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70 years later, recalling V-E Day's tempered jubilation

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Marking the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, WWII's victory in Europe.

Seventy years have passed since Fallston resident Willard H. Blevins was wounded while fighting near the Rhine River in Germany, but the World War II veteran still has pieces of shrapnel in his leg.

Blevins, 91, was a squad leader with the Army's 90th Infantry Division when he was wounded March 15, 1945. A German rocket hit a house where he and fellow soldiers were taking cover.

"Got five of us with one shot," Blevins said.

He was recovering in a hospital in England when Nazi Germany surrendered weeks later, on May 8, 1945 — what came to be known as V-E Day, or Victory in Europe Day — bringing an end to the fighting in Europe that had started nearly six years earlier.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, and commemorations are scheduled in Europe and the United States. In Washington, a World War II nonprofit and the National Park Service will co-host an event at 10:30 a.m. at the World War II Memorial.

V-E Day wasn't the end of the war — the surrender of Japan didn't come until August 1945 — yet Germany's surrender was celebrated with jubilation by Allied and liberated European nations.

Blevins, who grew up on a Jarrettsville farm, said people in England "went crazy," but his own reaction was tempered.

"I was just happy about it, but I was with a lot of wounded guys," he said.

Measured celebration was experienced in the U.S. as well. Jim McMahan, a lifelong Bel Air resident and current Harford County councilman, was 6 years old and visiting relatives in Baltimore when the family heard of Germany's surrender in a bulletin over the radio.

He remembers people in Baltimore reacting "like an out-of-control group of fans after a great sports win," but also recalled how he and his mother went back to Bel Air to gather with neighbors at church that evening.

"There was jubilation mixed with apprehension, because we were still at war in the Pacific," he said.

Dozens of World War II veterans and representatives of the United States and the embassies of nearly 30 European allied nations will take part in today's ceremonies in Washington, laying wreaths at the "Freedom Wall" in memory of more than 400,000 Americans and 60 million people killed worldwide during World War II.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was born in Prague and whose family spent the war years in exile in England, will speak at the event.

The ceremony will be followed by the Arsenal of Democracy World War II Victory Capitol Flyover, which will include dozens of World War II aircraft flying in 15 formations. The flyover is set to start at 12:10 p.m. and last about 40 minutes.

daanderson@baltsun.com

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