Peter Callaghan: D-Day on the home front — anxiety, exhilaration and prayer

Staff WriterJune 5, 2014 

If you didn’t know any better, you might wonder why the newspaper in Tacoma, Washington, was featuring the weather report for Dover, England, on its front page.

But it was early June 1944 and most readers of the Tacoma News Tribune knew a lot, especially that the long-awaited amphibious invasion of Europe from England could begin at any time. And they knew that “Low Clouds Over Dover” was not the report they — or Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower — were hoping for.

World War II dominated the front pages leading up to what would soon be known as D-Day. On June 2, the TNT had a feature story on the German prisoner-of-war camp at Fort Lewis, where several thousand soldiers captured in North Africa lived out the war.

“Our Nazi Neighbors,” was one headline.

Readers also read that the Office of Price Administration wasn’t changing the ration rules for meat.

Each day brought short stories about local servicemen killed in action, missing or — like Lt. Henry Earl Mamlock of the Army Air Corps — who became prisoners of war in Germany.

And still, there were attempts at normalcy. Department stores such as Rhodes advertised summer dresses, bathing suits and housewares, high school graduations were being held and the society pages continued to announce engagements, weddings and anniversaries.

But there was no escaping the war — in Europe and the Pacific and on the home front.

The Fifth War Bond Drive had just begun and citizens were urged to pitch in to help finance the war. Two new Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses were christened the “Mr. Tacoma” and the “Mrs. Tacoma” and put on display at McChord Field. And local war industries launched a campaign to recruit 5,800 workers immediately to help build ships and make aluminum, chemicals and lumber in the Tideflats.

One ad, with a drawing of a man and woman in coveralls, put out the call: “5800 loyal Tacoma workers must echo the tramp, tramp of marching feet on distant battlefields.”

By June 3, momentum in favor of the Allies in Europe was building.

“Nazi Rome Defenses Crumble” was the headline about the imminent control of the Italian capital by forces led by U.S. Army Gen. Mark W. Clark. And by June 5 it became obvious that something big was happening in France.

“16 Days of Continued Bombing; U.S. Planes Again Batter Invasion Coast.” (What wasn’t known is that much of this bombing around Pas de Calais was to disguise the real landing point at Normandy.)

D-Day began shortly after midnight 70 years ago on June 6, 1944 — midafternoon on June 5 in Washington state. Tight restrictions on the news media delayed an official announcement, but news had begun to leak out. Just before 11 p.m. Pacific Time on the evening of the 5th, Calais Radio announced: “This is D-Day.”

Official word from the Supreme Allied Command came shortly after midnight in Tacoma and it wasn’t until the afternoon that The News Tribune was able to provide its first coverage. By then it seemed clear the risky invasion had succeeded.

“Allies Smash Into France After Seizing Beachheads”

“New Page In War Turned”

“City Churches Plan Services For Prayer”

“The avenging forces,” wrote Associated Press correspondent Carl Cramer, “the greatest amphibious expedition in this or any other war, opened a fateful chapter in one of the most thrilling stories of nations — the story of France, great in history, fallen in defeat, awakening today to the battle shouts of soldiers, friends and Allies.”

D-Day marked the beginning of the end. But while Americans were confident, they would have done well to heed the warning in a News Tribune editorial the day after the invasion.

Victory would come, the paper predicted, but “until that time there may be many alarms and false reports. Europe is likely to be turned into a flaming cauldron of war.

“Then, with the Russians striking from the east, Hitler will be between giant pincers which will spell his doom.”

Victory in Europe, VE Day, wouldn’t be celebrated for 11 more months.

Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657
peter.callaghan@thenewstribune.com
@CallaghanPeter

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