On May 8th 1945 the news spread fast that the Germans had surrendered. In the big cities, like London, an eruption of joy and spontaneous celebration occured as years of fear had comed to an end. All over Europe the people went out into the streets to join in the sentiments of hapiness, anger and sorrow…
The men of the 101st Airborne Division had moved from the German Ruhr area into the Bavarian Alps and Austria in late April 1945. There was a rumor that die-hard German fanatics were preparing a last-stand but the general feeling was that the defeat of the German Army was close at hand. Endless groups of German soldiers were marching towards various POW camps, sometimes with just a few Allied guards and often even under control of their own senior officers !
When the news of the German surrender reached the Paratroopers the ‘liberated’ liquor that was found in the cellars of the German Alpine villages was consumed freely in a hard earned celebration. Victory at last. G.I. Joe drank the Schnaps, the wine, the cider and all other bottles he could open. From D-Day on it had been hardly a year, but all of the men had changed. They had lost buddies, friends and most of the men of the 101st had matured fast since leaving the United States. Had they made it through the war ? Would they return home relatively unscarred for the eye, to be reunited with their loved ones ? VE Day found other troopers in hospitals in France, England and America. Forrest J. Nichols of B-Company 502nd PIR, for example, celebrated VE day in a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, recovering from a chuck of German mortar sharpnel that hit him in his foxhole near Champs during ‘The Bulge’.
Still the war was not over… Japan kept up the fight, a bloody battle in which the Paratroopers could participate. The assignment of the various units within the 101st Airborne Division changed to occupational assignments in several villages in Austria. Training for the men was resumed, but it was different. Would they return home soon ? It was no vacation but the troopers engaged in other activities like swimming, hunting in the lush Alps, fishing and ‘souvenir hunting’. Aparently one Regiment even formed a temporary Cavalry Unit ! ‘News’ came the Division would be sent home for a while, to be shipped to the Pacific later. Other ‘laterine’ news told that the Division would march back to France. Some men even volunteered for the Pacific War, stepping up to the Division G1 requesting a transfer… Men with the highest amount of ‘Points’ (made out of combat time, rank, experience etc.) were being sent home. Others were still waiting, dealing with other laterine rumors of hidden treasures .
Then the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan surrendered….
VJ-Day… Back in the United States Sears had a sale on striped skunk fur coats for only $85. And Johnny Weismuller’s latest movie, “Tarzan and the Amazons,” was screening in cinema’s all over the country. But the people were out in the streets. The War Was Over ! Victory over Japan. Crowds of hundreds, thousants gathered to celebrate. Horns were blowing, drivers honked the horns of their cars, bells were ringing. And a famous picture was made at Times Square, New York.
August turned into September and men of the 101st were flocking out. Some just for a short break, some (with enough points) were able to go back to the United States. Some left for England to visit their ‘War Honeys’. Some men were transferred to Infantry Divisions. Major Richard D. Winters, battalion XO of the 506th, PIR was transferred to the 290th Infantry Regiment of the 75th Division. He was made the 2nd battalion XO. It got him the chance to guide his new unit to Southern France and hop on board the Liberty ship ‘Wooster Victory’ in the harbor of Marseilles. Going Back Home !!
The moment men had been waiting for. Home at last… Some men married their long-time girlfriends, some visited the parents of friends that had not survived the war. Men had to deal with the fact that some lovers had moved on. And some men introduced themselves to their own children. They hadn’t been home since 1943….