Seventy years ago on Saturday, a collective sigh of relief rose around the Pacific when Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s unconditional surrender to his nation over the crackly wireless.
National RSL president Ken Doolan has paid tribute to the Australian men and women who helped make that happen on August 15, 1945, at the main Victory in the Pacific (VP) Day service in Brisbane.
“There were many Australians, (both) here in Australia and particularly in prisoner of war camps, who undoubtedly heaved a great sigh of relief,” Rear Admiral Doolan said.
He said the dreadful conflict left Australia, its allies and Japan with an enduring legacy of peace and democratic freedom.
“These are precious gifts bestowed upon us by those who fought, some of who are present here today, some of whom suffered mightily,” he said.
“These precious gifts are those things that we in the future would stand up to be counted for.”
Commemorative events across the country on Saturday remembered the sacrifice of more than a million Australians who mobilised to serve in World War II.
But at some events crowd numbers were dismal, particularly in Brisbane, where many surviving veterans felt let down that they outnumbered the public.
“It was a bloody long time ago; it’s almost forgotten now,” 91-year-old veteran Rex “Darby” Munro told AAP.
Mr Munro, who was part of the force that occupied Japan from 1945 to 1952, put the lack of public interest down to veterans keeping their painful memories to themselves in the happier boom years after the war.
“You didn’t talk about it, you kept it to yourself,” he said.
Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson said that generation now leaving us, who were being honoured on Saturday, was the greatest the nation has produced.
“Born in the aftermath of the war that was, growing up through the Great Depression and coming to adulthood under the shadows of the war that was coming, they mobilised to defend our nation, its values and vital interests,” he said in Canberra.
Dr Nelson said they would then undertake the economic and social reconstruction of Australia, laying the foundations for the prosperity enjoyed by subsequent generations.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott saluted all who won the war and built the peace afterwards.
“Every other one of us are your beneficiaries,” he told a service in Adelaide.
“You fought to defend our country against fascism, Nazism and militarism. You fought against evils that sought to destroy human decency and you fought to build a lasting peace.”
NSW Governor David Hurley also remembered the sacrifices and bravery of those who fought.
“Today we do what we have been asked to do every year, and that’s to remember,” he said in a commemorative address at Sydney’s Martin Place.
“To remember sacrifice, bravery, comradeship and all those qualities that define us as Australians.”
In Tokyo, Emperor Akihito admitted feeling “profound remorse” about the conflict, which was fought in the name of his father Hirohito.
Some Japanese media, including Jiji Press news agency and the Mainichi newspaper, said it was the first time the 81-year-old used those words at an annual memorial on the day Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945.
More than 27,000 Australians were killed in the 1939-45 conflict between the Allies and Japan.