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Solemn but Glorious

Today marks the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. On May 8, 1945, millions of people rejoiced at the news of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender. A period of wartime that lasted nearly six years and cost the lives of millions; destroyed homes, families, and cities; and brought huge suffering to entire countries had finally ended. However joyful, the celebrants were very much aware that World War II was not over. In the United States, president Harry S. Truman opened his address to the nation with “This is a solemn but a glorious hour” and reminded Americans of the task still at hand: “If I could give you a single watchword for the coming months, that word is—work, work, and more work. We must work to finish the war. Our victory is but half-won.”

Combined with its metropolitan area, Chicago contributed enormously to the war effort. More than 1,400 companies produced everything from field rations to parachutes to torpedoes. In the north suburbs, the Great Lakes Naval Training Station provided boot camp for a third of those who served in the navy, Fort Sheridan became an important army training facility, and Glenview Naval Air Station turned out 20,000 carrier pilots. Learn more about how World War II transformed life in Chicago in our Encyclopedia of Chicago entry. Read more.

The view looking north on State Street from Washington Street in Chicago’s Loop, May 8, 1945. ICHi-069828; Betty Henderson, photographer

Studs Terkel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning oral history book The Good War (1984) is a cornerstone of his extensive exploration of World War II. Radio pioneer Norman Corwin described Terkel’s effort to chronicle the war as having “the essence and cumulative force of a hundred powerful war novels.” The Studs Terkel Radio Archive contains dozens of programs that shed further light on the complexities of this still far from fully comprehended war, not only with soldiers but with survivors from Hiroshima, historians, scientists, philosophers, and artists who reflect on the war’s meaning in unexpected and profound ways. Listen now.

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