'Massive relief' in Harford after Japan's surrender ended World War II 70 years ago

Harford residents say atomic bomb strikes saved American, Japanese lives that would have been lost during inva

Seventy years ago Friday, Harford County residents erupted in celebration when they heard the Japan had surrendered to the Allies, bringing the United States' nearly four-year involvement in World War II to an end.

The surrender was announced Tuesday, Aug. 14, 1945, and Harford residents heard the news at 7 p.m. that day, according to the Aug. 17, 1945, edition of The Aegis.

The newspaper reported "a spontaneous and hilarious outburst swept over Harford as overjoyed people expressed a letdown in tension by blowing horns, ringing bells, cheering, singing and driving aimlessly up and down the road."

The reports continued, "There was a unanimous feeling that a period of prosperity is ahead as once again Harford's stalwart sons have the opportunity of turning their energy toward constructive instead of destructive activities, and rejoin home circles which have been broken for many years."

Earlier this week, several people who remember the day World War II recounted memories of not only the celebrations, but also of the years of strife that led up to the Allied victory.

Robbins reflections

Charles "Chuck" Robbins Sr., of Bel Air, was a student at Bel Air High School when the surrender was announced.

He said Tuesday people in Harford felt "massive relief" at the news. The Aegis reported "hundreds of citizens" attended church services that Wednesday morning.

"Church bells rang, and that sort of thing," Robbins said. "Everybody was very, very pleased."

Robbins said this week most Harford County men of fighting age were sent overseas to serve in both the European and the Pacific theaters during World War II, and many who came back became prominent local leaders.

"They became judges, they became legislators ... so they all pitched in to help build this county again," Robbins said.

Robbins, a retired Harford County Public Schools history teacher, who works for the Bel Air law firm of Stark & Keenan, searching land records in the Harford County Courthouse, said civilians on the U.S. homefront gave "100 percent" support to the war effort, and even children and teenagers contributed.

He said his father was a warden, in charge of making sure people complied with blackout conditions during air raid drills, and the he served as a messenger for his father.

His job involved rushing to the Bel Air Reckord Armory during drills to pick up messages.

"The civilians here supported it to the utmost degree," Robbins said.

He said Bel Air High School was prepared for air raids with buckets of sand on hand to smother flames.

In those days, Robbins could get a driver's license when he was 14, and he drove a truck to Fort Hoyle in Edgewood – the present-day site of the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground – to pick up German prisoners of war and take them to work on farms along the Gunpowder River in present-day Joppatowne.

Robbins then drove the prisoners back to Fort Hoyle at the end of the work day.

"They were hard workers, never any problem whatsoever," he said.

The end of the war also meant the end of rationing of food, fuel and raw materials such as rubber and metal in the U.S.

Robbins said his mother had to determine if she had enough "points" if she wanted to buy meat at the market.

"There was severe rationing, but everyone went along with it," he said. "The biggest complaint among kids was, you couldn't get any Hershey bars."

McMahan's perspective

County Councilman Jim McMahan, of Bel Air, was 8 when Japan surrendered and also remembers rationing.

"I remember my mother carrying food tokens, shopping at the Acme on Main Street," he said Wednesday. "I remember Mother rationing the food in our pantry, organizing it before the war was over and getting enough tokens for sugar and eggs and milk, coffee."

Truman's order to drop two atomic bombs on Japan – the first was dropped on the city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and the second was dropped on the city of Nagasaki on Aug. 9 – is credited with forcing Japan to surrender.

McMahan said he remembers celebrations of Japan's surrender being subdued compared to the exuberant celebrations at the news of Germany's surrender in May 1945.

He said the American public could see images of the destruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki soon after the bombs were dropped.

"We were overjoyed that the world was, hopefully, going to be at peace," he said. "The pictures coming out of Japan tempered the elation that most Americans felt with the second phase of bringing World War II to an end."

McMahan had relatives and family friends who fought in the Pacific. He said his uncle, Ted McMahan, who became a Baptist minister in Richmond Va., brought back Japanese military swords for his brothers, and he gave a rifle bayonet to his 8-year-old nephew.

"Uncle Ted said, 'Jimmy, I'm going to give you a bayonet,'" McMahan, who inherited the sword from his late father, recalled. "I was very happy to get it."

Signalman's perspective

Sterling I. "Socky" Solomon, 87, of Bel Air, was in training as a Navy signalman when the atomic bombs were dropped, and he was expecting to be a signalman on boats bringing American troops to the Japanese coast.

He said his trainers told him and his classmates that massive American casualties were to be expected.

"I say this to everyone, regardless of where my politics are today, I'm happy for Harry dropping the bomb, because I'm still here, as well as several other veterans of World War II," Solomon said of the president's order.

Solomon, who joined the Navy at 17 years old, left San Francisco in a troop ship bound for Tokyo Bay in Japan after the surrender.

His vessel spent two days in the bay, but he did not go ashore, and then the ship left for Incheon in present-day South Korea.

Solomon was a port director, and he and his fellow sailors directed commercial and military vessels in and out of the harbor.

Solomon spent about one month in Korea, which had been occupied by Japan. He said the Koreans were "very nice people," but they remarked to the Americans that they had already dealt with previous Japanese, Russian and Chinese occupations, and asked "would everyone please, please just go home and let us be ourselves?"

He was then shipped to the port city of Tsingtao, China, which is called Qingdao today. He spent nine months there communicating with boats coming in and out of the harbor.

Solomon said the food in China was good, but he did not have fresh items such as milk and produce that he would have in the U.S.

He said that when he returned to San Francisco in 1946, "the first thing I had was three halves of cantaloupe filled with ice cream and about four or five glasses of milk."

Solomon went on to obtain his high school equivalency, an associate's degree, a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. He is a retired systems analyst, who spent his career working with nonprofit entities that were Navy contractors helping the service prepare for anti-submarine warfare.

McMahan said he continued to see his uncle Ted as a teenager and an adult, but he never talked about the war or how he acquired the swords and bayonet.

"We never talked about those two pieces," McMahan said. "Most of those guys came back, they didn't talk a whole lot about the war."

He said he has also learned more about the circumstances that compelled Truman to order the atomic bomb strikes and the risk of massive U.S. military and Japanese civilian casualties, if a conventional invasion happened.

"Old Harry said, 'the buck stops here,' and Harry made the decision," McMahan said. "My regret is that man's inhumanity to man never ceases to come to an end."

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