V-J Day in the Canal Zone or what I recall...
by Louis J. Barbier BHS Class of 1957

Greetings everybody. I was asked to pass on my recollections of that day. Well, first let me say that I was a little squirt about 6 and attending Cocoli Grade School. We were living in Lacona a suburb of Rodman Naval Station during the war. That is WW2. I lived in a Fire House.

Let me explain. It was 12 family housing. The Fire Department and their equipment occupied one end and we lived on the other end. So, there were 8 families living in this unit. As a little kid I loved it. When ever the Horn sounded and the Fire trucks rolled I was up and out to see where they were going. All the Fire Fighters were Navy guys. Probably Damage Control rating. Well enough of the background......

The war in Europe ended in May of 1945 with the unconditional surrender of the Germans. The talk was that Japan would soon surrender. But there was a lot of activity with more Navy war ships going through the canal heading for the Pacific and in harms Way! We all lived with gossip or as they say in the Navy Scuttlebutt. Back in those days news traveled very slow. Much war news was censored. Nobody questioned it. We were all doing our  bit for the war effort. Collecting cans, separating glass bottles from the cans, collecting paper.....yes lots of paper drives. back then the closes organized group I joined was the Cub Scouts. we had Den Mothers who baked all these wonderful cookies when we could get the ingredients. Rationing of food and gas was ongoing in the Canal Zone. 

But something that really stood out in my mind's experiences was the blackout curtains. The Canal Zone at night during the war years showed very little light. No street lights. Everything was dark! We would stumble around in the dark at night if we went out. But mostly we stayed indoors behind the Blackout curtains and listen to the radio. It was the Armed Forces Network. And it was all low band stuff. We had Amos & Andy Show, Abbott & Costello, the Lone Ranger and a few others....All cars in the canal zone were black. The Army had a few OD Green/brown color cars. The Jeeps had these little tiny headlights. And at night there were a lot of armed foot patrols around our neighborhood. Most carried M-1 Garands but there were a few with Thompson Machine Guns. The Canal Zone looked like a fortress. There was always a plane in the air. There were gun emplacements that I remember surrounding Miraflores Locks. Then the AA Spot Lights or Barrage lights that could be turned on to light up the skies. It was very tense!

After Germany surrender. Many GI's were getting orders for the last big push against Japan. The SS Ancon now USS Ancon ACG-4 went through the canal going to the Pacific. My Dad took me to see her go through Miraflores Locks.

Being a little squirt I didn't recall too much of that day when V-J Day came. I recall that the noon Siren would always blow as a test, just in case the Panama Canal  were attacked. We practice what to do. There were Bomb Shelters in our back yards. And lots of GI's in uniform. Living on a Navy base I saw lots of Sailors. They were a bunch of great guys far a way from home. The talk was that everybody was going to the Pacific. Many left. And time passed as it does in Panama, very slow. I continued going to school. The school let out. This gave us an opportunity to check out all the special installations that were surrounding us to protect the canal. We did. We would always dress up in what ever military gear we could muster. We all looked like a group from McHale’s Navy. And one of my  greatest thrills was going down to see the PT Boats at Rodman......wow, those boats could move. And the noise it was heaven to a little kid of six years old.

Well, the world came that the Japanese had surrendered. It seem that the Atomic Bombs people had talked about had been dropped. One was "Fat Boy". That kind of threw me because I asked my Dad, "How could a Fat Boy end the war?" Well, my dad told me it was an A-bomb called Fat Boy.

There was no TV so we didn't see anything until we went to the movies. We had Newsreels back in those days that kept us all up to speed. This was shown before the one reel western. We had one cartoon, then chapters like "Dick Tracy" then the main feature. It was usually Hop along Cassidy or some other one reel western  where the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys black hats. There was always a lot of shooting hardly nobody ever ran out of bullets and trick riding was the plan in all scripts. You always had somebody ask, "Where they go?" And some  Cow poke would answer, "They went that away!" The theater would roar. We all went to the movie with our guns. Nobody went to see a western without their six shooters. How would you expect to protect the good guys.

Well, one day my dad got home and told me its all over. There had been some sirens going off and some people seem to be having a party had the Fire House. That night all the lights were turn on. The Blackout curtains came down. In A few weeks all the bomb shelters were demolished. Wow, it was a regular snake hunt when these things came down. One produce a giant bushmaster. The first night we had the street lights on we played kick the can until 9 PM. Everybody was happy. In a couple of weeks there were sales on stuff in the Panama Canal Commissary we never had seen. In a few weeks my Uncle Al came through the Canal Zone on the way home from the Pacific. He was really skinny so my mother made a large plate of Arroz con Pollo. He had two helpings. My Dad and my uncle sat around and drank some Large brown bottles of Balboa Beer. I had a little small juice glass of it and I was out like a light. My uncle stayed a couple of days and then we took him to Pier 18 where he caught an Army MTS. troop ship for New Orleans and home.

A lot of other stuff happen....like Sunday mass at St. Mary's we all prayed in thanksgiving that the War had ended. But I was a little squirt and all I was really interested in was reading comic books, playing with the little red hair tom boy whose dad was in the army and going to the Saturday matinees....That was real for  me the other was something that was important in grownup lives but I was a little kid.....so, my Duncan JO-JO and sling shot came first. hey there were Mango trees to climb.......