World War II fighter pilot Ray Garcia heard the stunning news aboard theSea Owl while the troop ship waited with scores of others to pass through the Panama Canal on the way to combat in the Pacific.

A member of the 57th Fighter Group, he had just left a grueling fight against the Germans in Europe and was preparing to take on the Japanese when he and his comrades learned of fearsome new bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Then - as the Sea Owlchanged course for the United States - more momentous tidings came by way of a small ship newspaper and the shipwide address system. "Now hear this! Now hear this!" a voice said.

The Japanese had surrendered. The war was over.

Tough combat veterans wept for joy. Some broke out alcohol they had hidden away, and cheered one another in celebration.

"It was such a relief," said Garcia, now 90, a veteran of 82 combat missions, who lives at the Wellington Hall retirement community in West Chester. "I was really happy."

Across the country, the dwindling number of World War II veterans are remembering the day 70 years ago when the guns fell silent and they could think again about rejoining families, finding jobs, and starting over.

Aug. 14, 1945 - depending on the time zone, it might have been Aug. 15 - was a euphoric time of parties, patriotic parades, and massive flyovers.

"Adults and children spontaneously ran into the streets and started parading and waving flags," said William M. Detweiler, consultant for military and veterans affairs at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

"People turned their lights on at night because the blackout restrictions were over," said Detweiler, a former national commander of the American Legion. "Neon lights illuminated buildings again. It was a big thing to see the lights back on."

One of the iconic moments was captured by the photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt on Aug. 14 in Times Square: a sailor planting a kiss on a young woman clad in a white dress. The image was published in Life magazine in 1945.

Among those rejoicing was Hammonton, N.J., native Joe Grasso Sr., a Navy ship's cook second class who had served aboard his transport during the D-Day invasion.

He would later witness - from about 100 feet away - the formal USS Missouri surrender ceremony of Japan on Sept. 2. "It was over," said Grasso, 94. "That was the one thing on our minds."

He remembered the carnage during the invasions of North Africa, Italy, and France, where the water was dyed red with blood at Omaha Beach. He was ecstatic when the killing stopped.

"We had gone through hell and high water, and now we were going home," said Grasso, who also served aboard a ship at Okinawa and still has a Japanese rifle and two enemy swords, souvenirs of the time.

In the U.S., glider pilot Milton Dank was staying at his mother's Parkside Avenue home when he heard about the surrender. President Harry S. Truman made the announcement over the radio.

"We had a very private celebration, just family," said Dank, 94, of Cheltenham.

In nearly five years of service, he had survived harrowing combat missions, including Operation Dragoon into southern France and Operation Market Garden into the Netherlands.

On Dank's way to France on Aug. 15, 1944, a stray shot from the Tuscaloosa blasted through a section of his glider's tail, obliterating a stabilizer that gave the glider its lift on the right side.

The aircraft shuddered, quickly dropped 150 feet, and yawed to the right. After fighting for his life for 15 minutes, Dank landed in a field. He would face more dangers in the ill-fated invasion.

But by June 1945, he was stationed at Fort Dix, where he was given a choice: an honorable discharge, or promotion to captain and transportation to the Pacific. "When I stopped laughing hysterically, I grabbed my discharge paper," Dank said.

At the family gathering in Philadelphia, he summed up the feelings of his family when V-J Day came: "We were just happy the war was over."

At Opa-Locka, Fla., north of Miami, Navy pilot Nick Charles was teaching combat tactics to future aviators when he received news of the war's end. He had already seen plenty of fighting in the Pacific, and earned a Silver Star for sinking a Japanese cruiser with armor-piercing bombs.

Heading back was not what he or anyone else wanted to do.

"If the Japanese didn't surrender, I and my wife knew I would return to the Pacific for the invasion of the Japanese homeland," said Charles, 95, former commander of the Willow Grove Naval Air Station and a resident of Brittany Pointe Estates in Lansdale. "It had been planned for years and was supposed to be a massacre.

"We were greatly relieved it didn't come to that," he said. "I'm a professional military type and don't shed tears."

Expressing other emotions was OK, though. "You'd better believe we celebrated," Charles said. "We launched something like 400 planes over Opa-Locka; everything was there.

"I was one of the flight leaders," he said. "We flew over southern Florida and concentrated on Miami."

In the mid-1960s, as Charles took command of the Willow Grove station, he looked in the audience and spotted reporter-photographer Larry Keighley, whom he had met briefly 20 years earlier during the war in the Pacific.

Keighley climbed out on the barrel of a big naval gun on the Missouri to take a color photo of the formal Japanese surrender ceremony on Sept. 2, 1945. He and Charles were good friends until the Horsham photographer died. A copy of the image is now treasured by the former pilot.

Life began again for millions of people when World War II ended.

The veterans got jobs, went to school, married, and raised families.

Garcia, who had often returned from missions with a bullet-riddled plane and had one of the first combat encounters with a German jet, spent 26 more years in the Air Force and helped plan its role in space.

But he still recalls fondly the day the fighting stopped.

"I wanted to see my mother and father and sister," said Garcia, a retired colonel who met his future wife, Gloria, when he returned 70 years ago. "I was so excited about going home."

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