’s history tied up movement at Independence Square in the heart of the city as long strings of cars, with yelling occupants shooting firecrackers and blowing horns, moved as far as the eye could see from all directions toward the square.

At Lumberton the fire whistle blew 14 times and citizens soon were congregating downtown celebrating. All businesses, except the tobacco market, will be closed today. An informal service of praise was held last night at the First Baptist Church. A community service will be held at the city armory tonight. A parade will be held this afternoon, led by the high school band.

Civilians and military personnel jammed the streets of the business district in Asheville last night shortly after the news of Japan’s surrender was announced. Cars were jammed bumper to bumper on all streets with horns and exhaust whistles going full blast. Many vehicles were packed with dozens of persons, some even riding on the tops and fenders of the cars. Teenagers were seen in a long snake dance of about 200 persons weaving in and out between the creeping automobiles that were getting out of one traffic jam and into another. Pedestrians were jammed on all the sidewalks and even out into the streets with all business establishments closed until Thursday. …

Most cities and towns in the State will observe today as a holiday, according to plans previously announced, while others will wait until official V-J Day. Many places held special church services last night while others have planned services today. The N&O Aug. 15, 1945

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

Many newspapers across the country captured images of the Americans celebrating victory over Japan. Unfortunately, the Raleigh papers were not among them. If you have photographs of the Raleigh celebrations, please share them with us. Email photos to tleonard@newsobserver.com, and we will post them in the Past Times blog.

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