August 12, 2019 — On this date in 1945, the nation learned that World War II was over. It was at 9:34 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, that a news flash came from the United Press in New York saying that V-J Day had arrived. Carrying a Washington dateline, the flash was first fed into the UP’s southern wire service and stated that the Japanese had accepted the Allies’ terms of surrender.
A Fargo Forum article stated that people who were out for Sunday evening strolls “stopped beside parked cars from whose open windows they could catch the radio bulletins.
Persons began streaming into the streets,” the article read, “calling to one another, ‘Hey, the war’s over.’
“A woman hurried along the street, her face wreathed in smiles, tears brimming in her eyes,” the article went on. “Automobile horns blared. Confetti dropped into the street in front of the Fargoan hotel, tossed there by a boy on the roof. A tiny paper parachute floated down from the same roof. Strangers smiled at one another, unable to keep outward expression of the joy in their hearts to themselves.”
Reporter Joyce Lang went on to describe her own experience of what happened next. “... I was on north Broadway, opposite the Holzer confectionery. I turned around and walked to The Fargo Forum office. By the time I had gone halfway, I knew the report was unofficial without hearing the radio bulletins from cars along the curb. People’s expressions had changed.”
It turned out that the story was false. Lang said the telephones at the Forum rang off the hook, and paperboys wanted to know when the “extra” would roll. But, then things quieted, and people once again took up their vigil of waiting for peace.
Two minutes after the news flash went out, the UP figured out it had NOT originated at their Washington bureau, and they immediately killed the story. Within a half hour, White House secretary Charles Ross issued a report, saying, “President Truman went to bed about an hour ago. If anything comes in, he’ll be notified. There is absolutely no word of truth in the report that the president has announced that Japan has accepted the Allied surrender terms.”
The United Press immediately reported the case to the FBI, and UP President Hugh Baillie offered a $5,000 reward for the identification and conviction of the person who fed the flash into the wire service.
The FCC also wanted to know what happened, and American Telephone and Telegraph – or AT&T – started its own investigation into how the story got released. There were 12 points along the telegraph poles where stories were regularly fed to the UP wires, and the flash could have been fed from any one of them.
The UP report also went on to describe the possibility of early-day hacking when it reported, “... it would be possible for a person with sufficient mechanical knowledge to hook another teletype on the UP wires and send a few words which would appear to come from a regular bureau point.”
The world would have to wait three more days for the official announcement of peace. The UP story on that day read, in part, “From New York to San Francisco, the people hailed the end of three years, eight months and seven days of struggle against a savage Asiatic foe. They celebrated as their feelings dictated, in simple prayer and in wild hilarity.”
“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.