The First National Bank was urging local people to save up and buy a plane so that in post-war prosperity you’d “commute from your place in the country 100 miles from Wilkes-Barre.”
More modestly, Percy Brown’s downtown restaurant was offering an evening meal of “Tend-R-Cure ham and eggs” for just 40 cents.
Churchgoers were looking forward to the renowned Msgr. Fulton J. Sheen’s talk that evening at Irem Temple, while Tru-Age beer was urging war-weary folks to pour a cold one and take a break from tending the victory garden.
But blaring out from the front page of the Wilkes-Barre Record that morning of June 6, 1944, 70 years ago this week, was something much more compelling.
“Allies invade France across English Channel,” said the headline in enormous type.
The long-awaited final push to end World War II in Europe was on. Thousands of American, British and Canadian troops had stormed ashore on the coast of the Normandy region, and against heavy German resistance were beginning to move forward.
Few people these days can appreciate the way the war dominated everyday life and thinking in the early 1940s. Nearly every household had a member or two in the military, or working in a defense-related factory somewhere. A trip to the store was an exercise in economy, with ration booklets limiting the staples one could buy – if, indeed, the meat and other commodities were available.
American forces had been making good – though costly – progress against the Japanese in the Pacific for two years now. Likewise, the Allies had cleared out North Africa and tied down German divisions in Italy, while on the Eastern Front the Soviets were steadily pushing the Germans back.
But even the most casual observer knew that the war would not be won without a landing somewhere on the Atlantic coast of Europe and a drive toward Germany itself. On the morning of June 6, 1944, six hours ahead of American Eastern War Time, that’s exactly what happened.
In the darkness of night, the news began to trickle in. Ironically, much of the initial information U.S. print and radio media sent out had been intercepted from German broadcasts. Only a few hours later did American reporters and photographers become the main providers, and that was through a “pool” system in which selected newsmen would provide content to all media.
Northeastern Pennsylvania residents had access to the four major radio networks of the day in NBC, ABC, CBS and Mutual, and by mid-morning the latest war news had begun to crowd out their regular programming. Just moments after 9:30 a.m., local time, the Allied high command finally confirmed that the invasion was under way.
Looking back from today, 70 years after the fateful Normandy invasion, it’s probably impossible to grasp the mindset of the time. Did the rest of life go on as scheduled that day? Was the Capitol Theater full of people enjoying the rollicking army-based comedy “Four Jills in a Jeep”? Did crowds flock to Isaac Long’s department store for the spring dresses on sale at $5 to $15?
Here’s something we can do this June 6. When we see the people whom we know were around that day – civilian, military, whatever – let’s give a handshake or a hug, or just a wave and a smile. They were there, and they’ll know what it’s for.