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70 years ago, Charleston residents rushed to read D-Day news

By Charlotte Ferrell Smith, Religion reporter

At 4 a.m. 70 years ago today, eager newsboys hurried throughout Charleston with copies of the Charleston Daily Mail as anxious residents walked to their porches to buy papers and the voices of radio correspondents filled the air.

The sun was to rise in two more hours and the day’s temperature predicted to soar to 87. But the bright day was to be clouded by the shattering news that D-Day had arrived.

On June 6, 1944, news stories swirled around the topics of war, death, hope and prayer.

The Daily Mail headline on page one read: “Invaders Surge 10 Miles Into France, Crushing Sky Onslaught Sets Stage for Infantry;” “11,000 Planes Soften Coast for Invasion,” “Troops, Tanks Land in Wake of 96-Hour Aerial Bombardment” and “FDR Calls For Prayer.”

A news wire story reported, “President Roosevelt spent early invasion hours writing a prayer to be read to the nation at 10 p.m. EWT.” The article continued to say that “in his prayer the president will ask for divine battle strength to conquer apostles of greed and racial arrogancies.”

Another story reported from Washington by the Associated Press had the sobering headline “69 National Cemeteries Planned for U.S. War Dead.” The story began, “The war department on the hypothetical assumption that 100,000 American fighting men will die overseas in this war, wants 69 new national cemeteries.” The story went on to say the report went to the house military committee in support of a bill to establish a national cemetery in every state.

Sprinkled among sad and terrifying news were advertisements hinting at normalcy such as a summer cotton pinafore dress on sale for $2.98 at the old Montgomery Ward Department Store on Washington Street or the Cohen’s Drug Store ad offering a card of 24 bobby pins for a dime or poison ivy cream for 47 cents.

However, an ad from the old Diamond Department Store said, “We can’t all be on the beachhead of France today, but we can all help to give our men that extra impetus that will bring the struggle to a swifter conclusion. Buy that extra bond today.”

On the following day of June 7, 1944, the Daily Mail sported headlines like “German Armies Race to Meet Invaders” and “Invaders Crawl Over Bodies to Get At Foe.”

A portion of a story read: “LONDON (UP) _ ‘Some of the first assault troops who stormed the French beaches were mowed down by German crossfire but succeeding waves climbed over the bodies until a foothold was established, an eye witness who returned from the beachhead reported today.

“Bert Brandt, 28, an Acme news photographer, spent a half hour on the beach yesterday and several hours more cruising within gunshot of the landing scene.”

Brandt reported, “It was hotter than hell over there.”

He said the Germans laid down intensive fire on the beaches with well-placed machine guns. American casualties were spotty, heavy on some beaches and light on others. Brandt reported the German machine gunners waited until the landing craft lowered their ramps and then poured deadly fire into the barges. The opposition met by the first wave delayed the landing of demolition parties scheduled to follow with heavy equipment.

By the time Brandt left the beachhead, German defenses had crumbled under the weight of attack and the Americans were firmly ashore and beginning to advance inland.

Advertisements surrounding Brandt’s gut wrenching report offered print dresses at Penney’s for $1.59 or a “heavy duty battery” at Sears for $6.95. There were also comic pages and wedding announcements.

Hints of a normal life.

But life was anything but normal in Charleston as told in the story headlined “City Churches Draw Crowds.”

The story said, “A new seriousness was evident everywhere as crowds gathered around radios and poured over newspapers.” The article continues to say “uneasiness was expressed on the faces of those who fled to the sanctity of the churches for silent prayers and short services.”

People flocked to churches after work for special prayer meetings. Pastors prayed over radio airwaves and hymns followed as well as the national anthem.

The last paragraph read, “As the long-awaited D-Day came to an end, the voice of the president quieted Charleston crowds in public places as the commander-in-chief asked ‘Allies all over the world to join us in prayer for the success of the invasion and a peaceful world to come.’”


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