Monday is Victory Day, and Rhode Island is the only state in the country that observes the holiday, which originally marked the day Japan surrendered during WWII.
Once widely celebrated, Victory over Japan Day, or V-J Day, as it sometimes known, proved controversial, especially after Japan became a U.S. ally.
Local historian Brian Wallin specializes in the Second World War. He says President Harry Truman declared the day V-J Day, but it was never a federal holiday, although some states did adopt it.
These days, some Rhode Islanders believe the holiday is outdated.
“I actually think it’s a little ridiculous at this point to celebrate victory over Japan,” said Warwick resident Linda Capobianco. “And being the only state that celebrates it, I just think that we ought to do away with that one.”
But over the years, Rhode Island residents have resisted attempts to abolish the holiday. Governor Ed DiPrete tried to change the name, an effort that failed to gain traction. Businesses backed legislation to morph Victory Day into a floating holiday, and a Japanese organization hired lawyers to get the holiday dropped.
“None of those worked,” said Wallin, who co-wrote a book about Rhode Island in World War II.
He says the smallest state in the nation played an outsized role in the war, sending thousands of troops and manufacturing items for the war effort. Artifacts of that role can still be found in the Varnum Memorial Armory in East Greenwich.
Wallin picks up a heavy wooden M1 rifle, a standard rifle issued to American troops during World War II.
“We made everything from machine guns in Cranston, we made bayonets at the Imperial Knife Company in Providence, we made shells at the Gorham Company that used to manufacture silverware and flatware prior to the start of the war,” Wallin said.
Newport also became a major military training hub.
“We trained some 500,000 naval officers during the course of the war, both men and women in and around the area of the Newport Naval Base,” Wallin explained.
When the state considered abolishing the holiday, veterans groups argued that would be disrespectful to the estimated 2,400 Rhode Island soldiers who didn’t come home from World War II. To diffuse tension, Wallin says lawmakers clarified the purpose of the holiday with a resolution in 1990.
“Victory Day is not a day a day to express satisfaction in the destruction and death caused by the Nuclear Bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Wallin said, reading from the text of the resolution.
Instead, lawmakers said the holiday would commemorate the sacrifice of Rhode Island soldiers who fought in the war.
These days many Rhode Islanders use the second Monday in August as a day to get to the beach but several local veterans groups will host small ceremonies to remember the state’s contributions to World War II.