Seventy-five years ago, Jackson County was holding its breath, as was the entire nation.
Word had arrived that the long-awaited invasion of Hitler’s Europe was underway. Whether it would be successful was everyone’s hope and anybody’s guess.
Whether native sons who were participating in the massive effort would survive was at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
It’s easy to look back at history and think events were foregone conclusions, but the success of the U.S. and its allies in breaching the Western Wall was anything but. The risks were so high that General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who made the decision to launch the invasion, wrote a statement in which he accepted blame in the event the effort failed: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault is attached to the attempt it is mine alone.”
The operation was massive, involving nearly 160,000 troops, 5,000 naval and assault ships and 11,000 aircraft assaulting a 50-mile stretch of the French coastline.
Folks back home didn’t know exactly where the invasion was taking place. In that regard they were similar to German leadership, who delayed counterattacking believing the Normandy landings might be a feint to cover the “real” landings elsewhere.
More than 9,000 soldiers were killed or wounded, including 6,603 Americans (including 1,465 killed). But the beachheads were secured and by June 11, more than 100,000 tons of equipment and 326,000 soldiers had crossed the English Channel. On Aug. 25 Paris was liberated and Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945.
But those days lay in the future. The June 7, 1944 edition of the Sylva Herald captured the sense of a community doing the only thing it could: Pray for the best.
CHURCH SERVICES HELD THROUGHOUT COUNTY
Scores of Jackson men are in European theatre of war at this time
Jackson County took the news of the invasion of France by the Allied nations in a calm and prayerful manner Tuesday. Citizens turned to the churches throughout the county for comfort, and to pray for the scores of Jackson men who are in the invasion area, as well as for all allied fighters. The news was received calmly, although it caused telephone operators to work faster as rush calls were made. Citizens gathered in groups in all public places and discussed the news, with radios going full tilt. Special prayer services were held in the Sylva churches from noon until one o’clock, with many interested persons attending. Church bells were rung in East Sylva about six o’clock, although none were rung in Sylva. Cullowhee churches remained open, but no special services were held. At Webster the church bells were rung, and special church services were held Tuesday night. At Dillsboro the bells were rung, and a special service was held at noon. People in all walks of life took a keen interest in the news, which announced the invasion started about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, our time, along the coast of France. The allied troops made satisfactory landing from 4,000 ships, while an umbrella of 11,000 planes protected them from light German fighter planes. In the first few hours of fighting, the Allies threatened to take a railroad which ran from the coast toward Paris.
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A brief Herald editorial described of anxiously waiting for news:
“Waiting day after day we scan the headlines reading the war news, especially from the European war theatre. We realize that on this side of the Atlantic there is much being kept from us. We know that dramatic new chapters are being written in the history of America and the world. We know that while there has been no definite announcement at the time this is being written about the invasion, that it has already started. We know that the dropping of more bombs over Europe during the past month than in the past year is significant. We know that the stage is set on the most gigantic scale ever known to mankind. As one writer has so aptly expressed it, ‘We are sitting on the edges of our chairs waiting for the curtain to go up.’ We are at home on the backstage and in the audience waiting while the actors, the men in uniform, give the greatest performance of all time. We hope that the villain, Hitler, gets his just dues ere the curtain comes up and goes down again.”
Today, June 6, marks the 75th anniversary of the momentous events in France. The years haven’t diminished the need to remember, honor and give thanks for what that day has yielded.