My mother was working in downtown San Francisco on V-J Day, when the second World War ended. President Truman's announcement that Japan had surrendered came over the radio at 4 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, while most people were still at work. Early on, there was a report that a streetcar had been torn apart and set on fire on Market Street, so streetcars were no longer in operation east of Van Ness Avenue. Few people then drove "machines" to work, so it was a long walk for many.
Since Mother had been invited to have dinner at a friend's apartment on Nob Hill, she walked from work, coming very close to Chinatown. The Chinese had been at war with Japan for eight years, and they were elated that it was over. Many were shouting and throwing lighted strings of firecrackers. It was all very frightening. Two of the girls at dinner got mad at their boyfriends for flirting with girls in the window of an adjoining apartment, so for revenge, they leaned out of the front bay window and invited up every serviceman they saw! When the bell rang, they made one of the mothers answer and excuse their silliness. More than a dozen had answered the invitation!
At midnight they decided to go down to Market Street to see what was going on. The city was wild! One young woman bathed naked in the pool outside the Civic Center. Servicemen were everywhere. Some had broken into liquor stores and helped themselves. Display windows were broken, and men donned dresses, skirts and blouses they had taken off of the mannequins. Some climbed up to theater marquees and tore down the lettering of the current movies. Strangers hugged and kissed; some laughed, some cried. One sailor on crutches simply stood and cried. "My buddies didn't make it," he sobbed. About 5 a.m., Mother and her friends came upon an elderly lady sitting alone on a curb, singing loudly. She said that she had sons and grandsons overseas and had promised them that the minute the War was over, she would celebrate for them. And she did!
Many things went on in San Francisco that night - some funny, some very tragic. But there were nice things, too - friendliness and people helping and sharing with others. It was a lesson in human behavior.
Mother was one of the few who went to work the day after V-J Day, and since it had been declared a holiday, she received double pay. This event has remained forever vivid in her mind. Although she, too, was glad the War was over, Mother had enough of a sense of history to realize that she was in a special place, at a very special time.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.