When war ended, Wichita erupted in celebration

07/22/2012 5:00 AM

07/22/2012 10:58 PM

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.

In Jim Aronis’ case, the picture he was in captured one of Wichita’s most historic moments in the 20th century.

When word came that the war was finally over, five friends, teenagers from North High School, grabbed their band instruments and headed downtown to celebrate.

It was Aug. 14, 1945 – the day Japan surrendered. Germany had surrendered a few months before.

The five Wichita teenagers stood on the corner of Emporia and Douglas and began to play songs of jubilation. There was plenty of reason to celebrate. The long war was finally over. Not just partially over. Over.

The German surrender, VE-Day (Victory in Europe), came on May 7 but didn’t become official until 11:01 p.m. May 8.

Jim Aronis had his trumpet.

Hubert Brown grabbed another trumpet.

Jack Compton played the clarinet.

Dean Skaggs was on drums.

And Bill Lister played the French horn.

“We started playing on that corner,” Aronis said. “I can’t remember the song. I know it was patriotic. We started playing and this drunk came out with a fifth of whiskey. He shouted to us that ‘I’ll be the drum major and we’ll march down the middle of the street.’ We thought it was a good idea.”

Word had already spread like wildfire that the war was over. News on the radio said fighting had ceased in Japan. Wichita let loose. People from all over Wichita were coming out of office buildings, stores, houses and gathering in impromptu celebration. Tin cans on a string were hurriedly tied to bikes and backs and cars.

There was shouting and laughing.

Buses and cars slowed to a crawl and then came to a halt as crowds of people swarmed around the stopped vehicles and continued their joy.

“We got to Broadway, people on the sidewalks crowded in behind us,” Aronis said. “They started crushing in from everywhere.”

The impromptu band did the only thing they could – climbed on top of the roof of one the cars and kept playing.

E. Gail Carpenter, a petroleum geologist and Sunday school teacher for the First Presbyterian Church during the war years kept an ongoing account for the 58 members of his class who were fighting overseas. Carpenter, now deceased, described the celebration this way:

“An effervescent crowd … congregated in the middle of the street which was littered with the waste paper thrown from the windows earlier in the evening. There was shouting and laughing which we have all longed to hear. Here and there a snake dance formed to be broken up after a few brave wiggles. Gangs of teen-aged boys joined hands and crashed the crowd knocking willing bobby-soxers head over heels … Many of the more enthusiastic celebrants were men in uniform. Some of them like butterflies flitting from flower to flower went from one smudge of lipstick to another.”

The war was over.

And sometime during this celebration, Jim Aronis saw a Wichita Eagle photographer climb up on a lamppost and snap a picture.

It appeared in The Eagle the very next day.

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