The dark side of V-J Day: The worst riot in San Francisco's history

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Sunday was the 60th anniversary of a glorious day in world history - - the announcement that Japan would surrender, bringing the end of World War. Today is the 60th anniversary of a terrible day in San Francisco's history -- a victory riot that left 11 dead, 1,000 injured and the city's reputation besmirched.

"It was the deadliest riot in the city's history,'' said Kevin Mullen, a retired deputy chief of police who has written extensively about crime in San Francisco.

The riot, which followed the Japanese surrender announcement by a day, was mostly confined to downtown San Francisco and involved thousands of drunken soldiers and sailors, most of them teenagers, who smashed store windows, attacked women, halted all traffic, wrecked Muni streetcars -- 30 of them were disabled, and one Muni worker was killed. The rioters took over Market Street and refused to leave until military and civilian police drove them away long after nightfall following hours of chaos.

"A looting, smashing crowd is tearing up Market Street tonight,'' Chronicle reporter Stanton Delaplane wrote at 8 o'clock that Wednesday night. "... this crowd is out of hand. You couldn't stop it if you tried, not short of tear gas and fire hoses.''

Historian Charles Fracchia noted: "The only city in the United States that celebrated the end of the war with a riot was San Francisco.'' He used the 1945 victory riot as the opening chapter of his book, "City by the Bay,'' a history of San Francisco from 1945 to the 21st century.

Many of the injuries involved broken limbs and cracked noggins from fights and falls. Details of the deaths have been lost to time, along with how many were tied directly to that night's violence.

There were fears that San Francisco would get a bad name from the riot, but it was quickly swept under the rug and forgotten.

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