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What Tampa Bay front pages looked like when World War II ended 75 years ago

Celebrations rippled across the region as Japan’s surrender concluded the second World War. Here’s what it looked like.

Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day, came when Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. It was a moment of relief and celebration, but the war wouldn’t conclude in Japan until after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August.

On Sept. 2, 1945, Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu officially signed Japan’s surrender on the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Some historians consider this as Victory Over Japan Day, marking the official end of World War II. Others use the term to refer to Aug. 14 or Aug. 15, when radio broadcasts sharing news of Japan’s surrender prompted joyful crowds to burst into the streets.

After years of bloodshed, tragedy and sacrifice, people in Tampa Bay were eager to celebrate.

Historian Gary Mormino, author of Hillsborough County Goes to War, called Aug. 14 “the most joyous day in Tampa history.”

Liquor stores and bars were closed during a 24-hour holiday issued by Gov. Millard Caldwell, but that didn’t stop rowdy drinking and cheering along Seventh Avenue in Ybor and Howard Avenue in West Tampa. Tampa police estimated that the crowds reached between 60,000 and 70,000 people.

The Tampa Daily Times printed photographs of kissing that took place during the V-J Day celebrations in the August 15, 1945 edition. [ Times (1945) ]

“Many Tampans awake at 2 a.m. to hear the first broadcast stayed awake all the rest of the night, roaming about streets in cars shouting the news,” the Tampa Daily Times reported.

“Civilians tied garbage can tops to their back bumpers and drove through Tampas streets honking their horns at 7 a.m.”

Sirens sounded in Tarpon Springs and Plant City. Meanwhile in St. Petersburg, Williams Park and Central Avenue were clogged with throngs of white residents as Black residents rushed 22nd Street S, Mormino wrote.

The joy didn’t last for everyone.

“What I remember most about the WWII is that I spent 39 months, 9 days, 14 hours and 32 seconds fighting for second-class citizenship,” Chester James Jr., who had been stationed at MacDill Army Air Field, told Mormino. “Naturally, I was happy to the war was over and we were the winners. But like millions of other African American military men, I was wondering if the good ol’ buddy system we’d established with whites during the emergency would last. It didn’t, when most of us came back home, it was back to the same old . . .”

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the war’s end, here’s what local newspaper front pages from that time looked like.

Editor’s note: The Times used to allow language to describe Japanese people that is now outdated and offensive.

August 8, 1945

The front page of the St. Petersburg Times on August 8, 1945 featured coverage of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. [ St. Petersburg Times ]

August 14, 1945

The St. Petersburg Times published a special section on August 14, 1945 featuring coverage of Japan's surrender. [ St. Petersburg Times ]
The front page of the St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday, August 14, 1945 shared that Japanese radio reported an unconditional surrender from Japan. [ Times (1945) ]

August 15, 1945

The front page of the St. Petersburg Times on August 15, 1945, documented city-wide celebrations following the announcement of Japan's surrender. [ Times (1945) ]

September 2, 1945

The front page of the St. Petersburg Times on September 2, 1945. [ Times (1945) ]
The front page of the Tampa Sunday Tribune on September 2, 1945. [ Times (1945) ]

September 2, 1995 (50 year anniversary)

The front page of the St. Petersburg Times on September 2, 1995, 50 years after the end of World War II. [ Times (1995) ]

Information from the Times archives and Gary Mormino’s book, Hillsborough County Goes to War, was used in this report.