The photograph is famous: Amid all the crisp uniforms of generals and admirals, two men stood out, because they had starved down to skinny rails while in Japanese captivity.
General Percival of the British Army had been captured in Singapore, General Wainwright of the U.S. Army in the Philippines. Both were there, 75 years ago today, on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, to receive the surrender of the Japanese Empire.
If the war began for America with a date that will live in infamy, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt said of Pearl Harbor, it ended with a date that ought to be remembered today as an example of what Americans can do when they set their minds to it.
Even though far-sighted men like Roosevelt and Gen. George C. Marshall had struggled against waves of isolationism in the prewar years to get limited funding for ships and armaments from a short-sighted Congress, America was woefully unprepared for war when it came at the end of 1941.
But at the end of it, the U.S. Navy could deploy hundreds of ships and planes and the Army and Marines many divisions. It was a marvel of the industrial might of America.
In this year of another worldwide crisis, the war years are often remembered because of the home front in World War II, when families were not isolated by disease restrictions but because they were working long hours and giving up luxuries for the war effort.
Social distancing came when families put their car up on blocks and donated the tires to be used in war plants. Like the drive for face masks today, scavenging scrap to be melted into armaments was part of a home’s contribution to the common cause.
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans has exhibitions devoted to the home front in the war. It is humbling to see how Americans — not perfect, as we all know — overcame divisions and worked toward victory even in small ways.
The power of organized capitalism is also on display: As many said at the time, Roosevelt’s Mr. New Deal became Mr. Win-the-War.
But the sacrifices on the home front were as nothing compared to that of the young men, mostly, who filled the ranks and fought to defeat two of the world’s most disciplined armies, that of Germany and Japan. Some of our young, including nurses and other women serving in all fronts, were brutalized as prisoners before being killed in captivity.
The miseries of warfare are somewhat alleviated today but wherever our service members are deployed, the thoughts and prayers of Americans at home ought to be remembering them. However tough it may seem here, we should be grateful for those in uniform today, often far away.