Santa Rosa was wild with joy. Every store and business downtown closed immediately as people flooded into the streets, some shouting, some crying, some laughing; to an outsider it would have looked like everyone in town had suddenly gone barking mad. Nothing like that had ever occurred before and probably will never happen again. So once they invent a time machine, rush down to the atavachron station and buy a ticket for Tuesday, Aug. 14, 1945 at 3:10 in the afternoon. It was V-J Day.

“Almost before the radio and newspaper flashes had been recorded, automobile horns added their din to the sirens’ wail and hundreds of cars raced around the courthouse and up and down business streets – serpentine [party streamers] appeared from nowhere and wastebaskets were emptied from second and third-story windows,” reported the Press Democrat. “Exuberant youngsters raided the paper balers at the rear of The Press Democrat office, hurled the contents into the street and scattered paper ribbons from rooftops…Streets were littered with paper that backed up into the gutters and overflowed onto the courthouse lawn.” There was so much paper in the streets that it looked like the town was hit by a freak snowstorm.

“Fire trucks, flag-bedecked, raced through downtown streets, followed by countless cars, motorcycles, bicycles and shouting pedestrians,” the PD noted. Anyone in a vehicle with a horn leaned on it. “Once in a while you see a perfectly sane-appearing person driving by, not honking the horn on his car, and he looks sort of silly,” someone told the paper. Probably every kid with a stash of firecrackers – banned by the government since 1943 – gathered on the courthouse steps and earnestly went to work trying to maim themselves.

“Weeping women, many of them wives or mothers of servicemen in the Pacific, stood in doorways and offered their thanks to God…Tears streamed down their cheeks as they mingled with the milling throngs – grief-stricken by their own losses and thankful, along with the rest, that the lives of other sons have been spared.” The toll had been terrible; 82 Santa Rosa had been killed in the war with another 19 missing. Another 200 from the county were also dead.

The priest from St. Rose and several ministers tried to organize a thanksgiving ceremony in front of the courthouse but the crowd wasn’t in the mood: “the din of auto horns, sirens, backfires and firecrackers exploding in the streets drowned out the voices of the clergymen,” the PD noted. Giving up, Father Raters returned to his car and tried to leave, only to find himself trapped in the traffic jam. “The St. Rose pastor made the best of things, honking the horn of his car with the rest ot the hundreds that jammed Fourth street,” according to the PD.

The Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce had published a set of rules about what was supposed to happen once the announcement came (see “THE DAY BEFORE THE GREATEST DAY“), including a decree that the bars, along with all other businesses, were supposed to immediately close. One entrepreneurial barkeep apparently “forgot” about that and kept his doors open. A reporter from the PD found “the lone exception was swamped with servicemen and civilians until Police Chief Melvin Flohr and other officers ‘cracked down’ at 5:30 o’clock.”

After that, out came the bottles purchased during the “peace jitters” of the previous four days. There were “numberless house parties where friends gathered to jointly celebrate the greatest day in the history of the United States and the world.”

Another part of the best-laid plans was a parade, but the Chamber and Parade Marshal decided to put it off until the next day, after efforts failed “to form a parade from the aimless mass of motorcars.”

Front of the Sonoma County courthouse covered in confetti and waste paper on Aug. 15, 1945. The little building in front of the steps was the "Victory House" built in 1944 to sell war bonds and stamps. Photo by U.S. Naval Air Station/Santa Rosa
Front of the Sonoma County courthouse covered in confetti and waste paper on Aug. 15, 1945. The little building in front of the steps was the “Victory House” built in 1944 to sell war bonds and stamps. Photo by U.S. Naval Air Station/Santa Rosa

Petaluma – always the mature Lisa Simpson to Santa Rosa’s callow Bart – managed to celebrate and still have a nice parade. The Argus-Courier wrote “hundreds of automobiles, both from the city and rural areas, with the drivers leaning heavily and continually on the horns, joined in the downtown area in an informal, noisy, but orderly parade…hundreds of people lined the streets to participate in the rejoicing and witness the parade.” Afterward, the Police Chief “complimented the drivers for the orderly way in which they handled their vehicles.”

Santa Rosa’s parade the next afternoon was another blowout: “…everyone, participants and spectators alike, having the time of their young lives.” From the Press Democrat:

…[it was] one of the noisiest and certainly the most spontaneous parades in the old town’s history. Servicemen and civilians, members of every veteran organization, all war services and fraternal organizations marched through the business district, past cheering spectators, to the music of the Petaluma Municipal Band and the screaming of just about every siren in the community. Every piece of fire equipment in the city, manned by uniformed fire-eaters, police cars, state highway patrol “prowl” cars and motorcycles, official Sonoma county automobiles all added to the general din with sirens held “wide open” for the event.

There were several wonderful staff photos showing the parade and some happy scenes from the day before – but alas, it seems likely they were destroyed. When the PD offices were remodeled much of the paper’s archives from before 1960 were tossed in the dumpster. The images never have been reprinted on any anniversary of V-J Day. A message left for the paper’s Director of Photography was not returned.

Descriptions in the paper, however, pointed out a common sight from both days: “The unbiquitous jeep the universal military vehicle was greatly in evidence in the parade but carrying feminine cargoes of strictly unmilitary nature. Almost every one was crowded to the gunwales with cheering Santa Rosa girls, sailors, soldiers and just plain civilians, all intent on telling the world how happy they were over the end of war.” For the parade, the Army airbase sent a caravan of military trucks. There were two floats with kids dressed up as Liberty and Uncle Sam.

The Chamber’s grand plan for all businesses to be closed during the holiday overlooked a little problem – with thousands of people packed into the downtown for an entire summer afternoon, some of them would want something to eat or drink. A few restaurants bucked the rules and opened their doors, but according to the Press Democrat “…they were more than swamped with customers and most of them sold out everything they had in stock. Hungry Santa Rosans roamed the streets in vain looking for something to eat, the only handicap to an otherwise glorious holiday.”

A few bars reopened at 5 o’clock and likewise found the hordes descend upon them. Although they could legally stay open until midnight, all closed hours earlier after struggling to push out the crowds after they had drunk the places dry and smashed glassware.

During all this, the streets were still deep in confetti and paper from the previous day. At the end of the parade someone tossed a match on an effigy of Japanese Emperor Hirohito, “setting off a fire in the litter of paper that covered gutters and plaza ankle-deep. The fire department already in the parade ‘countermarched’ to put this out, for the only incident of the day.”

Santa Rosa’s victory party was raucous, but nothing compared to what happened in San Francisco, where the celebration turned into three nights of deadly riots. Thousands of servicemen – mostly teenagers – rampaged on Market street, looting stores, destroying streetcars (and killing one worker), fighting each other and women were raped. The riot left over 1,000 injured and eleven dead, including 20 year-old William Flaherty of Petaluma, who died of a skull fracture after being struck.

The grand party over, in the following days the town glowed with a newfound spirit of optimism and energy to get things done. The proposal to build Memorial Hospital (then called the War Memorial Hospital) was dusted off; the Board of Supervisors began discussing ambitious plans to create meaningful war memorials in every community; and the Press Democrat published plans by architect Cal Caulkins to redesign downtown Santa Rosa – a revision of the layout which would have completely transformed our town’s future.

But we can also argue the celebration didn’t really end on August 15. At the end of the month the Naval Auxiliary Air Station out on Wright Road threw itself a 32nd “birthday party” that drew thousands. The crowds watched simulated dogfights, although there was nearly a disaster when two Helldiver bombers collided in midair. Both landed safely, but not before one headed directly for the air control tower. PD reporter Mike Pardee wrote he and others in the tower instinctively “ducked for places of dubious safety.”

The excitement probably didn’t really calm down until after September 22-23 and the Sonoma County “Victory Fair.” Over 10,000 packed into the fairgrounds each of those days, as told in “THE LOST HISTORY OF THE SONOMA COUNTY FAIR.” With thousands of soldiers and sailors returning to the Bay Area nearly every day there were thousands of renewed reasons to celebrate.

There is a a wonderful word in Portuguese, “Saudade,” which means a deeply-felt melancholy for an experience which will never come again, and reading those issues of the Press Democrat from August, 1945 can’t help but stir such emotions. The joy from those days leaps off the pages; you cheer along with them as everyone let loose after years of worry and hardship. And as the PD excerpts show, they were aware those would be unforgettable moments in their lives, days of utterly unclouded happiness.

Press Democrat, September 22 1945
Press Democrat, September 22 1945

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The wait was unbearable. Few probably slept although it was nice August weather, with cool fog after dark. Had it happened overnight? Tune in KSRO at 6:15 for the first morning newscast. Grab the Press Democrat on the doorstep and study it. Every word of news in it. You have to know everything about the situation. TODAY is the day. Okay, it will happen tomorrow, for sure. No need to set the clock. You’ll be awake long before 6:15. It will be THE day.

For five days in August, 1945, Santa Rosa was as wound up as a 6 year-old eating spoonfuls of sugar on Christmas Eve.

Friday, August 10, was the day after the U.S. dropped the second atomic bomb on Japan, destroying much of the city of Nagasaki. Truman warned Japanese civilians to flee industrial cities to save their lives from further atomic destruction. The Soviets declared war on Japan, and the Empire then announced it would broadcast “news of vital importance to everyone” on Sunday night. Everyone presumed it would announce a surrender, marking the end of WWII.

The Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce laid out the rules: When the fire sirens go off, all bars were to close and to stay closed for the rest of the day. Ditto for retail stores: “…stores will close immediately if official end-of-the-war announcement is received during business hours. In this event – receipt of word while stores are open – they will close not only for the balance of the day, but also for the entire following day provided the following day is a business day. If the word is received in the early morning, before the usual time of opening, they will remain closed all day…” There will be a victory parade, although “…There will be no Sunday parade, however, in event the word is received on that day, or late Saturday…” They apparently spent the entire day in meetings to make sure we knew how to spontaneously have fun properly.

Santa Rosa was having a bad case of the “peace jitters,” as the Press Democrat called it. There was little news on Saturday – Washington was keeping negotiations hush-hush, but it was reported Japan wanted conditional terms of surrender. Not much on Sunday, either. The PD ran a letter to the editor complaining about the new parking meters.

Everyone was waiting for that Sunday night message from Japan. And at the expected time, radio announcers interrupted the regular programming to announce “Japan accepts surrender terms of the Allies.” The PD reported what happened next here in town:

Some shouted, some wept… In more than one place, an excited individual leaped onto a stool or chair, stood up and shouted: “The war is over.” In some places the patrons burst into “The Star-Spangled Banner,” while others wept and still others stood, too choked up to sing.

Alas, it was a hoax – a prankster had hacked into the United Press news wire. About 15 minutes later, a correction was sent. “All rejoiced, only to have their thanksgiving shattered within a few minutes by word that the announcement was not true,” commented the PD. “False news that the war was over hit Santa Rosa like a shock.”

Although “Some Santa Rosans dashed for the nearest liquor stores to stock up against the 24-hour drought promised by state officials when the war really ends,” the false alarm had little impact here because the sirens did not wail. The PD – which was keeping the long-distance wire service phone lines open full time (“at an added expense to the newspaper,” a thrifty editor complained) – was waiting for confirmation of the surrender before asking the Fire Department to cut ’em loose.

Those who tuned in at 6:15 the next morning must have been emotionally fried. Now it seemed as if the war might not end soon, after all; Japan had torpedoed a U.S. warship at Okinawa and bombing of Tokyo had resumed. In Santa Rosa, everyone trudged on, pretending as if it were just another war day:

Minutes stretched into hours [Monday] night as the city held its breath for the flash which will officially end nearly four years of war…Santa Rosans were outwardly calm, going about their business just as if peace were a year away. Inwardly they were preoccupied, alert for the word which would end the conflict.

The staff of the Press Democrat had now been on high alert for more than 72 hours, ready to produce an extra edition when the news came. ” Newsmen on the night shift were routed from beds as early as 5AM to return to the office and await the final word that hostilities had ended. Many had no sleep at all, others only two and three hours.”

Then at 3:10 in the afternoon on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 1945, the official announcement was made: Japan had surrendered. Within 10 minutes – ten minutes – San Francisco’s Market Street was filled with people as far as the eye could see from Union Square. The Press Democrat surely exhausted its lead type supply of exclamation marks for its extra:


City Greets Historic News In Wild Frenzy And Racket

Shouting Crowds Turn Downtown Area Into Noisy Bedlam


Santa Rosa went mad – deliriously mad – along with the rest of the world!

Minutes before radio broadcasters announced that the Japanese answer to our ultimatum had reached Washington, Santa Rosans had struck a low ebb their hopes for early acceptance of the Allied peace terms had been dashed and they were prone to believe that the Nips had given us another standup!

And then came the electrifying flash that the Swiss delegation had received the all-important note from Japan and that in a matter of just 11 minutes President Truman would meet in conference with the news and radio reporters in the White House.

That was enough for Santa Rosa!

Before the historic statement of the President of the United States, declaring the war ended had hit the street, semihysterical crowds were forming at every street intersection. In a matter of minutes Santa Rosa’s business houses had closed their doors and employees were pouring into the streets – some shouting – some laughing and some in tears.

Simultaneously, fire alarms screamed and fire trucks, flag-bedecked, raced through downtown streets, followed by countless cars, motorcycles, bicycles and shouting pedestrians.

That was the start of the most hilarious, uproarious and most demonstrative celebration ever seen in the history of Santa Rosa. Men and women wept, shouted for joy and slapped perfect strangers on the back, kissed them or clasped their hands.


The party went on for the next two days.



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The V-E Day celebrations in Sonoma County didn’t have much bang to them, but that’s okay – we were saving our juices for the wild hell-raising that would come three months later when Japan surrendered.


How many from Sonoma County and Santa Rosa died or were injured during WWII? As of May 8, 1945 there were 411 casualties from the county with about 3,000 men and women in uniform. Here’s the breakdown:

County Killed: 171 (about 2x over WWI)
From Santa Rosa: 72

County Wounded: 159
From Santa Rosa: 67

County Missing: 44
From Santa Rosa: 19

County POWs: 37
From Santa Rosa: 23

Sonoma County also led the state in the collection of scrap materials. By that date the scrap drives had collected 25 million pounds of scrap metal, 30 train carloads of rubber, 30 cars of paper, 25 cars of tin cans and 25 tons of used clothes.

For a week before the official V-E Day on May 8, 1945, two stories dominated the news: The United Nations Conference on International Organization AKA “World Peace Conference,” which had just started in San Francisco. (Fun fact: In Nov. 1946, the 1,640 acre Sobre Vista estate near Glen Ellen was among the sites considered as a possible location for building the UN. And you think traffic on Highway 12 is sometimes bad now…)

The other big news at the top of the front pages concerned the fall of the Nazis and when V-E Day would be officially declared. Joe Stalin had proclaimed the war over on May Day. Eisenhower had said on May 4 that Germans were “thoroughly whipped.” So why the wait? In newsrooms across the country, there was much squirming in editorial chairs. “Don’t blame your newspaper and its press services for not telling you in this edition that ‘It’s all over in Europe,'” griped the Press Democrat. “Evidently there are good and valid reasons why the responsible military leaders of the Allies, and their governments who depend upon their judgments do not give out that final, fateful symbol ‘V-E DAY.'”

Then early on Monday, May 7, the wire services broke the news that the war in Europe would be declared over at 9AM Eastern War Time the next day, as Truman, Churchill and Stalin made simultaneous radio announcements.

The PD did not publish a Monday edition at the time, but within an hour the staff rushed back to work and created an extra edition. Images of the May 7 extra don’t exist online, but the May 8 front page included a photo of a woman praying in front of a copy, with the entire above the fold screaming: “VICTORY!”

A possible public rally at the courthouse had been discussed the week before, but the Chamber of Commerce followed President Truman’s lead in calling for a day of thanksgiving rather than celebration. There was no partying in the streets, although barkeeps had agreed to shut their doors if the scene “got out of hand.” Instead, the PD reported “Word of Germany’s complete collapse and end of the war in Europe was greeted here yesterday with calmness.”

…as far as “celebration” was concerned it was confined almost entirely to sending a fire truck bearing banners “Germany Has Surrendered” through the business and residential districts at 7:35 o’clock yesterday morning. A few impromptu features were seen on the streets during the morning hours. One such was a truck driven by Ras Bjornstad and Bob Mitchell, carrying a compressor-operated whistle and an improvised gong, parading through the business sections, heralding the Nazi capitulation. For the most part, however, Santa Rosans went about their daily business as usual if not unperturbed, at least calmly reading the long-awaited and confidently expected news.

On the Tuesday morning of V-E Day there were church services and school assembly programs. Bars delayed their early morning openings by a couple of hours. Church bells rang. That was it. Everyone go back to what you were doing.

There’s an unexpected parallel between those events 75 years ago and life in virus lockdown today (2020) – everyone wanted to know when life would get back to normal.

When will food and gasoline rationing end? When can I buy a set of tires? A refrigerator? A new dress or suit? And somewhat peculiar to Santa Rosa, when can we start horse racing again? (“This is one of the ‘horsiest’ communities in all of California,” a Press Democrat editorial gushed, a couple of weeks later.) While restarting most of the domestic economy was still several months away, we were allowed to again bet on the ponies starting with the May 19-20 horse show at the fairgrounds.

The one local business that received an immediate boost from the war’s end was the Press Democrat, which saw its Tuesday edition expand from 14 to 24 pages. The additional space was aimed at making the edition collectable, filled with wire service overviews of the war in Europe along with many, many large display ads from local businesses (see sample below). Delaying the V-E announcement for several days gave the PD’s sales department plenty of time to peddle commercial art to downtown merchants. Sorry, the drawing of a cheery but slightly psychotic-looking G.I. is taken – wouldn’t you like this cartoon of Hitler in a noose wearing cowboy boots with spurs?

Our obl. Believe it or Not! concerns Ray Olsen, a popular public speaker at service club meetings. The PD always identified him as a “newspaperman” but he was a freelance advertising salesman who worked out of his home at 1203 College Ave and was also an avid shortwave listener. Through the radio he heard first-hand reports from overseas, which probably made him one of the best informed people in Sonoma County.

Starting in 1942, Ray’s most popular topic was his forecast of what would happen in the war. The PD variously said he made 19 or 25 predictions and got all but three of them right. He supposedly hit several on nearly the exact date, including the attack on Stalingrad and the American invasions of the Philippines and of North Africa. Although he later said V-E Day would be around April 25, 1945, he also had predicted it would be over November 1, 1944. His worst miss was his keystone prediction, which was that V-J Day would be around Sept. 25, 1945, where he was off by over five weeks. Still, he had a remarkable number of precise dates.








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