D-Day Arrives in Marsh Point

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

Statuary at the National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, VA

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.”

“I know.”

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.

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Bob Hope and D-Day

It is easy to imagine the excitement that Americans felt on the morning of June 6, 1944, rising as they did to news that the Allied Expeditionary Force had landed on the Normandy beaches. It was a quiet excitement, however; more satisfaction that the moment for which the entire country had prepared and sacrificed for two years had finally arrived. Even that satisfaction was mixed with anxiety, for there was no guarantee that the landings would be successful. Folks stayed tuned to their radios and exchanged what news they had over lunch counters and back yard fences.

By 10:00 p.m., Eastern War Time, Americans could breathe a cautious sigh of relief. The Allied troops had a toe-hold on the beaches, and they were moving inland.

Ten o’clock on Tuesday also meant, as it had since its debut in 1938, that it was time for the Pepsodent Show, hosted by Bob Hope. The writers had had to scramble to cut much of the comedy and rewrite the show to fit the mood of the day. And they did it perfectly. You can listen to Hope’s opening dialogue here. Please do so. It’s one of the most moving descriptions of not just D-Day, but what the effort and sacrifice was all about. And Hope managed to do so in just under three minutes.

“God bless those kids across the English Channel,” Hope concludes, and without further introduction, Frances Langford, a Hope regular, sang “Ave Maria.” Halfway through the 14 minute program, she sings “Goodnight, Wherever You Are.”

Bob Hope and Frances Langford, somewhere in the Pacific.


Bob Hope pronounced the benediction for the day.

The broadcasts of June 6, and Hope’s program have a startling immediacy for events that took place 75 years ago. The emotion of the time was so intense, it seems to have escaped the hearts of those who felt it then, and survives on the ether, waiting to enter the hearts of those who understand what the sacrifice was all about.

We will commemorate that sacrifice two weeks from today.

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D-Day: Remembered and Re-lived

The 75th Anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy–D-Day–will occur three weeks from today. D-Day was the turning point in the war in Europe; some have gone so far as to say that June 6, 1944 was the most crucial day of the 20th century. In any case, it is a day that we should remember or better yet, relive it.

We can relive it, at least as those back home lived it, glued to their radios, awaiting the next bit of news. The internet site, archive.org, has catalogued NBC radio’s programming from the first bulletin, broadcast around 3:30 a.m. on the East Coast, right through programs that night. The page features links to the music, interruptions, bulletins, comedies, and dramas that ran throughout the day.

You can access the entire page here. If you listen to the very first cut, you will hear an announcer interrupt music at about the 16 second mark to say that German radio had announced that “the Allied invasion had begun.” He begins to repeat himself, then pauses briefly, as if the significance of the moment has pierced his professional demeanor; then, he gathers himself and gives the message again.

Keep listening. You’ll hear talking in the background; the engineer and the program director cross-checking bulletins, perhaps. Soothing music returns, but it is doubtful that anyone was soothed that morning.

Entrance plaza to the National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, VA

Listen to cut #3 at the 17:20 mark, when a summary of what was known is interrupted. A crackling silence ensues. The broadcast is thrown to “Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force.” Another static-filled silence, and then, General Eisenhower is introduced. He tells the “people of Western Europe” and by extension the folks back home that “a landing was made this morning on the coast of France.”

Later in the day, listeners were given a vivid and colorful description of the scene, which you can hear in clip #7.

It is good to know the facts of history; it is even better to know the feelings of those who lived it as it happened. Listen, and imagine. It’s a Tuesday morning. The sun isn’t even up yet. You’ve endured two and a half years of rationing and sacrifice, and now, the day you and your neighbors and the entire country has been working toward has arrived. At this point, you don’t know whether by sunset, the troops, our troops, will have been successful, or thrown back into the sea. All you can do is gather in front of the radio, and wait.

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Discovering the Origins of The Bump. Possibly

I may have solved a mystery of history while conducting research for the final installment of The Secret of Their Midnight Tears trilogy, which will debut later this year. I just may have discovered the origin of a dance called, The Bump. The Bump was a very popular dance in the 1970s and one that is very easy to learn. There is the single bump and the double bump; Martha and I prefer the latter, usually to the Commodores, Brick House. (In fact, the Commodores did a song called, “The Bump,” which has a good single-bump beat.)I am amazed, however, by the number of people who can’t do the Bump or have never even seen it before, and so, we will sometimes get requests to demonstrate.

This 50-second Youtube video shows a classic, single bump, which involves bumping your butts on beats 1 & 3. The double-bump is simply bumping on beats 1 & 2. As you may notice, you can do all kinds of styling and bumping with various anatomical areas. Guys, remove wallets, keys, cell phones, etc. before beginning this dance, because ladies have tender hips. Nor is it a competition. You don’t win anything if you bump them all the way to the floor, so be gentle.

Anyway, back to our pursuit of history, the photo below, published in the Winchester Evening Star, September 9, 1944 edition, suggests that The Bump may have its origins in a Bob Hope USO show in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

“While other Leathernecks wait their turn, and unidentified Marine does some fancy jiving with Patty Thomas, dancer with the Bob Hope unit at a South Sea base. The winner of the dancing contest was rewarded with a kiss from Patty.”

(I have no other sources except this photo, which means my standard of proof is pretty much on a par with that set by many media outlets today.)

So, do the Bump! If it’s good enough for the Marine Corps, it’s good enough for all you civilians out there.


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Stompin’ at the Virtual Savoy

Coming off a fun-filled, dance-filled weekend at York, Pennsylvania’s Valencia Ballroom, I was especially excited to receive this notice regarding Harlem’s famous Savoy Ballroom. Read on, even if you’re not a dancer because this is a story that will fascinate history lovers, tech geeks, and those with a love of tracking down the details of the past.

Sharon Davis of DanceMad London, along with a team of other dancers and graphics experts have put together a project to recreate the interior of the Savoy Ballroom in virtual reality. The Savoy was the dance mecca of the East Coast in the late ’30s and early ’40s and remains its spiritual mecca today.

Liking them on Facebook at Welcome to the Savoy, and subscribing to the updates from their website at www.welcometothesavoy.com will show potential sponsors that there is a real interest in the project. Interestingly, this is one cause that does not solicit donations, at least not at the moment.

As a lover of swing dance, I ask you to view Sharon’s brief video regarding the project.


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Knowing Famous People

I would bet that more “everyday” people have a connection to famous person than one might realize. After all, most famous people attend high school and college. They grow up somewhere, play recreation soccer, work at McDonald’s during a summer or two. A guy who was a year behind me at Loch Raven High School, John Kassir, went into acting, and is perhaps most famous as the voice of the Cryptkeeper, and Meeko in Pocahontas. He also won the 1985 Star Search competition for best comedian, beating out both Rosie O’Donnell and Sinbad. In fact, he has a very impressive list of television, film, animation, and video game credits. My personal connection to John is that we ran one year of indoor track together.

And then, there was Ana Montes, who graduated with me in the Class of 1975.

She is one of the most famous—or more accurately, infamous—people, about whom you have never heard, despite the fact that a book has been written about her, the title of which will tell you all you need to know: True Believer: Inside the Investigation and Capture of Ana Montes, Cuba’s Master Spy. Author Scott Carmichael was the lead investigator into Ana’s activities at the Defense Intelligence Agency, activities which included sharing American secrets with Castro and misleading American intelligence regarding Cuban activities. According to the book’s summary on Amazon, “When she was finally arrested in September 2001, she became the most senior American intelligence official ever accused of operating as a Cuban spy from within the federal U.S. government.”

Ana Montes is currently serving 25 years at a Federal Penitentiary in Texas, although her crimes were so serious that she could have been sentenced to death.

One very big reason that you probably have never heard of Miss Montes is that her arrest came 10 days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001. In fact, it’s only been fairly recently that I heard about her traitorous activity, and only then as part of a Facebook discussion about people who attended Loch Raven High School. I don’t remember her at all, although the chances are strong that we had at least a couple of classes together, but there she is in my high school yearbook; a future Cuban spy whose “favorites” included summer, chocolate chip cookies, and having a good time with funny people. How did Ana Montes go from being such a typical high school girl to a Cuban spy? The same way the rest of us got from high school to wherever we are now I guess—a few big choices with many, many little choices along the way.

Who are the famous people in your lives?

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2019 MLB Predictions!

Regular reader Dick Snyder asked me to make predictions for the 2019 baseball season, which is always a dicey endeavor, but here they are! (Yes, I take requests.)

The American League seems to be a pretty predictable affair. Both the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees will make the playoffs out of the AL East, and I see the Red Sox repeating as Division Champs. Boston has better starting pitching and their catchers can all catch, unlike Yankee backstop Gary Sanchez who cannot. My Baltimore Orioles could improve by 20 games and still lose 95, which seems to be impossible math, but it’s true. Nevertheless, I’ll make a bold prediction: The Orioles and Yankees play each other six times in the first nine games, and if the Birds can split those six (not impossible early on) the New Yorkers will be in chaos for the first month of the season with fans jumping into the East River and calling for manager Aaron Boone’s head before splashing down.

The AL West will be won by the Astros[period]

The AL Central is a toss-up between Minnesota and Cleveland. Yes, I give the Twins an equal shot at the Division crown and if Jose Martinez is out for any length of time, the Twins are probably the favorites.

The final wild card team, the Red Sox or Yankees being one of the first two, will come down to Minnesota or Cleveland, Oakland, and Tampa Bay. I’m going with Minnesota or Cleveland based on the fact that they have three very weak teams (Kansas City, Detroit, and Chicago) in their division, while the other two divisions only feature two weak teams.

The National League, on the other hand, is totally unpredictable. I like Washington in the NL East, despite losing Bryce Harper to the rival Philadelphia Phillies, who will be in the mix for the division crown, along with the vastly improved New York Mets. Last year’s champs, the Atlanta Braves may well finish fourth, but then it would not be a total surprise for them to win the division, either. As for the Miami Marlins, they should have a Don Johnson Day at the ballpark and let it go at that.

The NL West will be a shootout (can we still use the term shootout? One of the best logos ever was the Houston Colt .45s, but I digress) between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies. If San Diego’s rookies take off behind newly minted Padre (operative word being mint, as in a depository for large sums of money) Manny Machado, then the Padres could surprise some people. I also predict that Manny will say or do something stupid, or both; and that will surprise no one.

The battle for the NL Central will be at least as competitive and entertaining as the one for the NL East. There is not a bad-bad team in the entire Central and one could easily make a case for the Cardinals, Cubs, or Brewers capturing the division. I’m going with St. Louis because I think that Paul Goldschmidt, acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks over the winter, will make that much of a difference. Because this division is so competitive, I don’t see either wild card emerging from the Central and that’s probably true of the East as well. Once again, I’ll go bold and predict the NL wild card winners will be the Rockies and Padres.

One more prediction: You will love Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball as a Spiritual Experience and in celebration of Opening Day, you can download a free copy. This offer is good on Thursday* only, and unlike the predictions above this one is guaranteed or you get your free back. If you read it and enjoy it, please leave a nice review! Thank you.

*Thursday is Opening Day in the United States. Oakland and Seattle have already played two games in Japan, which is stupid. One last prediction: Commissioner Rob Manfred will continue to do stupid things to the game. I vote to give Cincinnati back its traditional opener.

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