The first couple of weeks of May in U.S. military history are filled with events, most of them major. Space dictates that I lump several of them into one column, and this is it.
On May 4, 1970, students at Kent State University in Ohio rioted against the Vietnam War, torched the ROTC building among other damage, and the governor called out the National Guard. Under harassment from the demonstrators, the guardsmen opened fire with live ammunition and four students were killed.
Guardsmen who fired were later brought to trial, but found not guilty. That precipitated more riots and college shutdowns, and a march in Washington by some 100,000 people. I had just graduated from the Armor Officer Advanced Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and was on ROTC duty in Alabama. A fellow major in my class had been assigned to Kent State. Lucky him, although during his tenure no further violence occurred there.
On May 5, 1955, the Allied occupation of what had become West Germany ended. WW II in Europe had ended 10 years minus three days earlier. Germany had been divided into two parts, and governed by four Allied nations.
Great Britain, France and the U.S. had shared control of West Germany, and the Soviet Union governed its quarter known as East Germany. East Germany remained under Soviet control for several more decades. The former West Germany, although it was still called that informally for many years, officially became the Federal Republic of Germany. It wasn’t until 1990 that the two German entities became united as one Germany again.
I’ll defer what happened on this date early in another war on the other side of the globe and remain in Germany and the great news that the biggest and deadliest war in all of history ended on May 8, 1945, with Germany’s surrender in WW II.
It was known as Victory in Europe Day, or more commonly as V-E Day, and was followed by wild celebrations in countries around the world, but primarily in Europe and the U.S. Half of The Big War was over, with more work to follow in the Pacific Theater.
Germany’s surrender handed a new problem to the Allies as a war had never half ended before. Most of the Allied countries had also been at war with Japan, one of Germany's two allies. With Italy’s earlier surrender, the Axis, as the alliance was called, had only one country still standing – Japan.
Japan held out only three more months, with more about that in future columns. On May 8, 1945, 72 years ago Monday, half the world was preparing to celebrate a long hoped for peace, with the other half still locked in the biggest war in history. What a time.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and Department of the Army civilian employee.