Culture & Literature
LIFE VJ Day 75 Years Later

LIFE VJ Day 75 Years Later

LIFE VJ Day 75 Years Later

75 years ago, Americans and the Allied forces around the globe cheered, cried, and danced with relief to celebrate the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II, the most devastating conflict in human history. But as this special edition from LIFE demonstrates in vivid detail, the road to Allied victory in the Pacific and the subsequent end to the war was tortuous and fraught with uncertainty: from the crushing blow of Pearl Harbor, through savage bloodbaths at sea and on teeming jungle islands, and culminating with an apocalyptic weapon that still casts a shadow over humanity. Told through the vivid photography that defines LIFE and accompanying text, LIFE The Road to VJ Day reminds readers of the sacrifices made decades ago, and how they still resonate today.

United States
Meredith Corporation
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R 253,86

in this issue

5 min.
vj day: relief, rejoicing, and a reckoning

ON THE EVENING OF AUGUST 14, 1945, THE words “Official—Truman announces Japanese surrender” streamed around the New York Times Tower’s news zipper. President Harry S. Truman’s proclamation marking the end of World War II unleashed a wave of communal ecstasy. Before long, some 2 million people packed into Times Square. They tossed hats into the air, cheered, embraced, and cried. From high up in office buildings and hotels, others threw down confetti and streamers. “The victory roar that greeted the announcement beat upon the eardrums until it numbed the senses,” observed the Times. Meanwhile, locals dressed in ritualistic dragon costumes led processions along Chinatown’s narrow downtown streets as people crammed onto fire escapes, waved American and Chinese flags, and watched the sacred dance that symbolized peace. Across the East River in…

14 min.
dawn of the empire of the rising sun: 1937-1941

ON THE EVENING OF JULY 7, 1937, JAPANESE soldiers took part in training exercises on the banks of China’s Yongding River near Wanping’s Marco Polo Bridge. The troops were there thanks to a 1901 treaty known as the Boxer Protocol, which allowed the Empire of Japan, along with several other countries, to keep a garrison in nearby Beijing to defend its diplomatic legation. On this summer night, the Japanese did more than merely drill by the riverside—they exchanged shots with Chinese troops. It’s not clear who fired first, but Japan claimed one of its soldiers had gone missing and insisted on searching the city, returning to Wanping the next morning with armored vehicles. Things escalated from there: The Marco Polo Bridge Incident would ignite the Second Sino-Japanese War, considered by…

15 min.
conquering islands to turn the tide: 1942-1943

THE JAPANESE ATTACKED FAR MORE than Pearl Harbor. At the same time, they set off months of invasions, targeting Thailand, Guam, Wake Island, Hong Kong, and Malaya. Their forces sieged Singapore, cut off ​its water supply, and forced British Lieutenant General Arthur Percival to surrender to General Tomoyuki Yamashita on February 15, 1942. They attacked Burma to the west, while in the east capturing the Dutch East Indies islands of Sulawesi, Bali, Timor, Java, Borneo, and parts of New Guinea. When the Japanese bombed Hawaii, General Douglas MacArthur was awakened with the news. Commander of U.S. Army forces in the Far East, the brilliant and imperious World War I hero was based in the Philippines and realized Japan also coveted that semi-independent commonwealth. Japanese pilots flying toward the main Philippine island…

2 min.
casablanca east

MANILA’S TSUBAKI CLUB offered guests cool drinks, torch songs, and alluring women. Most of all, Japanese officers and businessmen visiting the night spot on Manila Bay enjoyed the attentions of Dorothy Fuentes, the curvy Filipina-Italian hostess with the high-slit gown. Little did they know Fuentes was really Claire Phillips, a singer turned Allied spy from Portland, Oregon. The widow of Sergeant John Phillips, who survived the Bataan Death March but died in Cabanatuan prison camp in July 1942, she opened the Tsubaki Club that fall—naming it for the Japanese camellia flower—and used it as the base for her espionage ring. At the nightclub’s small cocktail tables, the audience took in the show, and happily listened to such popular prewar American standards as “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.”…

13 min.
i shall die for the emperor: 1944

BY MID 1944, THE ALLIES CONTROLLED THE Solomon, Marshall, and Gilbert Islands in the western Pacific, and American submarines were having a field day sinking Japanese troop ships and warships and severing their maritime supply lines. As Commander Thomas Jeter had proclaimed two years earlier: An eye for an eye, A tooth for a tooth, This Sunday, it’s our turn to shoot. Remember Pearl Harbor. The Japanese still held the Mariana Islands, the Philippines, the Caroline Islands, and others. Yet their heavily fortified base on Rabaul in New Britain had been isolated and thus neutralized—so, in General Douglas MacArthur’s words, it should just “wither on the vine.” And then on March 31, Admiral Mineichi Koga, who succeeded Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto as commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese fleet, died when his plane crashed during a typhoon. In…

2 min.
war seen through his lens

THE LIFE MAGAZINE WRITER-photographer team of Carl and Shelley Mydans headed to China in 1941 to cover the Second Sino-Japanese War. Their piece “Defenders of the Philippines” had just arrived in New York when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Like thousands of other foreign nationals, the couple was tossed into Manila’s Santo Tomás University internment camp and were soon shipped to a camp in Shanghai. Then, in 1943, the Mydanses became part of a rare prisoner exchange, returning home aboard the Swedish repatriation ship Gripsholm with the likes of the British adventurer turned Chinese general Morris “Two-Gun” Cohen and the New Yorker writer Emily Hahn. After photographing a Japanese American internment camp in California, Mydans set out to cover the Allied liberation of France and Italy. He then returned to the…