Current Issue / DU Alumni

What a day, V-J

On V-J Day in 1945, Denverites celebrated Japan's surrender, marking the end of World War II. Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library Western History Collection

Pearl Harbor. JFK’s assassination. The Challenger disaster. 9/11.

August 14, 1945, is another day seared into America’s collective memory. It’s the anniversary of the day Japan surrendered, formally ending World War II.

“V-J Day was different,” recalls Antoinette “Toni” Hagener (BA ’46). “People were euphoric. It was a special occasion.”

Hagener was working for 40 cents an hour in DU’s switchboard office, the “nerve center” of campus. So, she was among the first to hear the news.

“Everyone pretty much evacuated the campus,” she says. “We all jumped aboard the No. 8 streetcar at Evans and University and went downtown to celebrate.”

They encountered a huge traffic jam near the Capitol where thousands had gathered.

“People were cheering, dancing, crying,” Hagener recalls. “We were hugging each other and that famous Life magazine photo [of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square] was repeated over and over.”

Sam Lusky, a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, described the scene: “Servicemen kissed their girls and they kissed somebody else’s girl and pretty soon everybody was kissing everybody else and nobody was complaining.”

Meanwhile, Carol Joseffy (BA ’45) was hosting a sorority lunch in the Tea Room of the Denver Dry Goods Department Store in Downtown Denver.

“We went downstairs and everyone was leaving the store to join the celebration,” she recalls.

Lenore Seiler (BA ’47) worked as a timekeeper at the Remington Arms Company in Lakewood. The manufacturer employed 20,000 people during the war.

“The plant emptied instantly,” she says. “We built nosecones for rockets, and everyone took one home as a souvenir.”

Seiler, who was engaged to a sailor serving in the Pacific, caught a ride home with a coworker.

“I went back later to get my paycheck. But that was it. We were done. My job was over.”

The end of the war changed the campus, too. Joseffy’s graduating class that year numbered 362. But just four years later, swelled by veterans, DU graduated 2,243 undergraduate students.

“The veterans made quite an impact on the campus,” Joseffy recalls. “Some were bitter, but most were happy to be back. They seemed older than the rest of us, even though we were the same age.”

“Before the war, DU students were primarily from around Denver,” Seiler notes. “Veterans came back on the GI Bill. Enrollment suddenly grew to almost 10,000 students. They were from all over the country.

“It was a fun, exciting time to be on campus.”

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