Happy V-E Day - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Happy V-E Day
Four MPs take a break along a German road to read in the "Stars and Stripes" newspaper about the Nazi surrender, May 1945 (U.S. Army/Wikimedia Commons)

“[T]he soldier above all other people prays for peace,” said Gen. Douglas MacArthur, “for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” Peace came to American soldiers in the European theater of World War II on May 8, 1945 — Victory in Europe or V-E Day. One of those soldiers was my father, Sgt. Frank F. Sempa of the Army’s 29th Division. The news of the war’s end came to him on May 7, 1945, when he and the other soldiers of the 29th stood watch on the west bank of the Elbe River. That day he wrote home to his parents: “The radio just informed us that tomorrow, 8 May, will be V-E Day. That’s the day we have all been waiting for.”

“Guess I’ll go and get drunk tomorrow,” he continued, “it sure is worth a celebration. It sure has been a long and hard struggle.”

Nearly four years before at A.P. Hill Military Reservation in Virginia, when my father heard the news of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, he wrote to his parents: “We will all have to be good soldiers.” That meant intensive training stateside and in England, including exercises code named Duck I, Duck II, Duck III, Fox, and Fabius that were rehearsals for the D-Day landings at Normandy. Military censorship prevented my father from mentioning anything about those exercises, but in one letter dated December 16, 1943, he wrote that he had a “busy day … but a very interesting one,” and lamented that “military censorship prevents me from saying something about it.”

In another letter, dated January 15, 1944, he noted that British Gen. Bernard Montgomery, who would be the top British commander on D-Day, visited the 29th Division. More ominously, in a letter to his brother John dated April 12, 1944, my father said: “Remember, I’m depending on you to keep things at home under control if anything should happen to me.” Then on May 1, 1944, my father told his parents that he had “too many big things on my mind to be worried by trivial matters.”

General Omar Bradley visited the 29th division a few days before D-Day, and told the men that “this stuff about tremendous losses is tommyrot. Some of you won’t come back, but it’ll be very few.” During the subsequent fighting in Normandy, at Brest, in the towns that dotted the Siegfried Line, across the Rur River, Jülich, München-Gladbach, across the Rhine, and to the west bank of the Elbe, whenever time and circumstances permitted, my father attended Mass and prayed for victory and peace.

In letters written during the days and weeks leading up to V-E Day, my father mentioned FDR’s death (“It’s a shame he didn’t live to see the victory he fought so hard for”), the Russian drive to Berlin (“The Russians sure are going to town”), and witnessing the horrors of a Nazi slave labor camp (“very, very brutal”). A few days before the war ended, a German V-2 Rocket Division wisely surrendered to the Americans on the west bank of the Elbe rather than surrendering to the Russians, who were on the east bank.

On May 8, 1945, the soldiers of the 29th Division celebrated peace. The next day, my father wrote that he “attended a Memorial Service today for those who had died in battle.” He also told his parents about a time when he and his unit were “bombed and strafed … continuously for over an hour.” “I happened to be out of my cellar at that time,” he noted, “and was even caught without a helmet. God was with me that day.”

My father believed that God was with him throughout his combat service from D-Day to V-E Day. The 29th Division suffered more than 20,000 casualties during the war, including nearly 5,000 killed in action and more than 15,000 wounded. My father knew that Gen. MacArthur was right: soldiers above all pray for peace because they suffer the wounds and scars of war.

Happy V-E Day!

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