70th Anniversary of WWII’s D-Day (6 June 1944)

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to find out more about the Allied attacks on German-held beaches in France on D-Day.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of World War II’s D-Day, which happened on 6 June 1944. D-Day was the long-awaited invasion by the Allies of Nazi Germany’s “Fortress Europe.” The massive assault was also known by the codename “Operation Overlord.”

It is estimated that America is losing some 550 World War II veterans each and every day now. Of the approximately 16 million U.S. men and women who served in World War II, only about 1.2 million are still alive today. Personally, I know that my father landed on Omaha Beach, and he has passed away. Now his WWII experiences are only stories others remember, not first-hand experiences he’s around to share with us. It was with this in mind that I decided to search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to review this historic day.

It did not take me long to find this front-page news coverage of D-Day. General Dwight Eisenhower and the Allies had amassed the greatest amphibious invasion force in history. The old news article reports a one-sentence communiqué issued at 3:32 A.M. Eastern War Time:

Under the command of Gen. Eisenhower, Allied naval forces supported by strong air forces began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.

By the time this “Extra” edition of the newspaper hit the streets, Operation Overlord had become an immense battle across five Normandy beaches whose code names now are seared into our memory: Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword, and Utah.

front-page news about the Allied invasion of France on D-Day during WWII, Boston Herald newspaper article 6 June 1944

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 6 June 1944, page 1

During the months of D-Day preparations, the actual landings, and even continuing into the first weeks of battles, there was an equally important operation taking place by the name of “Operation Fortitude.” This two-part operation of “Fortitude North” and “Fortitude South” was one of the supreme acts of deception of all time.

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It took a while for all the details to be revealed, but this 1965 newspaper article presents a very good review of this “secret of D-Day.”

article about D-Day and the secret “Operation Fortitude” during WWII, Boston Herald newspaper article 10 December 1965

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 10 December 1965, page 15

Four years later, this 1969 newspaper article again focuses on the use of deception that paved the way for the Allies’ success at D-Day. This historical news article reports the reminiscences of General Omar Bradley, who commanded the American troops attacking the Normandy coast. Bradley related not only his firsthand memories regarding the D-Day invasion, but also the big deception that was created to convince the Axis powers that the actual invasion was still coming at Pas de Calais—and that the Normandy landings were actually just a distraction.

article about WWII's D-Day and General Omar Bradley, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 1 June 1969

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 1 June 1969, page 32

The incredible fighting, bravery, and staggering losses of D-Day have been frequently reported, but I found a 1979 article on this subject that was particularly interesting to me. It was written by Robert E. Cunningham, a U.S. Army Captain, and relates his experiences while landing at Omaha Beach that fateful day. His story is almost too intense to read.

At Omaha Beach, D Day, June 6, 1944, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 3 June 1979

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 3 June 1979, page 135

Several years ago, my family was on vacation in Europe. We were in France, my mother was driving and my father was dozing in the car. My mom saw a sign for “Omaha Beach” and decided it would be a nice surprise to go there for my dad. My father didn’t wake up until we parked the car. He was incredibly shocked to see where we were as he sat in the car looking out at the acres and rows of crosses. For quite some time he refused to leave the car. Finally he joined us as we walked the now silent beach, seeing the cliffs, concrete pillboxes, old rusting guns, and shipwrecks still in the surf.  It was later, while walking hand-in-hand with his family through those crosses that he said, in a voice that was only a whisper, that he had spent the first months after D-Day on graves registration detail and it was the worst duty he had ever pulled.

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The War continued for almost a year after D-Day with fierce fighting all across Europe (and in the Pacific for even longer), as shown in this 1944 newspaper with a full page of articles covering battle after battle being waged from France and Italy to the Pacific.

articles about WWII battles, Oregonian newspaper articles 23 June 1944

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 23 June 1944, page 4

Now it is 70 years after D-Day and the successes of that fateful day continue to be recognized across Europe as communities everywhere celebrate their liberation. As a matter of fact, just a couple of months ago I was contacted by a woman who is coordinating the celebration of the liberation of the town of Dinan, France, which was accomplished by the forces of the 83rd Infantry. She was seeking photographs that might be a part of that town’s celebration. As any good family historian and genealogist would do, I was happy to share what I had for the display during their celebration this summer.

The small leather satchel in this photograph is the one my father carried across Europe during the fighting. He carefully noted each town he found himself in, one of which was Dinan.

photo of a leather satchel carried by Scott Phillips's father across Europe during the fighting of WWII

Photo: leather satchel carried by the author’s father across Europe during the fighting of WWII. Credit: from the author’s collection.

As my contact in Dinan said to me: “Oh my, Scott, this satchel tells a story all by itself.”

I can only add my thanks to all who served our country in WWII and especially those who fought on the beaches of Normandy 70 years ago on D-Day.

photo of Scott Phillips'sfather having lunch somewhere in Normandy with his squad during WWII

Photo: The author’s father (right rear) having lunch somewhere in Normandy with his squad during WWII. Credit: from the author’s collection.

Do you have any D-Day veterans in your family or your family tree? I’d like to hear about them if you do; please post something in the comments section below.

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National Archives Celebrates 75th Anniversary this Friday!

National Archives Celebrates 75th Anniversary on Friday, June 19th.

Susan Logue (Voice of America) distributed this commentary on the 75th Anniversary of the National Archives.

Before the National Archives was founded, many governmental records were kept in poor conditions. On June 19, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the legislation creating the National Archives. “There was a recognition by historians, by public officials and others that the history of the nation was being lost,” says assistant archivist Michael Kurtz. “Records were kept by the agencies that created them. Fires, floods and other disasters really ate away at the nation’s documented heritage.”

A visitor to the National Archives examines the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S.

Constitution Seventy-five years later, it is home to some of the most treasured documents in the United States. Every day, visitors fill the rotunda of the National Archives to get a glimpse of the documents that are the foundation of the United States government: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

But there is much more to the National Archives than just the so-called Charters of Freedom. More than 9 billion records preserved.

Since 1934 it has been responsible for all official governmental historical records: judicial, legislative and executive. Of course, not every government document is saved. Only one to three percent are deemed valuable enough to permanently archive. But, as Kurtz explains, that still adds up to more than nine billion records. While the paper records are vast, there are records in other formats as well including video, film, and digital.

“You have wikis and blogs, digital e-mail, all capturing government business,” says Kurtz. He notes they present new challenges to the Archives. “Preserving them is not like having temperature- and humidity-control vaults for paper records, which will ensure the paper records last for hundreds of years. Digital media is much more fragile.”

On the other hand, Kurtz says, the digital age has presented some opportunities for the National Archives, which can provide access to holdings to people who will never be able to come to the National Archives in person.

The National Archives is celebrating its 75th anniversary with lectures and panel discussions, screenings of films, and an exhibit called “Big!,” featuring some of its more unusual holdings. “The original premise was to showcase some unique items that normally don’t get displayed because of their size,” says exhibits specialist Jennifer Johnson.

Those items include a Civil War-era battlefield map of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that measures four meters square and a bathtub modeled after the one made for President William Howard Taft, the largest U.S. president. He weighed about 145 kilos (320 pounds). “There were a series of items that were custom made for him, including his bed,” says Johnson. “We have a telegram where it is asking for a bathtub, listing the dimensions and describing it as ‘pond-like.’”
When the exhibition, Big!, closes next January, Shaq’s shoe will go to the George W. Bush presidential library. Presidential libraries are also part of the National Archives. There is also a shoe that belonged to basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, which was given to President George W. Bush, and a casting of dinosaur footprints.

Johnson says that was presented to Richard Nixon by two boys who discovered the fossilized prints in New Jersey. “When they discovered these footprints they petitioned Nixon to preserve that area of land so they could study it, and he did. So they gave him a casting of the footprints.” Today, she notes, one of those boys is one of the leading paleontologists in the U.S. There are also more conventional records in the exhibit, illustrating big events and big ideas in American history, like the lunar landing and D-Day, the Normandy invasion that led to the Allied victory in World War Two.

Exhibits like “Big!” give visitors a glimpse of the vast holdings of the National Archives, but the stars of the collection remain the Charters of Freedom.
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