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Remembering V-J Day



Published: Tue, August 14, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By WILLIAM K. ALCORN

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- They jumped for joy. They cried with relief. They celebrated long and hard. They prayed. At long last, it had come.

V-J Day.

Victory over Japan.

V-J Day, Aug. 15, 1945, signaled the official end of World War II. Finally, the dying would stop.

"They" were our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents, the people who fought and lived through World War II.

They were men like Stephen Shepas, William Gruver and David Bole, then living in Youngstown, who served in the federalized Ohio National Guard's 37th Division, the Merchant Marine and the Navy, respectively.

On V-J Day, neon lights along the West Coast, long darkened by the dim-out to protect against aerial attack, blinked back on.

People gathered together all over the country to celebrate.

How big it was: The Vindicator reported that within 20 minutes after 7 p.m., when the end of World War II was announced on the radio, Central Square in downtown Youngstown was a "seething mass of celebrators," and that the crowd at its peak reached 30,000.

V-J Day is one of those events that people remember exactly where they were when they got the news.

For succeeding generations, it may be difficult to understand the outpouring of emotion and enduring feelings about V-J Day from those who were there.

But for the people of that time, the memories are vivid. For them, V-J Day might as well have been yesterday.

Shepas, Bole and Gruver recall their time in the military service and where they were when the victory over Japan was announced.

One soldier's service: Shepas, 84, of 2402 Edgewater Drive, Poland, enlisted in the Ohio National Guard 37th Division. After it was federalized, he was sent to the Pacific Theater.

He received a Silver Star for singlehandedly covering his unit's withdrawal with his BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands.

Shepas, who saw combat on Bougainvillle in the Solomons and was part of the campaign for the Philippines when the war ended, also received two Bronze Stars, the Combat Infantryman's Badge and numerous other decorations.

He was an enlisted man during the war, but when he returned to Youngstown, he stayed with the National Guard and Army Reserve and retired as a major in 1975.

He worked at Youngstown Sheet & amp; Tube Co. before and after the war, and in 1947 became a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier, retiring in 1987.

He said the 37th Division was in combat for three years but doesn't get the credit it deserves.

"I remember the combat conditions we were in ... you don't forget. It is a shame for the media to forget about the 37th. This is our [state's] division. It amazes me," he said.

Shepas and his wife, the former Sophia Romonko, were visiting her sister in the Bronx, N.Y., when Japan surrendered, and celebrated on Times Square in New York City.

"It was shoulder to shoulder. People were screaming and yelling and dancing in the street. Everybody was just so elated after five years of rationing and people dying," Shepas said.

With the Navy: Bole, 76, joined the Navy in May 1943 and served on the Navy's USS Stern, a destroyer escort. He made several trips across the Atlantic Ocean escorting convoys and was stationed in California after the battle of Iwo Jima.

Bole said he and his buddies just walked up and down Market Street in San Francisco celebrating. "I had a girl under each wing," he said with a laugh.

Bole and his wife, the former Stella M. Coletta, have six children and 16 grandchildren.

Merchant marine: Gruver, 74, served in the merchant marine in 1944 and 1945 aboard the Army Troop Transport George Washington, and was in the middle of the Pacific when word came of Japan's surrender.

"We shot our guns off and jumped for joy," he said.

Gruver, who joined the Navy Seabees (Construction Battalion) after the war, is very proud of his merchant marine service.

"People don't realize that the merchant marine has been in harm's way in every major war, hauling troops and supplies, usually with minimum armament. Many ships were hit and sunk," he said.

After the war: Gruver is married to the former Donna Hagan Weaver. He has three stepchildren, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Bole, of 115 Maywood Drive, and Gruver, of 2733 Rosewae Drive, became Youngstown policemen after the war. Or as Bole put it, "We went from WW II to the battle of Youngstown."

Gruver left the police department after 15 years, working for several companies as a supervisor, including Packard Electric in Warren, and retired in 1998 from security at Southside Hospital and Forum Health.

Bole, who specialized in the recovery of stolen cars while on the police department and was known as "Major," retired in 1985.

Bole and Gruver are members of Fraternal Order of Police Chapter 28 and various veterans organizations.

Shepas summed up the V-J Day experience: "It was like having a weight come off ... like starting a new life."

alcorn@vindy.com




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