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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Remembering a Huge Day in Our Family History: V-E Day

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott commemorates V-E Day—the day Nazi Germany surrendered in WWII—and  reminisces about his father’s involvement in the war.

It had been a long, arduous, and brutal six years of war in Europe. The United States had entered World War II on 7 December 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Finally in the spring of 1945, although the war against Japan would last a few more months, Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies on 8 May 1945—“V-E Day,” which stands for “Victory in Europe.” WWII was finally over in Europe.

Some 16 million Americans served in the armed forces during WWII and more than 400,000 of these Americans died in the line of duty.

Today, which is the 69th anniversary of V-E Day, is a good time for all of us who love and enjoy genealogy and family history to reflect on this historic day.

Victory in Europe Sweeps the Headlines

This front page from a Massachusetts newspaper was typical of newspapers across the United States announcing the important news.

Today Official V-E Day, Boston Herald newspaper article 8 May 1945

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 8 May 1945, page 1

The news was welcome everywhere. Stories abounded in the nation’s newspapers about the impact of the unconditional surrender of the Nazi armies. A good example comes from this Texas newspaper. This old newspaper article explains how one family welcomed the news as the MacWilliams family learned that their daughter, a WAC, and their son, a lieutenant, met in Paris after four years of war. Later, the news story mentions that the MacWilliams’ family also had two more sons serving in the Army. The family impacts of WWII can hardly be underestimated as we do our family histories!

WAC, Brother Meet in Paris after 4 Years, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 8 May 1945

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 May 1945, page 3

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V-J Day Still Months Away

WWII would rage on three more months in the brutal Pacific Theatre until V-J Day (Victory over Japan). Japan announced its surrender on 15 August 1945, with the formal surrender ceremony taking place on 2 September 1945. The fact that the war in the Pacific was continuing may have been cause for many families in the United States to celebrate V-E Day with a bit of reserve. As you can see from this front page of a Louisiana newspaper, there was much concern about the continuing and staggering losses in the Battle of Okinawa

U.S. Casualties Rise on Okinawa; Bitter Fight Rages, Advocate newspaper article 10 May 1945

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 10 May 1945, page 1

Similarly an entire page from this Illinois newspaper speaks to the ongoing war effort in the Pacific and “an invasion of Japan.”

articles about the war against Japan in WWII, Morning Star newspaper article 29 May 1945

Morning Star (Rockford, Illinois), 29 May 1945, page 6

Troops Celebrate V-E Day; Wary of Invasion of Japan

My father, a 1st lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry, told me years later that, while he and his buddies all toasted V-E Day, they felt that being reassigned to fight what they thought was the inevitable invasion of Japan might mean their deaths.

photo of U.S. troops in Europe during WWII

Photo: Scott Phillips’s father (in the back right corner) with some of the men from his unit, somewhere in Europe. Credit: from the author’s collection.

In my father’s words:

We all felt that if we had lived through the hell of the war in Europe it was only because we were just damn lucky, and our luck would surely run out in the Pacific and an invasion of Japan.

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Despite this apprehension due to the continuing war against Japan, there was good news on the home front all the same. Even though rationing continued until 1946, a return to normalcy seemed in sight after V-E Day was announced.

photo of WWII ration coupons

Photo: WWII ration coupons. Credit: from the author’s collection.

However, with the loss of over 400,000 servicemen and women, many families would never return to “normal.”

Did you have family members who served in World War II? My father only spoke of his service one time to my children and me. I hope you were able to document your family stories surrounding WWII and after V-E Day. They are certainly crucial stories to include in our family trees.

I’d be interested in knowing if you have been able to do this. Simply leave me a comment below if you would.

Peace.

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