It’s VE Day today, Victory in Europe. Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies on this day 70 years ago. Europe is far from northern Michigan but for many families, the Traverse City train depot was where the action took place.
The old Pere Marquette train station in Traverse City sits near the corner of Eight and Woodmere. It’s a part of town that has seen a recent revival of activity and bustle since the library opened in 1998.
The last passenger train pulled out of the station in 1966.
Until the turn of this century, the old station looked lonely and largely forgotten, an artifact of times gone by. But in the first week of May 1945, the local train station was a symbol of fervent hope. Of a safe return. Of a lasting peace. Of home.
The Second World War in Europe was finally coming to a bloody close. Hitler was dead. The Red Army was smashing its way into Berlin, while American and British forces were reaching their military objectives deep inside Nazi Germany as resistance had largely collapsed in the West. The war in the Pacific still raged, but for American GI’s in Europe, the End was coming with Victory. Peace, and then, home.
Families all over the Grand Traverse area knew that one day soon, their sons, brothers, husbands and fathers would step off a train and into their arms. Home. Other families already knew the sad fate of their loved ones who went off to war. Trains filled with the fallen had come home since the first months of 1942, and would continue to come for years. Soldiers’ families hung the Gold Stars in their windows—now they awaited word of the train to bring their boys home.
A lot has changed since that amazing spring of 1945. Not all the postwar dreams of a brighter future came true. But one great truth remains: those men and boys saved the world we live in. They did their duty. We should never forget it.
And 70 years ago, the crowds started to grow along the station platform as soldiers finally returned from Over There to Home.
Brian McCall teaches history at Interlochen Arts Academy.