Spirit of ’45 DayUpdated: August 14, 2023
What is Spirit of ‘45 Day? This observance, held annually on the second Sunday of August, should not be confused by the Ken Loach film titled, The Spirit Of ‘45, which is a post-World War Two documentary about changes in Britain circa 1945 with the advent of Labor party leader Clement Attlee.
Spirit of ’45 Day will next be observed on the second weekend in August (Fri. Aug. 9 – Sun. Aug. 11, 2024), coinciding with the anniversary of Aug. 14, 1945.
But Spirit of ‘45 Day is related to the end of World War Two, and as we’ll see it is an international effort to pay tribute to what Tom Brokaw and many others term “The Greatest Generation”; the men and women who served their country and contributed to the Allied victory over Nazis, Italian fascists, and Japanese Imperial forces in World War Two all around the world.
What Is Meant By “The Spirit Of ‘45”
On Aug. 14th, 1945, President Harry S. Truman announced to the world that World War Two had ended; years earlier at the conclusion of World War One, there was a feeling that such a global catastrophe couldn’t possibly happen again. Hence the nickname for World War One, “The War To End All Wars”.
At the end of World War Two, which included tremendously destructive acts on all sides including the German invasion of Russia, the American firebombing of Dresden, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, and many more, the world seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief that the end of hostilities was finally, truly here.
Upon the announcement on Aug. 14, 1945, war had ended, spontaneous celebrations broke out all over the world.
Some may feel confused at this point; weren’t the Nazis in “surrender” mode in May of 1945 and not August? Victory In Europe Day, aka V-E Day, marks the formal surrender of Nazi forces on May 8.
But Japan had not yet surrendered and the war in the Pacific would wear on until Aug. 14, 1945 when the Japanese formally surrendered. “VJ Day,” or Victory Over Japan Day is celebrated on the 14th, but thanks to time zone differences the Japanese surrender occurred on Aug. 15th, 1945 on Tokyo time.
Japan’s surrender, presided over by General Douglas MacArthur and the Japanese foreign minister, Mamoru Shigemitsu, occurred on board the U.S. Navy battleship Missouri. It was a bitter defeat for Japan; Emperor Hirohito addressed Japan by radio stating that a continuation of hostilities would likely result in “the obliteration of the Japanese nation.”
With VJ Day, World War Two fighting was over, and the celebrations began–Aug. 14th, 1945 is the day one of the most famous images from the wartime era was shot–the famous “kiss” photo featuring a celebrating sailor kissing a random passerby.
The exuberance of this moment was actually captured by not one, but TWO photographers in 1945; Navy Lieutenant Victor Jorgensen, and professional photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt.
In the wake of the end of global conflict, Americans and everyone else got on with the business of rebuilding ordinary life in peacetime.
Over the years World War Two troops, volunteers, and many others had come to be recognized as “The Greatest Generation” in one form or another. But it wasn’t until relatively recent times that “the Spirit of ‘45” itself would come to be honored in a contemporary sense.
How It All Began For Spirit Of ‘45 Day
In 2010, Congress unanimously voted to observe the second Sunday in August as National Spirit of ‘45 Day. Since then a grassroots, non-profit movement to observe Spirit of ‘45 Day has sprung up, uniting hundreds of companies and agencies in an effort to remember those who served during World War Two.
The number of veterans, volunteers, and others who served in the war is steadily dwindling; the famed Doolittle Raiders who flew over Tokyo in 1942 celebrated the 75th anniversary of that mission in 2017. The Spirit of ‘45 Day honors the legacies of these men and women but also those of their families and friends.
The Non-Profit Agency Supporting The Spirit Of ‘45
There’s an agency called Keep the Spirit of ’45 ALIVE which is dedicated to preserving the memory of the Greatest Generation.
This non-profit coalition has its origins in a NASA project from the mid 90s which documented lives of those who were involved in World War Two. “Stories of Service,” helped tell the stories of senior citizens who were there during the war.
The project inspired those involved with it; when the NASA project was over there was enthusiasm to keep going, and in the 21st century the Keep the Spirit of ’45 ALIVE project grew into a series of events nationwide.
How Spirit Of ‘45 Day Is Celebrated
The coalition is a loosely organized one and observations are done on a local level by entities and agencies rather than by a central planning committee operated by the coalition. There are some high-profile activities associated with the day including events supported by Major League Baseball.
Some of the most visible observations come in the form of public gatherings but not always on the second Sunday of August; every year volunteers march with the likenesses or photographs of those in the Greatest Generation as part of the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, DC in May.
This also happens in Veterans Day parades in major cities like New York, Indianapolis, Dallas, and elsewhere. These parades are held in November.
You may find individual military bases or units celebrating the second Sunday in August, but these are likely organized on the local level and not in a centralized way by the Department of Defense, though there are plenty of on-paper observations, social media posts, interviews, and other media events related to the day.
The power and popularity of these observations seems to grow steadily; in In 2015, American governors issued state proclamations in all 50 states noting the Spirit of ’45 World War II 70th Anniversary Commemoration, an incredible show of support for a grassroots movement that started with a humble oral history project only to grow into a national day of remembrance.