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US, Europe Mark 70th Anniversary of VE Day

by Carol Guensburg May 08, 2015

The U.S. and Europe marked Friday the 70th anniversary of what is known as Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day - the day in 1945 when Nazi troops laid down their arms, ending World War II on the continent.

In the United States, a large array of World War II aircraft flew over Washington in honor of veterans in town for a ceremony at the World War II memorial.

Organizers billed the Arsenal of Democracy: World War II Victory Capitol Flyover as "one of the most diverse arrays of World War II aircraft ever assembled."

Starting from a Virginia airfield, 15 types of aircraft swept over the mall from the Lincoln Memorial, veering off southerly just before reaching the Capitol's restricted airspace.

​​The hour-long air show cast the planes in historically sequenced formations, beginning with Piper L-Birds, twin-engine Cessna/Beaches, and Boeing Stearmans.

'I remember them from World War II, but I was just a kid then,' said Lewis Ewing, celebrating his 81st birthday at the flyover with his son, Mike, and granddaughter Jen Ewing.

They were among thousands lining the mall, streets, balconies and other spaces, hoping for a glimpse of the historic display.

The eldest Ewing, a retired bank CEO in Winchester, Virginia, served with the U.S. Army in Korea, escorting American diplomats as they were transported by helicopter to unsuccessful negotiations for a peace plan. He left the service as a colonel; now he directs the national Korean War Veterans Association.

​​​​Honoring troops

The flyover honored troops who served overseas and those at home who supported troops or who built the planes, ships and tanks that defeated Germany and the Axis powers.

The anniversary of the bloody war's ending "reminds us of the price of freedom," National Security Adviser Susan Rice said earlier at the World War II National Memorial, at a ceremony honoring veterans.

She noted one positive consequence: 'On the home front, the war effort unleashed opportunities' for women in the workforce and for integration of the services.

Among the ceremony's honorees was Colonel Charles McGee, one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American pilots.

​​Featured aircraft included Curtis P-40 Warhawks, used after Pearl Harbor, Grumman Wildcats flown in the Battle of Midway, and many others.

When a massive Douglas C-47 Skytrain appeared, Matthew Bergstrom whooped and pointed out the three "invasion stripes" painted on the wings and fuselage to identify them as friendly to Allied forces.

'These were the planes paratroopers jumped out of on D-Day,' Bergstrom said. The model "was the Hercules transport of its day," hauling troops and supplies.

Bergstrom had come from nearby Arlington, Virginia, with his wife Amber, whose late grandfather, Floyd Bitters, was an Air Force pilot and trainer during the war.

A historic view

At noon, just before the airshow began, Bergstrom thought to call a friend who's a WWII buff to make sure he was watching, too.

The event was news to David Yao, an archivist and historian employed by Anna Chennault. She's the widow of WWII General Claire Lee Chennault, commander of the Flying Tigers – the 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force. They flew planes painted with distinctive, shark-faced snouts.

Yao raced out of his office, in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood, to join spectators watching from the banks of the Potomac River. But first, he grabbed a pair of binoculars.

'We don't have any except General Chennault's, left over from World War II,' he said later by phone to VOA. '… It's not something we do – his stuff is precious – but I thought this was one of those occasions where we could bend the rules a little bit.'

Some of the planes will be on exhibit Saturday at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington Dulles International Airport in suburban Virginia.

Obama thanks veterans

In his weekly address, released early for the occasion, U.S. President Barack Obama paid tribute to those who served in the war, calling them 'the generation that literally saved the world.'
Obama urged Americans today to rededicate themselves 'to the freedoms for which they fought.'

'Let's make sure that we keep striving to fulfill our founding ideals–that we're a country where no matter who we are or where we're from or what we look like or who we love, if we work hard and take responsibility, every American will have the opportunity to make of our lives what we will,' the president said.

'Let's stand united with our allies, in Europe and beyond, on behalf of our common values–freedom, security, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law around the world–and against bigotry and hatred in all their forms so that we give meaning to that pledge: 'Never forget. Never again,'' he said.

​​Europe celebrates

French President Francois Hollande also called for unity, describing VE Day as 'the victory of an ideal over a totalitarian ideology.'

In Paris, the scene of massive celebrations in 1945 after Germany surrendered, Hollande placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also took part in the ceremony.

​​In Britain, numerous remembrance ceremonies were taking place Friday, in addition to concerts and street parties meant to re-create the spirit of the celebrations 70 years ago. Prime Minister David Cameron was participating in the commemorations, while Queen Elizabeth will attend a VE thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey on Sunday.

Russia, meanwhile, will commemorate the end of the war with a huge parade Saturday on Moscow's Red Square, attended by international dignitaries.

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