Seventy-five years ago tomorrow morning, Americans up and down the East Coast awoke–or were awakened by–the news that the Allies had begun the invasion of Fortress Europe by landing troops on the beaches of Normandy. (Of course, folks on the West Coast received the initial, unconfirmed reports around 10:00 p.m. June 5th.)
The news brought a sense of satisfaction that the payoff for two years of rationing
and sacrifice was now at hand, but there was no sense of celebration, for this was merely the first step in what everyone knew would be a long and bloody fight before the Nazis were subdued.
Working from accounts in the Winchester Evening Star and other sources, I recreated in Chapter 19 of The Boys We Knew what it might have been like to receive the news:
Elizabeth was aroused by what seemed to be a familiar sound, but lying there in the dark, she couldn’t quite place it for a moment or two.
A church bell.
She picked up the clock and brought it close to her face to see that it was a few minutes before 5:00. As she replaced it on the night stand, another church bell began to ring. Then another. Moving quickly now, she rose and went to her open window wondering if she might see half the town on fire; but there had been no siren calling in the volunteer firemen.
Then, she knew.
Dashing into the hall, she almost ran into her father who was coming to wake her.
“It’s the invasion,” he said. “It’s started.”
Margaret, throwing on her robe, as she emerged from the bedroom, looked at her husband and daughter, and without a word, the Bittner family hurried downstairs and turned on the radio:
You’ve just heard Edward R. Murrow, reporting for the combined American Networks, read General Eisenhower’s Order of the Day. As we approach the top of the hour we repeat the official Army bulletin that reads “Under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.” It’s I-Day, ladies and gentlemen; the invasion of Fortress Europe has begun, the first wave of troops landing on the beaches of Normandy, France some five hours ago.
Gerald leaned into the free-standing Zenith from his chair on one side, while Margaret sat on the edge of the couch on the other side. The ornate design and multi-grained woods used in the construction of this radio that Gerald bought new in 1938 made it resemble a miniature cathedral, and Elizabeth, on the floor before it and staring at the circular dial near its sweeping pinnacle looked like a worshipper at its feet.
“Stay safe, Jimmy,” whispered Elizabeth to the dial.
They listened as commentators discussed early casualty reports and what the Allies needed to do to secure the beachheads. They speculated about how long it would take to crush the German army and cautiously suggested that the war may well be over by Christmas.
“Maybe that war,” said Gerald, “but we’ll still have one to go.”
Tomorrow morning will find Martha and me at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA where many D-Day veterans have been assembled for what the Memorial is terming, “The Final Salute.” I will chronicle our experience next week.
To mark tomorrow’s occasion, The Boys We Knew e-book version is available for only $0.99, both Thursday and Friday.