Spirit of ’45 Day keeps memory of WWII veterans alive

McHenry hosts annual event on anniversary of the war’s end

When President Harry Truman announced that World War II had ended with Japan’s surrender on Aug. 14, 1945, celebrations erupted in streets across the U.S.

In the years that followed, said Rob Reber of McHenry’s American Legion Post 491, annual celebrations of that day did not.

Then, on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010, “a grassroots coalition of World War II heritage and history organizations, military museums, memorials, World War II heritage and other groups” hosted public events “to pay tribute to the men and women of the greatest generation on the 65th anniversary of the end of WWII,” according to a media release on the website spiritof45.org.

Both the U.S. House and Senate passed resolutions supporting an annual day of remembrance that year, as did many state legislatures.

That also was the first year that McHenry veterans groups – the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Polish Legion of American Veterans-Liberty Club – began their own Spirit of ‘45 event, Reber said.

Now, McHenry’s event is one of the largest in the country, but there are fewer WWII veterans who remember the war, he said.

“When we started it 13 years ago, there were quite a few World War II veterans around, and their wives,” Reber said. “We celebrated with them and recognized them.”

For the 2013 event, husbands and wives who were married for at least 60 years were encouraged to attend for a vow renewal ceremony.

For the past two years, and to continue that recognition, family members of those veterans are asked to bring photos of their parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents who served in the war.

In 2023, there was one World War II and one Korean War veteran at the McHenry event, Reber said.

“I don’t know when the last one will pass away, but this event will continue” after that, he said. “It is not going to stop – not on my watch.”

An observance for World War II veterans is different from Memorial Day or Veterans Day, Reber said.

On Memorial Day in McHenry, officiants recite the name of every local veteran who has died in the past year. But Veterans Day, Reber said, ”is for those who are alive, who lead and guide us.”

The Spirit of ‘45 day is akin, for him, to guarding Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“We will never forget them,” Reber said.

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