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VJ Day fest returns to Hillman

Courtesy Photo Festival-goers celebrate freedom at the 2018 VJ Day celebration in Hillman.

HILLMAN — A virus won’t stop Hillman from celebrating the end of World War II during the community’s VJ Day festival, held every year since Japan signed papers of surrender on Aug. 14, 1945.

“It’s something Hillman has always done and will always do,” said Bob Hunt, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2356 and one of the planners of the annual event.

As other regional festivals were cancelled because of the coronavirus, VJ Day was never on the chopping block, Hunt said. He was even prepared to continue with the festivities if organizers hadn’t gotten official permission from the state to do so.

Fortunately, permits for fireworks and the traditional VJ Day parade arrived last week, and the festival can move ahead legally.

Many events had to be cut from the usual festival schedule to comply with social distancing regulations. Attendees won’t be able to compete in the rubber duck race, throw bean bags in the cornhole tournament, or stroll past craft vendors.

The parade, which was supposed to be bigger than ever to mark the 75th anniversary, had to be scaled back, Hunt said, but it’s still a go, as are the annual horseshoe tournament, breakfast at the VFW, live music, and pageant.

This year’s festival is dedicated to Gerald Rea, a Hillman resident who survived more than three years in a Japanese prison camp and the Bataan Death March before dying in a car crash in the 1950s.

Very few communities still celebrate VJ Day, Hunt acknowledged, but, to him, the celebration marks more than just a fun summer event.

“It’s history,” Hunt said. “It’s our life.”

VJ Day will be held in Hillman through Sunday.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

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