Editor's Note: For many Cobb County residents in the 1940s, the Marietta Journal was the pipeline connecting them to the news from the battlefields of World War II. Seventy-five years ago, Allied forces landed the largest seaborne invasion in history upon the beaches of Normandy, France. This epic World War II operation was carried out on Tuesday, June 6, 1944. From these bloody beaches, the Allies would ultimately liberate German-occupied France from the control of Adolph Hitler's Nazi forces and lay the groundwork for the liberation of Europe. Here's a synopsis of some of the news reported by the Journal in early June 1944.
The False Invasion Report
On Monday, June 5, 1944, The Marietta Journal ran a United Press International (UPI) story on the front page about how the Saturday before, the Associated Press ran a report announcing that the Allies had invaded France. The erroneous dispatch was accidentally released by a 22-year-old woman in the wire service’s London Bureau, who was practicing “without authorization” on a teletype machine.
Five minutes after the news went out, the AP killed the report. By that time, however, it had been broadcast over hundreds of radio stations. UPI stated that “baseball games in the U.S. were halted, special prayers were said and the telephone switchboards of newspapers and radio stations were flooded with calls.”
On the actual invasion day, the Journal reported that American, British and Canadian assault forces had stormed the coast of northern France with 11,000 planes, 4,000 ships and thousands of smaller craft earlier that morning. In just a few hours, the men were said to have seized beachheads on the Normandy peninsula and won a railroad pointed straight at Paris.
Marietta’s reaction to the invasion was reported as “a calm seriousness.”
The invasion news was first received over the telephone by Marietta’s Civilian Defense head Guy Northcutt at 3:12 a.m. from Atlanta director George M. “Pup” Phillips. Northcutt “immediately aroused the air raid wardens and ordered the sirens sounded.”
Lights quickly flipped on all over town as every family began listening to the details on the radio and bells at all of the city’s churches began calling the faithful.
First Baptist Church saw people gather at 3:30 a.m. The church continued prayer throughout the day. A 30-minute special service was led by the Rev. George F. Brown at 6 p.m. that evening and the church remained open until late into the night.
First Methodist Church opened its doors when the alarm sounded and did not close until 9 p.m. that night.
About 150 people attended a special service between 4 and 6 a.m. at First Presbyterian. The church, which was open all day, held another special service at 8 p.m. that was led by the Rev. Alton Glasure.
St. James Episcopal Church opened with the sirens and held silent prayer all day.
Roswell Street Baptist Church did not open with the sirens, but prayer was offered for the invasion forces at 9 a.m. during the Vacation Bible School meeting. Prayer and silent meditation was also observed later during the school program.
Jay’s Chapel Methodist Church was open all day, but there were no special services due to the Rev. Bayard Speers being on vacation.
The Second Baptist Church, which opened at 4:30 a.m., held a special service at 5 a.m. and stayed open all day.
In the Tuesday, June 13, 1944, paper it was reported that information about Marietta’s turnout for the early morning prayer services was carried in a story by TIME Magazine. Bill Howland, the Atlanta representative for TIME, called Lloyd Harris of the Journal for the city’s reaction and the comments were included in a story about the Atlanta area.
Marietta’s Invasion Heroes
The Wednesday, June 7, 1944, paper reported that Maj. Ralph N. Read of Marietta flew Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King on a flight from Ottawa to London and back again for “the historic conference of British prime ministers” that preceded the Allied landing. Read was also said to have flown President Franklin D. Roosevelt on his trip to the Teheran conference besides piloting U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull on his mission to Moscow.
Also that day, Stanton “Shang” Read Jr. was reported as being a member of the crew on the U.S.S. Augusta, which was in action off the coast of Normandy. The Augusta was famous for having been the meeting place of President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when they signed the Atlantic Charter.
In his “Around the Square” column, Tom Robertson Jr. reported that day about how Marietta’s Niles Trammel, head of the National Broadcasting Company, was not being credited with being first to bring the news of the invasion to America. At 1 a.m. on the morning of the invasion, Trammel was said to have “developed a hunch that ‘something was happening’ in the Channel area, and established contact with London.” When the invasion was announced, Trammel’s radio chain was the first to broadcast descriptions of the landings.
Sgt. William Petty was reported in the June 13 paper as having killed 30 Nazi soldiers during the invasion. Petty’s family had lived in Marietta from 1935-1937. During that time, he had been a carrier for the newspaper. He was a member of F Company of the Second Ranger Battalion, which landed on the dawn of D-Day with the mission of silencing six big German cliff guns that were hindering landing operations. The attack called for the men in Companies D, E and F to scale the cliff with rope ladders in the face of grenade and rifle fire. Once the guns were destroyed, the men were to send a signal flare alerting the remainder of the Second Battalion waiting offshore.
The companies scaled the cliffs in 20 minutes, but of the 200 men in the operation, about half were killed.
After taking out the guns, Petty’s Company F moved 300-400 yards towards the base of the point and discovered some German soldiers. It was here where Petty mowed down dozens of the enemy with his Browning automatic rifle.
Other Noteworthy Items
G. Leonard Allen Jr. of the Bell Bomber plant’s war bonds committee was reported in the Thursday, June 8, 1944, paper as commemorating D-Day in a special way. All war bond purchases for the Fifth War Loan that week were dated June 6, 1944. Bond purchases “skyrocketed” following the invasion announcement.
The June 13 paper reported that a special invasion newsreel, just a week after the event, was to be screened at The Strand Theater. The film was said to have been sent direct from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to Gen. George C. Marshall. It showed D-Day preparations, as well as the actual beginning of the attack.
Damon Poirier is the Newsroom Administrator and Historian for the Marietta Daily Journal.