The COVID-19 pandemic has canceled most events in the Cape Region, but the Fort Miles Historical Association understandably moved forward with its annual V-J Day ceremony Sept. 2, honoring the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surrender to end World War II.
Erring on the side of caution, the event was invite-only, with about two dozen people attending to continue the annual tradition that started in 2017.
The 90-minute event featured a brief history of World War II and its impact on Delaware from Will Short, followed by a recounting of V-J Day events in 1945 and a reading of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s speech by Association President Gary Wray. The program concluded with a reading of the names of 100 of the 774 Delawareans who died during World War II. The association will continue reading 100 names each year.
As the names were read, Wray’s grandsons Nic Schimmel and Max Wray rang a bell donated for the ceremony by World War II and Korean War Marine Corps veteran Rudy Swanson of Lewes.
Lewes and Fort Miles’ connection to V-J Day is the 16-inch gun barrel from the USS Missouri that sits just outside the entrance to the museum. The USS Missouri is the battleship on which the Japanese delegation signed the surrender paperwork Sept. 2, 1945.
The historic gun barrel, one of two remaining from the ship, was destined for scrap when it was rescued by the association. With the artifact donated by the U.S. Navy, the association raised more than $100,000 to transport the 66-foot, 120-ton barrel from Norfolk, Va., to Fort Miles via rail and truck in April 2012.
Wray said Lewes was one of three places in the country that was able to hold an official V-J Day ceremony Sept. 2, the others being Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the state of Arizona, which has the other USS Missouri gun barrel and the last 14-inch barrel from the USS Arizona, which was infamously sunk during the Japanese forces’ sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
Wray said the association plans to construct a wall of honor listing the names of Delaware's fallen heroes from World War II at the site of the USS Missouri barrel at the entrance to the Fort Miles Museum in Cape Henlopen State Park.
On the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, MacArthur’s words still resonate.
“It is my earnest hope – indeed the hope of all mankind – that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice.”