Seventy-five years ago Thursday, military forces from the Allied nations led by the United States staged the largest invasion in history on the beaches of Normandy, setting the stage for the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany 11 months later.
Newspapers in Highland County were brimming with war news at that time, but due to the limits in communication of the day, details of the invasion and news of any local casualties were slow to reach home.
The Greenfield Daily Times, in an article from June 7, 1944, invited the general public to join in special D-Day prayer and meditation service that were being held at the First Presbyterian and First Methodist churches that evening, reassuring readers that St. Benignus Catholic Church was always open.
This was in response to what Highland countians heard on their radios the night before when, according to the FDR Library, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the nation about the success of the D-Day invasion and then led the country in a prayer for those fighting on the beaches of Normandy.
The first wire photos of battle scenes were received by the Greenfield paper two days later on June 8, depicting a squad of soldiers on board a troop carrier with the headline “First Photo of Invasion: Americans Embark for France.”
In its Friday June 8 edition, The Hillsboro Press-Gazette published an article where a Navy rear admiral praised the men and women of the C.S. Bell Company “for their excellent performance of duty in producing materials and components for the war landing craft.”
Admiral E.L. Cochran said that “part of the equipment that goes into the assembling of the complete landing craft and used in the invasion is made by this local company.”
Two families reading the post D-Day accounts in The Press-Gazette received somber news that a son and husband were alive, but were prisoners of war.
The paper reported that Mrs. Edna Eubanks of Bainbridge had received a letter from her only son, Pvt. Henry Eubanks, the day after the War Department had notified her he had been declared missing in action in the Italian Theatre since Feb. 17.
When Henry Eubanks was 14, he had been the Ross County marble champion, and according to the paper, had won first place in the district tournament and finished sixth in the nationals.
News of the fate of Sgt. Louis Kelch of Hillsboro was received by his mother, confirming that after his B-17 bomber failed to return from a mission and that he was a German prisoner of war, having been listed as missing in action since April 11.
Mrs. Roxie Kelch reported it was the first news she had received about her son since being notified by the War Department on April 28.
The Hillsboro Dispatch did its part to keep the community informed on the progress of the invasion and the war effort, imploring its readers to support the upcoming 5th War Loan in a half page ad sponsored by the three downtown Hillsboro banks: Merchants, Farmers & Traders and the Hillsboro Bank & Savings Co.
In the ad, the financial institutions appealed to the community at large to double its war bond purchases, telling their customers that a Victory Worker’s job was to help raise $16 billion, and that $6 billion alone would have to come from private individuals.
According to an inflation calculator, $6 billion in 1944 was equal to more than $86 billion today.
News of casualties in the D-Day invasion didn’t reach home for several weeks. But the Dispatch reported on a Highland County man who had been killed in action in the Admiralty Islands campaign near New Guinea on May 27.
Lt. James Carroll, 23, Buford, had been deployed overseas since December.
The paper said he had been awarded posthumously the Air Medal with five Oak Leaf Clusters for bravery in service against the Japanese, and that his wife, Jean Carroll, and their 11-month old son had been living with her parents in the Buford area since his enlistment in the Army Air Corps in April 1942.
The invasion of Normandy was an important turning point of World War II, but historians from BBC History magazine are quick to point out that soldiers, sailors and airmen alike had to fight through several other battles in both Europe and the Pacific before final victory could be achieved, in places like Iwo Jima, Okinawa, the Bulge, Leyte Gulf, Luzon and eventually Berlin.
According to Popular Mechanics magazine, more than 5,000 ships were deployed in the D-Day operation to land troops along 50 miles of heavily-defended coastline, and that within a week the allies had close to 350,000 service personnel in place for the push to liberate Europe.
Author Bill Mauldin, in his 1945 book “Up Front,” summed up what it was like to be a foot soldier slugging through the countryside of Europe in the weeks that followed D-Day:
“Dig a hole in your back yard while it is raining. Sit in the hole until the water climbs up around your ankles. Pour cold mud down your shirt collar. Sit there for forty-eight hours, and, so there is no danger of your dozing off, imagine that a guy is sneaking around waiting for a chance to club you on the head or set your house on fire,” he wrote. “Get out of the hole, fill a suitcase full of rocks, pick it up, put a shotgun in your other hand, and walk on the muddiest road you can find. Fall flat on your face every few minutes as you imagine big meteors streaking down to sock you. If you repeat this performance every three days for several months you may begin to understand why an infantryman sometimes gets out of breath. But you still won’t understand how he feels when things get tough.”
The war in Europe ended with Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 7, 1945, with surrender papers being signed the next day.
Japan followed suit three months later after the twin atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaka, announcing its unconditional surrender on Aug. 14, with the signing of formal surrender documents on Sept. 2, 1945.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.