Editor’s Note: This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Schenectady City Historian Chris Leonard observes the milestone with a six-story series of articles that examines Schenectady’s role in the war effort and other topics, including today’s fifth installment — reactions to the end of the war in Schenectady. Next week’s conclusion will examine GE and the Nuclear Age — the early days of the Cold War.
On the night of Tuesday, August 14, 1945, Schenectadians were on tenterhooks — a false report of the end of the war had been received the previous night.
The same had happened the night before the end of the first World War. At 7 p.m. on that August night, the news roared forth from radios, “Truman announces Jap(anese) surrender!” The war was over.
Crowds jammed the streets. American flags were hoisted atop buildings. Jubilant citizens danced atop cars as church bells rang throughout the city.
General Electric shut down. The 3,000 on-duty employees left their positions and charged up Erie Boulevard. Across town, ALCO shut down as well. Company employees joining the throngs on Erie.
Churches throughout the city threw their doors open, welcoming parishioners and regular citizens to raise their voices to peace. Theaters closed and bars opened to lubricate the celebrants.
Paper and confetti rained from businesses and apartments downtown. Cars trailing tin cans added to the cacophony. As people filled the streets, traffic slowed then stopped altogether. Trains stopped running as they could not travel through the crowds.
The Schenectady Railway Company put its entire fleet of buses into service to help move people around the city. Firemen and policemen were called out to keep the revelry under control.
By 2 a.m., most citizens returned home. However, all was not jubilation. A woman died during the celebration from a heart attack and a man was hospitalized after he was hit by an automobile. A handful of people languished in city jail the next day for celebrating too briskly.
The Day After
All businesses in the city, including GE and ALCO, were closed the next day by proclamations from Governor John Dewey and Mayor Mills Ten Eyck.
Ten Eyck spoke to the Daily Gazette about the end of the war: “Schenectady joins with all its heart in the spirit of universal thanksgiving that hostilities in the second World war have ceased,” he said.
The sentiment was furthered by Charles E. Wilson, who had returned to his position of CEO at GE as the war wound down.
“Never before in the world’s history has a war been decided so far behind the line of battle,” he said. Wilson’s postwar legacy would be made in his attempts to smash unions at GE and his ruthlessness during the strike of 1946.
Most of the churches in the city held vigils and prayer sessions.
The city held its end of the war parade on Monday, August 27, an extravagant affair with bands and floats accompanying service men and women along State Street. Some 5,000 people viewed the 80-minute affair.
In the coming year, as soldiers returned to Schenectady from around the world, the city underwent significant changes. Women who had held the line, keeping vital factories going, transitioned back to pre-war nontechnical work or lost their jobs altogether.
On June 9, 1945, A. Vedder Magee, a local real estate mogul, gave the one-time home of Schenectady Mayor (1885-87 and 1989-1891) and U.S. Congressman (1911-1913), Henry F. DeForest, at 718 Union St. to the Schenectady Veterans of World War II. They refurbished the home and, by July 1, were using it as an office and a home for veterans in need.
The Human Cost of War
Throughout the war, Schenectady received reports of soldiers, sailors, and support staff lost during the war effort. Edo Moroncelli, who lost his life at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was the first. Four hundred three residents of Schenectady County gave their lives to stop Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. A far greater number received purple hearts for their wounds.
While a column of this size cannot pay homage to all who made the greatest sacrifice, there are a few who deserve specific recognition:
- First Lieutenant Clark V. Poling served as the Pastor of the First Reformed Church of Schenectady. He lost his life on February 3, 1943, when the troop transport SS Dorchester sank. He, along with three other chaplains, gave up their seats on a rescue boat so others could survive. A monument honoring the chaplains’ sacrifice sits in the garden below the New York State Museum.
- First Lieutenant James E. Foster served with 384th Bomber Group of the 544th Bomber Squadron. His plane “Wabbit Twacks” crashed near Cherbourg, France, on May 8, 1944. He was a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
- Private First-Class Walter E. Bond of the 36th Infantry Division, 141st Infantry Regiment, died on June 4, 1944, while fighting in the Italian campaign. He was awarded the Silver Star for bravery.
In the final installment of the series, we’ll track General Electric’s role in the dawning Atomic Age.
Chris Leonard is the City Historian of Schenectady. He can be reached at [email protected] All photos are courtesy of the Efner History Center in Schenectady City Hall or the Grems-Doolittle Library at the Schenectady County Historical Society.