The Depot

What Is VE Day? 7 Facts You Need To Know

Sailors reading newspaper about VE Day

What is VE Day?
When President Harry S. Truman, British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin simultaneously announced that Nazi Germany had surrendered on May 8, 1945, the United States let out a reserved, but collective sigh.

May 8, 1945 became known as Victory in Europe Day or V-E Day. Celebrations erupted around the world to mark the end of World War II in Europe as most of the fighting in Europe came to an end.

The war had been raging for almost five years when U.S. and Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. The invasion signaled the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. In less than a year, Germany would surrender and Hitler would be dead. But in his speech to the nation on V-E Day, President Harry S. Truman cautioned that Allies must “work to finish the war” by defeating the Japanese in the Pacific.

The war had started in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Roughly six million jews were killed during the war.

world war two photo of german officers planning at a table

But to answer the question, what is VE Day, we have to look at the events that led up to it. First, there were actually two surrender signings. The first was on May 7, 1945 when German Col. Alfred Jodl signed Germany’s surrender on all fronts in Reims, France. The second signing was insisted upon by Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, was signed by German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel the following day in Berlin. Jodl and Keitel were later found guilty of war crimes by the international military tribunal in Nuremburg, Germany and both were executed.

What is VE Day to Veterans Who Fought in Europe?
More than 250,000 U.S. troops died during World War II in Europe. More than 16 million Americans would serve in World War II, a staggering 11 percent of the American population at that time.

World War II was a significant life event for those who fought there and even for those who were back in the states. The country rallied around America’s involvement in the war.

Today, as more and more World War II veterans pass away and their numbers dwindle, there is no doubt that the many VE Day celebrations they attended over the years were an important part of their lives and of those in their lives.

These events are important because it allows veterans to heal and to share some of the heaviness of what they experienced. For many of these humble heroes, these commemorations are the only time they share reflections of their war service.

two older ww2 vets hugging

What is VE Day to the Public?
When President Harry S. Truman announced VE Day to the American people, he said: “Our rejoicing is sobered and subdued by a supreme consciousness of the terrible price we have paid to rid the world of Hitler and his evil band. Let us not forget, my fellow Americans, the sorrow and heartache, which today abide in the homes of so many of our neighbors—neighbors whose most priceless possession has been rendered as a sacrifice to redeem our liberty.”

For many American families, the war would never end and there would be the constant reminder of the sacrifices made for others; for liberty. Many never returned home.

Today, VE Day is an opportunity for Americans to share the history of the Greatest Generation with younger generations. These extraordinary tales of sacrifice and the defense of freedom are wonderful opportunities for younger generations to learn about a group of people they likely will never meet. A group of people who helped shape the world as it is today.

What is VE Day For Those Who Fought Against Japan?
Simply put, VE Day wasn’t cause for celebration for those still fighting against Japan in the Pacific Theater. Remember, Japan was ruthless and did not believe in what they labeled as the dishonorable act of surrender. Those fighting in the pacific still had to deal with kamikazes and infantry who would charge with bayonets fixed on empty rifles.

VJ Day, or Victory over Japan Day, marks the end of World War II, one of the deadliest and most destructive wars in history. When President Harry S. Truman announced on Aug. 14, 1945, just three months after the German surrender, that Japan had surrendered unconditionally, war-weary people around the world erupted, again, in celebration.

world war II veteran smiling wearing custom military cap

What is VE Day for Veterans Today?
As of December 2021, there are around 240,000 World War II veterans alive today and more than 200 die each day. The living history is passing and veterans today feel their connectivity to those warriors of the past slipping away.

VE Day is a great opportunity for those who are still serving to embrace the heroes of World War II and engage them if they are able. Veteran organizations can also ensure these brave men and women get recognized on VE Day to ensure they know that they are appreciated and not forgotten.

Military leaders should never pass up an opportunity to invite World War II veterans to their events or to share their knowledge with younger generations of military personnel. Linking the modern warrior to those of the past provides heritage and serves as a generational bridge.

What is VE Day to Europe?
Every year, since the end of World War II in Europe, people gather at various sites around Europe to recognize the VE Day. In American cemeteries in Europe, at Normandy and in other key European locations where battles were fought and won, sometimes at great expense, people gather and remember.

There is no doubt that Europeans have a deep appreciation for what the Greatest Generation gave them and every year they recognize those gifts by ensuring that those sacrifices are not forgotten. By hosting memorial events, they remember what others did for them.

The nations that were liberated in western Europe thrived after the war. Those liberated by the Soviets in eastern Europe, suffered and barely grew.

What is VE Day to the Rest of the World?
Many countries were impacted by World War II, including nations in Africa that had many battles fought on the continent. The impact of World War II has left indelible marks all over the world.

VE Day is celebrated almost universally around the world, but mostly by westernized countries and countries that accept democracies as their form of government. Nations where the power lies with a dictator or is centralized to a particular party do not really recognize or appreciate VE Day.

What is VE Day? It is a day to remember the most brave individuals to ever serve in the U.S. military. Their contributions to mankind will forever be heard and never forgotten. What is VE Day? It is about remembering.

Fighter Pilot Helmets: Why Are They Yellow?

The U.S. Navy, for as long as they’ve had aviation, has been lenient on what aircrews put on their flight helmets. In particular, the fighter pilot helmet is a source of pride and most in the naval aviator community can determine the unit a pilot is with just by looking at their fighter pilot helmet.

The Navy learned long ago that allowing fighter pilot helmet customization was a huge morale boost. Fighter pilot helmet customization allowed pilots to creatively express themselves which led to greater esprit de corps. The U.S. Air Force, however, took a little longer to figure that out.

For decades there were only two Air Force units authorized to decorate the fighter pilot helmet on their head; the Thunderbirds (the Air Force’s aerial demonstration team) and aggressor pilot units.

To the uninitiated civilian masses, the issue might seem unimportant, but the U.S. military is a team of teams and as we know from the team-centric culture, organizational identity is important to individuals. Organizational brands help shape unit culture so it should come as no surprise that fighter pilot helmet customization could have such a positive impact on morale.

A couple of years ago, the Air Force, facing a serious pilot shortage, opted to lift restrictions on fighter pilot helmet adornment in one of many moves made to incentivize pilots to stay in the ranks. Pilots had been complaining for years about the restrictions placed on Air Force flying units. It seems that the pilots finally got the issue the attention it deserved.

Pilots in fighter jet with canopy open.

Fighter pilot helmet customization thus took off, pun intended, in the Air Force around 2020 and pilots and the units they belong started going out of their way to ensure their pilots express themselves individually while paying homage to the greater culture they belong to.

There is one unit with a striking fighter pilot helmet that stands out amongst other Air Force units. It is almost like someone took a giant yellow highlighter and marked every fighter pilot helmet in the squadron as if to tell people, don’t forget this, no different than when someone marks up a book and highlights an important passage.

336th Fighter Squadron shoulder Patch Rocketeers

The yellow-helmeted pilots belong to the fabled 336th Fighter Squadron also known as “The Rocketeers.” They are a part of the 4th Operations Group at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. They are hard to miss in a yellow fighter pilot helmet and yellow tail trim on their F-15E Strike Eagles. Their sister units in the 4th Fighter Wing have their own colors of red, blue and green. The wing is comprised of two operational fighter units, including the 336th and two fighter training squadrons.

The history of the Rocketeers dates back to World War II and the unit has served in every major American conflict since with their distinctive yellow tail trim and now, yellow fighter pilot helmet.

But why yellow? To understand the present, we have to revisit the past.

First off, aircraft markings were increasingly used in World War II not for style or flair, but as a tool to enable fast-moving fighters to identify each other in the often cloudy, gray skies of Europe. The colors on the friendly aircraft helped pilots engaged in dogfights to identify friend or foe. It sounds primitive, but it worked.

Three F-14 fighter jets flying in formation.

Using bright colors on aircraft is credited to two pilots of the Fourth Fighter Group during World War II who had their maintenance crews paint red-and-white checkerboard patterns on the cowlings of both of their P-51 Mustangs. Those distinct markings have bled onto the pilot uniform through patches, scarves, t-shirts and of course the fighter pilot helmet. They are also still found on the aircraft themselves, although given modern dogfighting and technological advances, aircraft markings have no significant tactical use and mostly pay homage to a unit’s history and lineage, especially when that unit destroyed more than 1,000 German aircraft in World War II, more than any other fighter group.

During the Korean War, the 336th squadron transitioned to F-86 Sabre fighter jets and their aircraft were known to the enemy to be fast as rockets. The fighter group finished the war with more than 500 aircraft kills, more than 50 percent of the aircraft killed by the U.S. Air Force in the Korean War. Not long after, yellow took hold of the squadron as did the nickname, Rocketeers.

Yellow, despite gaining a foot hold in the squadron over the past decades, did not make its way onto the fighter pilot helmet of the 336th F-15 drivers until not long ago. Today, pilots in the 336th wear yellow helmets ordinarily with their call signs stenciled on them (usually a sticker). The fighter pilot helmet is usually wrapped in some type of vinyl decal.

Yellow fighter pilot helmets.

Pilots who are new to the squadron and have not yet received their callsign receive a yellow helmet that might have an image of a gear on it. This cog, as it is known, serves to remind the newbies that they are a part of a big machine, they are a cog in a system that serves a larger mission. As mentioned earlier, it is a reminder that the squadron is a part of a wing, a part of a group, a part of the Air Force and a part of the U.S. military, a team of teams.

The U.S. Air Force has roughly 5,300 aircraft in its inventory as of 2021. Of that, there are roughly 55 fighter squadrons each with their own history and lineage. Meaning, unit colors are a large part of the unit’s culture and organizational identity because there are so many moving parts in an organization as large as the Air Force.

It is a good thing that the Air Force finally recognized the value of allowing individuals to share a little of their personality. It was a smart move to allow pilots to adorn their fighter pilot helmet. It not only expresses the pilots individuality, but also salutes members of the unit—past, present and future—by illustrating that the unit is proud of its heritage and that the people in the squadron are a part of a much bigger thing than themselves. They are individuals, yes, but also cogs.  

45th Infantry Division: Who Were They?

Early Beginnings
In 1924, the 45th Infantry Division was formed from Army National Guard units from around the southwestern United States to include Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. The unit was mainly inactive until it was mobilized for active duty in World War II in 1940.

They were nicknamed the "Thunderbird" division because the division’s insignia was a gold thunderbird on a red square. The thunderbird is a symbol of southwestern Native Americans meaning sacred bearer of unlimited happiness. The colors, red and gold, and the four sides of the patch, represent the four states which were originally settled by Spain.

The original 45th Infantry Division insignia was, ironically enough, the swastika until 1933. As the Nazis took control in Germany, the swastika insignia was dropped and eventually it was replaced by the thunderbird symbol in 1939. The swastika, before it was bastardized by the Nazis, was a symbol of harmony and happiness found in the native cultures of the western United States.

45th Infantry Division Patch

Deployment to WWII
The 45th Infantry Division was sent to North Africa in 1943. In July 1943, the 45th Infantry Division landed in Sicily and fought across Italy, landing in Anzio in the summer of 1944, fighting its way up to southern France. By the end of 1944, the 45th Infantry Division had reached the German border and in March 1945, the 45th Infantry Division crossed the Rhine River and in April captured two key German cities.

In April 1945, the 45th Infantry Division was one of three U.S. Army units sent to liberate the Dachau concentration camp. Upon arrival, the Thunderbird division discovered more than 30,0000 prisoners in the camp and thousands dead or dying. On a train at the camp, consisting of approximately 50 train boxcars, roughly 100 prisoners were jammed into each boxcar. The majority of those in the boxcars were dead.

45th Infantry Division officers reported later that they discovered crematoriums, a gas chamber and holding cells with corpses piled to the ceiling. The 45th Infantry Division would later be recognized as a liberating unit by the Army’s Center of Military History.

Although battle-hardened, many of the 45th Infantry Division’s soldiers were traumatized by what they saw at Dachau and some were accused of war crimes because they executed Nazi prison guards at the camp. A few of the soldiers from the 45th Infantry Division were so overcome by the atrocities they witnessed while liberating the camp that they could not restrain themselves. The the killings were known as the Dachau reprisals. There were court martials and convictions, including some proceedings for executions conducted against Italian military personnel prior to the arrival of the 45th Infantry Division at Dachau.

group of world war 2 soldiers of the 45th infantry division

More than 124,000 Axis soldiers were taken prisoners by the 45th Infantry Division according to the U.S. Army. In all, the 45th Infantry Division spent more than 500 days in combat in World War II. Over the course of WWII, the 45th Infantry Division had 1,510 soldiers killed in action, 7,246 wounded in action, 1,436 missing in action, 266 were captured, and nine Medals of Honor, 61 Distinguished Service Crosses, 1,848 Silver Stars and 5,744 Bronze Star Medals were awarded to soldiers of the 45th Infantry Division during its WWII service. The 45th Infantry Division also earned eight campaign streamers.

Inactivation and Deployment to Korea
In December 1945, the 45th Infantry Division was inactivated and months later in 1946, the unit was reconstituted as an Army National Guard unit. At this time, the unit was solely comprised of units from Oklahoma and it became a part of the Oklahoma National Guard.

In September 1950, with rising tensions in Korea, the 45th Infantry Division was activated and in December 1951, the 45th Infantry Division was sent to Korea and to the frontlines. During the Korean War the 45th Infantry Division suffered 4,004 casualties; 834 killed in action and 3,170 wounded in action. The division was awarded four campaign streamers and one solider earned the Medal of Honor.

45th Infantry Brigade
In 1968, the 45th Infantry Brigade was formed from existing elements of the 45th Infantry Division and assigned training duties for active-duty army units until 1994 when the 45th was selected as a separate enhanced infantry brigade. In 1999, the brigade deployed two companies as part of the UN peacekeeping force to Bosnia and in 2003, units from the 45th deployed to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, 45th units pushed through Baghdad. Later that year, the 45th deployed to Afghanistan to train soldiers of the Afghan National Army. In 2007, the brigade deployed again to Iraq to assist in handing over U.S. bases to Iraqi forces. In 2011, the brigade deployed once again to Afghanistan and it performed full-spectrum operations for the first time since the 1950s when it was a division.

The 45th Infantry Brigade is a part of the Oklahoma Army National Guard.