It’s a little quiet here in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

Because today is Victory Day, formerly known as VJ Day, formerly known as Victory Over Japan Day. The progression of names to the generic Victory Day was to accomodate the hurt feelings of, umm, who exactly? The Japanese over whom we were victorious and who started it but couldn’t finish it? Historically the day is to mark Victory Over Japan, but history is a casualty of the war waged by political correctness and hurt feelings.

So Victory Day it is. Rhode Island is the only state that still celebrates the victory. Wait, how can we even use the term “victory”? Isn’t that some sort of microaggression, don’t all participants in war get a trophy?

I have covered Victory Day almost every year, scroll through the Victory Day tag for prior posts and some history.

Every year, local Rhode Island media covers the holiday. Here’s an excerpt from WPRI’s extensive article on the history of the holiday:

Like Del’s Lemonade or Saugy dogs, Victory Day is a unique summertime tradition in the Ocean State.

Monday is Rhode Island’s 71st annual Victory Day, continuing the state’s custom of being the only one that observes a legal holiday to mark the end of World War II. While the actual event it commemorates happened on Aug. 14, when Japan’s surrender was announced here, the holiday is now observed on the second Monday in August.

And no, despite what many residents believe, the legal name of Rhode Island’s holiday was never “V-J Day” (short for “Victory Over Japan”). It has always been called “Victory Day” on the statute books, going back to its establishment in 1948.

Rhode Island has apparently been on its own since the late 1960s or ’70s, when Arkansas dropped its version of Victory Day — known there as “World War II Memorial Day” — and reportedly gave state workers their birthdays off as a consolation. (While some websites claim Victory Day used to be a federal holiday, too, that appears to be a myth – there is no evidence for it in an authoritative 1999 U.S. Senate report on the topic.)

As far back as the 1950s, The New York Times wrote that Victory Day – which the paper, like many news outlets then and now, referred to as “V-J Day” – was “always a big legal holiday in Rhode Island.” In the “Encyclopedia of American Holidays and National Days,” author Len Travers remarks, “The tenacity of Rhode Island in celebrating Aug. 14 deserves special attention for its interplay of state, local, national, and even international politics.”

1 in 10 Rhode Islanders went to war

Rhode Island established Victory Day in March 1948, almost three years after the end of World War II, when the General Assembly passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Richard Windsor, a long-serving East Providence Republican, to designate Aug. 14 as a state holiday. (The legislature changed the law in the late 1960s to set the holiday as the second Monday in August.) The American Legion had been pushing the idea since as early as 1946.

The Providence Journal documents how even in Rhode Island, the holiday has faded:

Once, this state and others observed “Victory over Japan Day” and “V-J Day,” as it was called, with spirited ceremony. The original celebrations, in late summer 1945, brought dancing in the streets. Times Square overflowed with the joyous. President Harry S. Truman proclaimed a national observance.

But time passed. Tenor tempered: Japan had surrendered after the only two atomic bombs ever used against humans were dropped on civilian residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 2019, only Rhode Island keeps Victory Day on its calendar.

If any official observances were planned for Monday, they were not widely publicized. But not far from Veterans Memorial Cemetery, beach traffic was thick and stores were busy. Three-quarters of a century is a long time.

Still, some remember.

“As long as there are veterans alive who fought in the brutal Pacific war, Victory Day must continue to be observed,” Tim Gray, documentary filmmaker and founder of The World War II Foundation, told The Journal.

“We owe it to the men who fought, survived and in many cases, died on islands nobody had ever heard of then and unfortunately have been largely forgotten today. It’s a way to remember who they were and what they did for all of us.”

Said Kasim Yarn, director of the Rhode Island Office of Veterans Affairs: “To the ‘Greatest Generation’ that shaped the world, thank you!”

Every year I post this video of the original Victory Over Japan Day in Honolulu, August 14, 1945, as we remember the over 160,000 Americans killed in the Pacific theater.

VJ Day, Honolulu Hawaii, August 14, 1945 from Richard Sullivan on Vimeo.

That original VJ Day gave us the iconic image of a sailor kissing nurse in Times Square.

Both the nurse and the sailor have passed away. And so have our memories.

There’s only one place where Victory Over Japan Day has not faded — at Legal Insurrection. As long as we have the strength to push down on the keyboard with our bloodied, swollen fingers, we will recall this day of victory.


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