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VE Day Leaves Lasting Legacy

On May 8, 1945, the second World War in Europe came to an end. Reporting for the British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC], Thomas Cadett witnessed the surrender of German commander General Alfred Jodle. According to Mr. Cadett, "General Jodle rose to his feet . . . the German said, 'With this signature, the German people and the German Wehrmacht [armed forces] are, for better or for worse, delivered into the victors' hands."

When the war first broke out on September 1, 1939, the United States did not enter the conflict. Prominent Americans like the famed aviator Charles A. Lindbergh were at the forefront of the effort to keep America out of the war. "These wars in Europe are not wars in which our civilization is defending itself," said Mr. Lindbergh.

However, historian Thomas Fleming says one other prominent American -- President Franklin D. Roosevelt -- felt that only the United States stood between the Nazis and world conquest. "He felt that the Germans were on the march to conquer the world," noted Mr. Fleming.

"We interrupt this program to bring you this important bulletin from the United Press. Flash . . . Washington! The White House announces Japanese attack Pearl Harbor!"
- Radio broadcast from Pearl Harbor

In 1939, 1940 and 1941, America was not ready to fight.

Thomas Fleming notes that even with the country engaged against Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt still felt the United States needed to fight Germany.

Mr. Fleming says, "How to get into the war with Germany was a very, very sticky problem. On December 9, [two days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor], he gave a speech attacking Hitler. It infuriated Hitler into declaring war on us."

Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States with these words: "Germany, Italy and Japan, jointly and with every means at their disposal, proceed with a war forced upon them by the United States of America and Britain until victory is achieved."

The United States responded: "I therefore request the Congress to recognize a state of war between the United States and Germany," said Franklin D. Roosevelt from the White House."

Soon after hostilities began, the forces of Nazi Germany conquered all Europeans who stood in their way. In June of 1940, France fell.

"The plane is still very high and it's clear that he's not coming in for his bombing run . . ." - Edward R. Murrow , 1940

Britain held off the Germans in an epic battle fought in the air. The Battle of Britain ended in stalemate. Then the Germans turned their attention to a former ally, the Soviet Union. A bitter struggle between the Soviets and Germany began in August of 1942 and ended in February of 1943 with the Battle of Stalingrad.

The Soviet victory in Stalingrad helped turn the war in Europe. Allied troops invaded Italy in 1943. Rome fell on June 4, 1944. Two days later, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Dwight David Eisenhower, told occupied Europeans in a radio broadcast, "People of Western Europe, a landing was made this morning on the coast of France by troops of the Allied Expeditionary Force. The hour of your liberation is approaching."

The landings on D-Day were successful and the Allies began to march toward Germany. "Berlin has fallen," came the radio announcement. Then another, "The German radio has just announced that Hitler is dead."

The war in Europe was over. Some 405,000 Americans died in the conflict; another 671,000 were wounded.

US Army General Omar Bradley paid tribute to the American soldiers who gained the victory in Europe, but did not live to see their triumph. "They are living evidence of the courage instilled in the bravery of those American soldiers who lie dead near the battlefield we have won," said General Bradley.

After the war in 1945, Europe was divided between the West and the communist East.

The divisions ended when communism fell in the 1990s and both the allies and enemies of World War II were now free to pursue their own destinies in Europe -- a pursuit that can be traced back to the events of May 8, 1945 . . . VE Day.