MANATEE -- Seventy years after Emperor Hirohito went on radio to announce the surrender of Japan, the Bradenton-Sarasota area is commemorating the end of World War II.
An opening ceremony is planned from 11 a.m.-noon Fridayat the Unconditional Surrender statue on Sarasota Bayfront. The event is free and open to the public.
Also planned this weekend:
Goodwill Manasota is partnering with Veterans Task Force and local veterans' organizations to present a dinner for World War II veterans. Doors open and live big music begins at 3:30 Saturday with the program planned 4:30-6:30 p.m. at Robarts Arena, 3000 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota.
A memorial service and wreath presentation to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice is set for 6-7 p.m. Sunday at Sarasota National Cemetery's Patriot Plaza, 9810 State Road 72.
The First Brass of Sarasota is recruiting 70 trumpet players to play "Taps" during the laying of a wreath. Some players will also play "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America."
Bradenton World War II veterans Farrell W. Baker and John Wilcher were also remembering the war this week. Both took part in the battle for Iwo Jima during February and March of 1945.
Wilcher, 94, was assigned to the 386th Air Service Group as a supply sergeant, and went ashore five days after the initial invasion.
"We went in on an LST, where the front end drops down. All I could see were bodies floating in the water, and on the beach. We were under fire, and all the Japanese guns were trained on the beach," Wilcher said. "We had to take Iwo Jima. It was the stepping stone to Japan."
Some debate the ethics of dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which brought World War II to an abrupt conclusion. Those who fought in the war and saw the carnage that claimed nearly 7,000 American lives on Iwo Jima, and 19,217 wounded, say they know an invasion of the Japanese homeland would have been much bloodier.
"It would have been a massacre," Wilcher said.
Wilcher, who has lived in Bradenton since 1981, said he has never wanted to talk about the war.
"You think back. Maybe we could have taken Iwo Jima with fewer casualties than we had," he said. "We saw so many disastrous things we didn't want to talk about them. Some of the things I saw in combat I don't want to repeat. I just hope there won't be another war."
Farrell Baker, 92, also has indelible memories of World War II, but didn't talk about them for 60 years, "because nobody wanted to hear about it."
He served off Iwo Jima with the Ninth Aircraft Maintenance Unit Floating, and remembers how his gun crew spotted three approaching enemy fighter planes.
"I gave the order, 'When ready, fire. It's now ready, fire!" he said. "They were so close you could see the pilot in the window. We went to the area where the plane went down and there was nothing left."
The other two planes flew on to Iwo Jima, and were brought down by American guns there.
"The whole island just shot up at one time. Every third bullet was a tracer," Baker said.
Any doubts America would win the war were dispelled for Baker, he said, after he saw a U.S. armada off Eniwetok, an atoll in the Pacific Ocean and the scene of a battle in 1944.
"You couldn't see the end of the ships out to the horizon," he said.
Ninety-two percent of the Americans who fought in World War II were just poor farm boys, Baker said.
"They turned out to be some of the greatest people in the world. They knew how to grow their own food, repair their equipment, and provide their own entertainment. We've lost all of that," Baker said.
Former Sarasota City Commissioner Danny Bilyeu spearheaded plans for the 70th anniversary observance.
"What these men and women did during World War II was the right thing. The whole world is better for it," Bilyeu said.
James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.