Tag Archives: World War II

What Does Victory Feel Like?

“Photograph of a Young Nazi”

It was clear that it was May 8, 1945, but in his eagerness to reach out to his family in Bowling Green, Kentucky from “the Heart of Germany,” Captain Harry Jackson misdated his letter April 8.  “To-day is VE day in Europe!” he exclaimed, but rather than “a day of great revelry and excitement . . . the day has been spent in sober reflection and rest.” 

Casting his mind back on the struggle – which, for him, had begun at Normandy only days after D-Day – Jackson found it difficult to appreciate the significance of the occasion.  He and his men felt less like conquering heroes than “bewildered children contemplating something too powerful to comprehend.”  No one could quite believe that, all of a sudden, “there will not be any more guns, snipers, buzz bombs, rockets, mortar shells, blood, suffering, death, and devastating destruction. We cannot realize that the hour is free – that the fighting here is over.”  Overshadowing any relief Jackson felt were the ghosts of “our men drifting and driving through the maelstrom of battle endlessly, tired, weary, footsore, cold,” and of those “who have fallen along the roadside in the mud . . . awaiting the Graves Registration units to come pick them up.”  His reserves of emotion, he admitted, were empty – “and yet moist tears even now trickle down my cheeks.”

Three days later, Jackson took up his letter again.  Still unable to sort out his reactions, he had wandered the sunny streets of the medieval village in which he was staying, then tried to shake off his indolence and reenter the “world of reality” and resume his officer’s duties.  “I must finish this letter now,” he wrote apologetically, “although I have failed miserably to fulfill my intentions when I began it.” 

But if Jackson could not yet understand the meaning of victory he had, only a month earlier, contemplated the wages of hubris, aggression, and defeat.  Billeted in a house in Hanover, Germany, he had come across a photograph of a German soldier. The discovery had moved him to compose a poem “Written Upon Finding a Photograph of a Young Nazi”:

Oh!  Imperious young man – Thou!
Where lies thy destiny?
Has the pillars of thy philosophy withstood
The gamble of the conqueror’s game,
the fanatic’s creed –
Which leads blindly into hate?

Think! – when returning to the remains
of thy heritage,
Of what price you have paid
…….
Weep! and survey the ruin.

Harry L. Jackson’s papers are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Special Collections Library. Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Have something to say, then say it

Harry Jackson (tallest, at rear) with “my crew,” Kerkrade, Netherlands

When Captain Harry L. Jackson landed in France five days after D-Day, the special services officer with the 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division had yet to encounter the worst of his war experiences.  His tour, however, was preceded by lengthy service in the National Guard and, after his unit was activated, by duty at stateside camps and by training at Officers’ Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia and Special Services School at Washington and Lee University.  His training groomed Jackson to be responsible not only for a variety of tasks but for coordinating the activities of his staff to best serve the needs of soldiers and civilians caught in the European theater of war.

Jackson learned that military life was more than the receipt of and obedience to unfathomable orders and meaningless procedures; rather, leading and motivating others required skills that were necessary in any well-functioning organization, military or civilian.  Included in his papers, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Library Special Collections, is a two-page list of 28 points summarizing the “Management of the American Soldier.”  Among the items of advice:

Treat the American soldier as a man; look him squarely in the eye when you talk to him and treat him justly.

Give short talks to men on subjects which they ought to know.  Be sure the talks are short.  Have something  to say; say it; then stop.

Be extremely careful about your manner in dealing with soldiers; they are entitled to a respectful and patient hearing.  Some officers seem to go on the theory that military efficiency consists in a loud voice and an impatient manner.

[Soldiers] respect and admire an officer who requires a strict performance of duty.  The true rule for handling soldiers is: Don’t nag them; don’t neglect them; don’t coddle them.

Look carefully after the company mess.  Much of the discontent in a company is founded upon dissatisfaction with the food and the way it is served.

Be an optimist; cultivate that habit.

Remember Napoleon’s maxim, that in war the moral is to the physical as three to one.

There is always something to be done; the efficient officer sets to work earnestly and loyally to do it, overcoming obstacles as he goes along.

Prohibit the use of dirty, vulgar language – Punish offenders and see that your instructions are carried out.

This last admonition was, perhaps, more honored in the breach than the observance, as indicated by the motivational techniques of another officer whose words were also preserved in Captain Jackson’s papers.  A week before D-Day, legendary General George S. Patton gave a speech to the men of the Third U.S. Army.  Here is some of what he had to say by way of motivation (edited for PG-13):

Death must not be feared.  Every man is frightened at first in battle.  If he says he isn’t, he’s a #&%@# liar.

All through your army career you men have bitched about what you call “this chicken$#&* drilling.”  That is all for a purpose.  Drilling and discipline must be maintained in an army, if only for one reason: INSTANT OBEDIENCE TO ORDERS AND TO CREATE CONSTANT ALERTNESS.  I don’t give a damn for a man who is not always on his toes.

An army is a team.  Lives, sleeps, eats, fights as a team.  This individual heroic stuff is a lot of crap.

Why, by God, I actually pity those son-of-a-$%&# we’re going up against.  By God, I do.

Every man in the army plays a vital part.  Every little job is essential to the whole scheme. . . . Even the Chaplain is important for if we get killed, and he was not there to bury us, we’d all to go to Hell.

Sure, we will all want to go home.  We want this thing over with, but you can’t win a war lying down.  The quickest way to get it over with is to get the #%&$#&.  The quicker they are whipped, the quicker we go home.

Thank God that at least, 30 years from now when you are sitting around the fireside with your grandson on your knee, and he asks you what you did in the Great World War II, you won’t have to say, “I shoveled #&$@ in Louisiana.”

Click here to access a finding aid for the Harry Jackson Collection.  For more World War II collections, search TopScholar and KenCat.

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“There is nothing romantic about it”

Harry Jackson despaired at homes blown out “like the bowels of a butchered pig”

As a U.S. Army Special Services Officer during World War II, Warren County, Kentucky’s Harry L. Jackson (1907-1985) saw combat up close.  Landing at Utah Beach five days after D-Day, he and his men pushed toward Germany via France, Holland and Belgium.  Jackson’s duties included arranging recreation for the troops, writing a regimental history, distributing ballots for the 1944 presidential election, and preparing applications for decorations.  Before long, however, he found himself doing much more: burying war dead, helping to manage waves of refugees, and juggling pleas for favors from desperate civilians.  He experienced the far-away look in the eyes of exhausted combat soldiers, and the utter destruction that war brought to once-beautiful cities and villages across Europe. He also learned to cope with his own emotional tailspin after witnessing a vast panorama of human suffering that included a visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp in summer 1945.

So it was with much authority that Jackson reflected on the bitter fruits of war in an October 9, 1944 letter to his sister Juanita:

While I write this there is a terrible battle raging. . . you will never know (thank God) the terror of war – all evening long I have been listening to the artillery fire – the concussion of which shakes the building to its foundations – then there are the mortars and machine guns – then the tanks. . . the planes are over most every night. . . then to-morrow the casualty lists. . . . 

I went out today – all of the houses are torn to bits – everything blown from the inside with large holes blown through the walls – all the inside contents spilling out like the bowels of a butchered pig – there are no windows – just large gaping holes in the walls through which the wind and weather plays jauntily with the lace curtains – curtains hung by some proud hand to make a home. . . makes one feel ashamed to look into the intimate privacy of these houses as they stand stripped of their raiments and stand naked before you.  The people – the people that once called them home have been driven, helpless away . . . to make way for the mighty god of war and destruction. . . . .

No there is nothing romantic about it.  Beauty and the lightness of life is gone. . . . but we are winning – and there will be a to-morrow of a better world I hope whether I am here to see it or not. . . . My eyes have seen too much – and my mind is filled with revolt at the scene – but I must go on – for them that have gone and for those that are out there to-night and for you at home.

Harry Jackson’s letters are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  A finding aid can be downloaded here.  To browse our World War II collections, search TopSCHOLAR and Ken Cat.

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“A flock of hawks”

On the Memorial Day weekend of May 29, 2021, the remains of Barren County Navy seaman Howard Scott Magers, killed aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor, were finally brought home.

Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941

On the morning of December 7, 1941, nineteen-year-old Logan County, Kentucky native Warren Tinsley was asleep aboard the U.S. Navy destroyer Aylwin, moored near Ford Island at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  He and his mates were enjoying the looser discipline of that Sunday morning, when many sailors were sleeping off hangovers from their shore leave in Honolulu; some, in fact, including several senior officers, had not yet returned from liberty.   

As a consequence, no one stirred right away when the general alarm buzzer sounded, as it was used for everything from “man overboard” to a fire drill.  But the catastrophic news came quickly: the Japanese were attacking.

Tinsley emerged from below decks to see the attack already under way.  Hit below the waterline, the “old battleship Utah was slowly turning over,” its starboard side high in the air.  Its dazed crew were either struggling in the water or trying to get over the starboard side to swim to Ford Island.  Tinsley hurried to his battle station to find four junior officers trying to decide who would assume the duties of the absent captain.  As the crew rushed to break out the Aylwin’s ammunition, Tinsley saw hostile planes everywhere.  “They reminded me of a flock of hawks attacking a chicken farm in the Kentucky hills.”  Low-flying fighters were “bombing our ships at tree top levels,” giving special attention to the mighty battleships.  One of his mates yelled “There goes the Arizona!” as the vessel exploded, the casualty of a direct hit on her ammunition magazines. And there was the battleship Oklahoma:  it had “turned over as a result of the hits that she suffered and lay like a dead whale with its belly shining in the air.”

Returning fire, Tinsley’s ship managed to make it down the western channel of Pearl Harbor and out to open sea, past the “burning and smoldering mass that was Ford Island.”  After a day of searching for the enemy, the Aylwin returned to the “graveyard of what had once been a formidable fighting force.”  Tinsley also returned to a changed Navy, in which the military routines of peacetime had suddenly vanished.

Warren Tinsley’s vivid account of the attack on Pearl Harbor is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  A finding aid and full-text download can be accessed here.  For more of our collections detailing the service and sacrifice of veterans, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Never stop singing, mother”

When the U.S. entered World War II, Charles Henry Duff of Jackson, Kentucky had already been in the Army for 17 months.  A few days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he accompanied his infantry unit to Hawaii to begin 3½ years of active duty in the Pacific theatre.  He would earn a Combat Infantryman Badge for exemplary conduct on Saipan.  Though wounded, Duff came away with a Japanese pistol and saber as souvenirs of the battle.

Charles Duff’s mother, Linnie Duff

But the day after Mother’s Day in 1943, he was just another soldier happy to receive a letter from his mother, Linnie Duff. Worried that she was worried after having received no recent letters from him,  Charles made up for it with a heartfelt reply that paid tribute to his mother’s hard work and sacrifices throughout his life.

“Thinking of the times when I used to sit in the kitchen,” wrote the grateful son, “and watch you cook dinner and how you would scold us kids for fighting over who got to sit on the stool or who got to lick the cake pan. . . And how you used to come home from work so tired you could hardly walk.  And start right in ironing a shirt for me to wear to town.  And oh how it hurt me to see you have to work.”  He recalled the guilt he experienced when, as a young man, he couldn’t contribute financially to their Depression-era Breathitt County household.  “I couldn’t even get a job big enough to wear decent clothes, much less take care of a family.  Who wanted to hire a little ole boy seventeen years old and not big enough for a boy of twelve.” 

Charles remembered the “fuss” his mother made when he wouldn’t take medicine, or how she “used to lay awake nights waiting” for him to come home.  “But the one thing that stands out more than anything,” he wrote, “is the way you would sing.  When you were washing, ironing, cooking or anything that had to do with work you always did it with a song.” 

Attributing his own passion for music to his mother, Charles made one request.  “Music to me is everything.  It’s life, love and even death.  So never stop singing mother, no matter what happens.”  And if he didn’t make it home from the war, she shouldn’t cry over him.  “Just sing for me instead like you have always sung.”  In the meantime, he told her never to doubt that he was thinking of her, because to this son “every day is Mother’s day.”

Charles Duff’s letter to his mother is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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History from Home

David Ellen Tichenor’s D-Day letter

Everyone knew something big was coming – just not when or where – but on D-Day, June 6, 1944, the mystery was solved.  As soon as she heard the news that morning in Calhoun, Kentucky, David Ellen Tichenor penned a letter to her son Thomas, then serving as a convoy communications officer with the U.S. Navy.  In short letters (her V-Mail stationery limited her to one page) she relayed something of the predicament of ordinary people: the “majority in the middle,” in the words of philosopher Eric Hoffer, over whose heads “the best and the worst” so often clash to make history.

On the morning of D-Day, “about 4 or a little later,” she wrote, “we were awakened by the Methodist bell ringing.  [S]oon all the other church bells began ringing.  I got up and turned on the radio as did every one else.  Soon a line of people were seen going to the churches to pray – the invasion had started!” – but she had stayed home, “being too full of emotion and sadness of knowing some of our boys were in it, but I did my part of praying.” 

With the outcome still uncertain, there were only ordinary things to talk about.  David Ellen reported that she and Thomas’s father had recently spent a day visiting family in Bowling Green (she was a niece of WKU’s first president Henry Hardin Cherry).  Upon their return to Calhoun, they found that a generous rain had revived their beloved garden.  “In fact it there had been quite a storm.”  Everything, however, was “fresh and pretty.”

Six days later, wrote David Ellen, everyone was still glued to their radios, but “the invasion seems to be going along O.K.”  Nevertheless, some of the Calhoun boys were “thought to be in it and their mothers are frantic.  What  a mess the world is in.”  Mr. Tichenor was gathering “big luschious” cherries from their tree, an old one that would probably expire after “making its ‘war effort.’”  Two days later: “The first ripe tomato to-day!”

Almost three weeks into the invasion, local mothers were still feeling the aftershocks.  One of them came by David Ellen’s home crying because her son hadn’t received any of her letters (“Of course she writes all the time”) and was worried that something was wrong at home.  For another, it was worse.  “Alma” was “almost crazy,” she wrote, having received word that her son had been missing in action over France since D-Day.  With so many boys being killed, the July 4th holiday was “the quietest day I have ever known around here.”

But still, ordinary life and hopes populated David Ellen’s thoughts: a lack of rain for the garden, a new veterans bill promising servicemen a college education, local marriages and babies, and especially her postwar plans for her son.  Although the world was “a mess,” she didn’t think for a moment that it would stay that way.  “I like your idea,” she told him, “of going to school a year when the war is over and getting your masters degree and a place in a college. Bowling Green would be a nice place.”

These are some of many World War II letters in the Tichenor Collection, held in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Planning in Uncertain Times

The year 1946 marked the beginning of the “baby boom,” a dramatic increase in the U.S. birth rate following the Depression and World War II.  Signs of what was to come, however, had appeared at the outbreak of war, when many couples hastily married and conceived their first child before the husband shipped out for military duty.  Afterward, there was always the opportunity for “furlough babies” to enter the world. 

During the war, the question of pregnancy was challenging and complicated, as shown by collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For example, family planning was on the mind of James C. Browning, an Edmonson County, Kentucky teacher who joined the Army in 1941.  A year earlier, “J.C.” had married his wife Lila and they had recently become the parents of a daughter.  Lila, however, had suffered health problems after the birth and was anxious about another pregnancy. In letters from training camp in Arkansas, J.C. was equally anxious to reassure her, for among the many dreams he shared with his much-loved wife—of paying off their debts, buying a small farm and building a life for themselves after the war—was the prospect of “a good time” with her when he made his scheduled return to Fort Knox.  If she didn’t want more children, he assured her, “we will try our best and use the best remedies available.”  She should go to the doctor and arrange to be fitted with a diaphragm, he instructed; then “[m]aybe you won’t be scared all the time.”  Inquiring about her progress in successive letters, he even offered to “get the diaphragm for you if you don’t want to get it.”  He finally advocated a “double preventative”—diaphragm plus condom—as the solution to their problem: then “surely there won’t be anything wrong.”  The young husband trying to avoid “anything wrong,” however, couldn’t plan for the attack on his ship off the coast of North Africa that took his life in 1942.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections. For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Long white ears, killer coffee, and cardboard cartons

For many travelers, the first step of a journey involves navigating a busy airport.  During World War II, passengers faced additional stress when civilian air travel took a back seat to military priorities.  This was doubly true for airline employees, who coped with challenges that went far beyond the ordinary joys of dealing with the public.

One such employee was 25-year-old Kate Hopkins, an American Airlines ticket agent in 1943 at Detroit’s City Airport.  Her letters to boyfriend Thomas Tichenor, a Kentuckian serving in the Navy, give us a unique perspective on wartime air travel through the eyes of a clever and observant young woman.

Kate often found herself on the overnight shift–an assignment that, while wearying, gave her an opportunity to use her people-watching skills.  After one such night, she wrote poignantly to Thomas about “the little sailor and his girl who sat locked in each others arms for a full forty minutes before his flight left, while his mother very quietly sat beside him, waiting to bid him good-by; about the little girl–she couldn’t have been much more than nineteen–who was going out alone to meet her husband, a Ferry pilot, in Spokane–and her family who came to see her off.”  When the flight was announced, “her Father said ‘Well Ruthie–’ with all the pride and eloquence and love that only a Father could put into those two words, because what else could he say?” 

Ferry pilots–members of the Air Transport Command, largely made up of civilians who flew aircraft from manufacturing plants to training facilities and ports for shipment overseas–were frequent airport patrons.  Some of them, Kate observed, “are nice–others tough–some, surprisingly young and all very interesting.”  One of them “came in last nite with an enormous plush Easter bunny–its long white ears protruding from a paper sack–He’d brought it back from Wilmington for his little girl.” 

Kate grew accustomed to watching irritated Ferry pilots call the nearby base to complain when their ground transportation was not waiting.  On other occasions, she became the object of customer ire.  Determining that a passenger was too drunk to fly, she feared “he was going to hit me” when she declined to ticket him.  She “finally eased him away from the counter” by inviting him to spend his unscheduled six-hour layover trying “some black coffee at the airport restaurant–that I knew was vile enough to cure or kill him.” 

On still other occasions, the drama escalated.  In the middle of one night, Kate received a message asking to have a cab waiting for an incoming flight “to take a Lieutenant and his eleven day old premature baby to Ann Arbor.”  To her disgust, she could find no driver interested in the life-and-death mission unless they could also find a paying fare for the 40-mile return trip.  As negotiations continued, the plane landed and “the captain himself escorted the Lieutenant and the baby, which he was carrying in a cardboard carton not much larger than a shoe box, to the cab.”  The captain also grew furious with the cab driver, “especially when he’d flown at 2,000 feet all the way from Buffalo because every time he went higher the baby turned blue. . . . We finally got things arranged,” Kate reported, “to no one’s satisfaction.”

More often than not, however, Kate maintained her equilibrium.  After checking in a line of difficult customers, she ticketed a young corporal who “was on an emergency furlough trying to get to San Francisco to see his six months old son who he’d never seen.”  The baby was sick, as was his wife, exhausted from trying to run their ranch and summer camp by herself.  But the soldier never lost his smile, and “was such a big person about it all,” wrote Kate, “that I felt awfully silly after all the minor irritations I’d had that day.” 

Kate’s letters are part of the Tichenor Collection, housed in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Click here to access a finding aid. Travel through our other collections (and have mercy on the person “behind the counter”) by searching TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Passed by censor”

“Incoming mail censored shall be opened by clipping with scissors on the shorter side of the envelope.”

Every special collections library that holds war materials has them: soldiers’ letters vaguely addressed from “somewhere in France” or “somewhere in the Pacific.”  They might also show more revealing words or lines deftly excised with a sharp blade, and their envelopes may bear a stamp indicating that the contents have been inspected prior to delivery to waiting parents, wives or sweethearts.  The reason, of course, was that the letters were censored to keep potentially valuable intelligence from falling into the hands of the enemy.

During World War II, the task of censor fell to Calhoun, Kentucky’s Thomas Tichenor after he entered the Navy and received his officer’s commission in 1942.  As a convoy communications officer, he was handed the censor’s stamp and a lengthy booklet of regulations governing both outgoing and incoming military mail. 

Tom Tichenor, Navy censor

Under the regulations, Navy personnel were permitted to send mail in six ways: by letter; “urgent letter” (an expedited communication arising out of an emergency); V-mail (short for “Victory mail,” in which specially designed letter sheets were microfilmed to save space and the reduced images printed out and delivered to the recipient); post cards; Navy post cards (with preprinted, pre-authorized text and fill-in-the-blanks options); and Parcel Post.  Most of the censorship rules were easily justified: no photographs of a military character; no writing in a foreign language; no details of ship locations or strength of forces, munitions and equipment; no disclosure of casualties ahead of the official publication of same; no detailed meteorological data; and no criticisms of the “morale of the collective or individual armed forces of the United States or her allies.”  Other communication restrictions barred the keeping of diaries and the transmittal of personal recordings to or from Navy personnel.

The regulations also provided detailed instructions to censors tasked with inspection of the mail.  Outgoing mail came to the censor unsealed, but incoming mail was to be “opened by clipping with scissors on the shorter side of the envelope.”  All mail was to be read with an eye to prohibited content, with additional attention paid to the possibility of “secret writing”—even to a message written underneath the stamp—or “any unusual sign which might be a prearranged signal for a secret message.”  Other things to watch for: differing ink colors; seemingly “pointless” content; traces of liquids or pastes to be harvested for invisible ink; and code in the form of letters, numbers, drawings, indentations or pinpricks above, below or through the writing.  Photographs, of course, came in for the same scrutiny; nevertheless, the regulations advised, “Censors should use care in suppressing private prints, particularly in view of their value as keepsakes to personnel.”  In addition to shears and razor blades, the weapons available to the censor included ink, prepared according to a special formula, for obliterating unacceptable content.  Censoring ink, however, was to be used “only where deemed particularly advisable for casual indiscretions” in letters home.  

Thomas Tichenor’s copy of the U.S. Navy’s censorship regulations is part of the Tichenor Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid. For more World War II collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Hands, wits, and guts”

Stephen Ambrose’s 1994 book about D-Day bore this dramatic image.
Inset: Bert J. Borrone

June 6: the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the best- and worst-kept secret of World War II. 

It was 1944, and everyone knew this would be “the year of destiny,” when the Allies would launch a massive cross-channel invasion of Europe to mark the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.  But until it happened, no one knew precisely when or where the assault would take place. 

Bowling Green’s Bert Borrone was deeply interested in the question.  Stationed with a signal service company in North Africa, the U.S. Army sergeant was responsible for radio broadcasts that would keep his military audience informed about the course of the war.  Late in May 1944, he prepared two 15-minute programs for the American Expeditionary Station News Bureau to ready his listeners for the invasion, “so that when the day does come. . . and General Eisenhower says ‘Tonight, we strike,’ we shall be able to follow the hourly news, be it good or bad, with understanding, with confidence.” 

Borrone’s first program painted a vivid picture of the invasion landscape: the English Channel, both a “ready-made highway for assault” and “an itinerary to death”; the minesweepers, those “unsung old ladies of the sea,” spearheading the fleet; the arc of invasion vessels stretching across the horizon; the bombers, fighters and paratroop transports.  Beaches were necessary to land troops, and ports to supply them, but “no one knows better than the Nazi what is potential invasion land,” Borrone warned.  The enemy would be ready with mines, landing-craft traps, anti-tank obstacles, machine-gun and mortar emplacements, pill-boxes, bunkers, fortified towns and “hundreds of thousands of the Wehrmacht’s finest, dug in for the showdown.”

Then would come the landings, as “battle-wagons, with their escorts of the sea and air, plunge toward the pre-assigned beaches,” and all the plans, rehearsals and calculations were put to the test.  Many had performed their duties in advance: if Nazi fighters or weapons failed to appear, or if the enemy’s reserves arrived too late, or if his mines failed to detonate, it was because a production facility had been bombed day and night, or an intelligence operative had directed just where to place an explosive, or an underground fighter—“a Hans or a Pierre or an Emil”—had carried out a successful sabotage.  Ultimately, however, the invasion would be “committed into the hands, and wits, and guts, of a few hundred thousand.”

Borrone’s second program was a tutorial on the tactics of a coastal invasion, the nuts-and-bolts calculations of everything from enemy firepower and types of forces needed to anticipated numbers of sea-sickness among the troops.  Tides, terrain, defenses, roads, availability of reserves, and the timing, makeup and objectives of each “wave” of the invasion—these and other innumerable considerations, Borrone explained, needed to be weighed “against the single most important factor in any military action . . . initial, tactical surprise.  Only then,” he declared, “can the supreme commander point his finger at one definitive spot along all the vast shore line and commit it irrevocably to the fates who weave human destiny.”

Bert Borrone’s radio broadcast scripts delivered in anticipation of D-Day are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections on World War II and D-Day, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.   

75 years ago (@BeschlossDC)

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