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San Clemente Journal

World War II - Memories from Long Ago...

Jul 09, 2020 01:41PM ● By Mike Chamberlin
by Mike Chamberlin

This is a very historic year. It was 75-years-ago that World War II came to an end. On September 2, 1945, the Japanese surrendered, thus ending the six-year war that took over 400,000 American lives. Through all the pain and sorrow, the Second World War united America like never before. 

It was a nostalgic time that gave us some of the most beautiful love songs of all time, songs like “You’ll Never Know” and “Sentimental Journey.” It also gave us some memorable singers like Kate Smith, who first sang “God Bless America,” written by Irving Berlin, as well as an English vocalist named Vera Lynn, known as the “sweetheart of the forces.” By the way … Vera Lynn, the voice that gave us “White Cliffs of Dover,” is still alive at 103 years of age. 

Bill Gibson dancing recently at San Clemente Villas.

 In my main occupation as a singer to seniors, I have performed for thousands of survivors of WWII. I watch as they cry when I perform songs that take them back to a certain time and place in their lives. After my concerts they all want to tell me their stories, and I listen intently to each and every one of them. They are my heroes.  

I reached out to a few of them for this article and asked their remembrance of that glorious day when the war finally came to an end 75 years ago.  When I perform, I always hold up a photo of “The Kiss” (pictured) at my concerts. During one performance, a woman stood up and yelled out, “I was there that day in New York, just down the street from that famous kiss!” Then she added, “It’s true, everybody started kissing everybody. I must have kissed a hundred boys that day…and then I went home and washed my mouth out with rubbing alcohol!”

Bill Gibson and his mother in Pasadena, 1945.

 Bill Gibson, who now resides at San Clemente Villas by the Sea Assisted Living Community, enlisted in the Navy in 1944, smack-dab in the middle of WWII. After boot camp in San Diego, Aviation Radio School in Memphis and Aerial Gunnery School in Florida, he was assigned to the Black Cats Sea Planes Company in the South Pacific. His planes patrolled, searched and bombed enemy shipping lanes. He was back home in Florida the day they announced the war had ended. “Our base was ‘let out’ on liberty, and celebrate we did on the streets of Jacksonville!”  He continued, “We drank beer, kissed girls and danced in the streets!”

He’s had years to consume and digest all that happened 75 years ago, and today he is more contemplative. “Although the war brought us together as Americans, we also paid the price in cost, casualties and death. The price of war is too high, PEACE is the ONLY answer.”

Bill Thomas


Bill Thomas, an Orange County veteran, was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1923, making him eligible to serve in the Army in 1943. He was assigned to the 938th Field Artillery Battalion that was part of the amphibious landing on the Anzio Beachhead. He was a forward observer and would literally climb tall trees and telephone poles to report enemy movement.  
Bill was in Munich, Germany when he received the word the Japanese had surrendered. “My happiest memory was yelling ‘WE’RE GOING HOME!”  But his celebration was quieted when he realized he would be going home without 70 of his company. Bill, too, is reflective in hoping kids today understand the sacrifice that was made to secure their freedoms, “Kids today have an endless amount of information equipment, so they can see and hear about anything in the world. I hope they learn about WW2, but sometimes people only listen and see what they want.”

Just this year, the face of WWII passed away. You may not know her actual name, but you would certainly know her moniker. Rosalind Walter died at age 95. Rosalind was “Rosie the Riveter.” She worked the night shift driving rivets into the bodies of Corsair fighter jets. She was a symbol of the hardworking women in overalls who kept the factories running. Almost every American had their hands in WWII.

More than 16 million Americans served in WWII, and sadly less than 400,000 are still with us. They weren’t called “The Greatest Generation” for nothing! It’s important that we remember and honor these brave men and women in this, their 75th