Schenectady County residents woke to shocking headlines the morning of Tuesday, June 6, 1944.
Newspapers that had been delivered just a few hours before announced the Allied invasion of Europe had started. It was the blockbuster news of World War II .
“Invasion of Europe Begun, Nazis Say; No Confirmation From Allied Sources” read the double-deck headline in that day’s first editions of The Schenectady Gazette.
The bold type was all about the bold military action — D-Day — taken by Allied forces on the Normandy coast of France 71 years ago today. According to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, 150,000 Allied troops landed that day along a 50-mile stretch of fortified French coastline to combat forces from Nazi Germany. More than 5,000 ships and 11,000 aircraft supported the invasion on five code-named beach zones: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
By the end of the day, the Allies had gained a foothold in France, but the cost had been high. According to the D-Day Memorial, more than 9,000 Allied soldiers had been killed or wounded in fierce fighting.
Late on June 5, Gazette editors had been waiting for news updates for the Tuesday paper. On the clock, France was six hours ahead of the eastern U.S.
Their patience was rewarded at 12:37 a.m., when three German news agencies released invasion news. The Allied confirmation arrived over the wires at 3:32 a.m. Editors “replated” the front page, changing stories to include the late-breaking details. Eighteen thousand updated papers were delivered in Schenectady and Scotia.
It seemed everyone had something to say. A drugstore clerk saw the morning paper and told Gazette reporter Ralph Turner, “Boy this is the big news we’ve been waiting for. Watch us go now.”
At General Electric, the attitude was also full speed ahead.
“A slogan in our plant has been ‘There’s a battle date on all we make,’ ” said Chester H. Lang, the company’s vice president in charge of war projects. “To my way of thinking, the important point is, there can be no turning back.”
Others talked about the massive landing in more somber tones.
“I supposed it had to come,” said a man behind the counter at a cigar store, “but golly, I hate to think of what those fellows are going through.”
Once finished with their newspapers, locals tuned in radios for the latest reports. At the American Locomotive Co., another war works shop, workers put down their tools for several minutes and said prayers for American soldiers and their comrades.
People also prayed at two chapels opened by the Schenectady County Council on Churches, one in the sanctuary of First Methodist Church at State and Lafayette Streets and the other at the YWCA on Washington Avenue. Other houses of worship scheduled special services.
Teenagers understood the significance of D-Day. Morning assemblies were held at Nott Terrace High School, and students sung the National Anthem and “Onward Christian Soldiers.” At Mont Pleasant High School, one of the musical choices was “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
People wanted to do more than offer prayers. The Gazette reported one of the big questions around town on June 6 was “What can I do to help in the invasion?” There were a bunch of answers: Local residents were asked to buy more war bonds, save tin cans, conserve power and telephone time, observe rationing for food and gasoline and stay off trains, where space was needed for servicemen and war materials.
Leo H. Vosburg, chairman of the Schenectady County War Council, said blood donors helped efforts overseas.
“A vital moment in our history has arrived and Schenectadians can take a vital part in it,” Vosburg told The Gazette. “They can be on the battlefront themselves by sending overseas a pint of life-giving blood.”
On June 8, 237 people showed up at the local Red Cross to donate blood.
In the days following D-Day, Capital Region businesses bought advertisements that pushed patriotism instead of beer and clothing. Albany’s Beverwyck Brewery commissioned a full-page ad that showed George Washington praying at Valley Forge. In another ad, for Park and Tillford whiskey, two soldiers were shown on a front battle line. One man asked a third, at the rear, what’s behind them. “Schenectady! Give him your answer!” read bold copy, pumping up the campaign for the Fifth War Loan.
At Barney’s, the company line was “We can’t all carry guns in the invasion — but we can all help shoot them.” That meant buying more war bonds.
Writers on The Gazette’s editorial page also checked in.
“We have been warned for months by military and civic leaders to expect much bad news when the invasion started,” a June 7 editorial read. “We who have fathers, brothers, some at the front can only hope. But we can day by day look forward with increasing confidence to that hour when a practically destroyed Germany and also Japan will have lost not only the ability but the will to resist.”
By June 8, Schenectady had received word about its first D-Day hero. Lt. Joseph H. Furness, who had graduated from Nott Terrace High School during the mid-1930s, had led his Thunderbolt fighter squadron to the skip-bombing destruction of a railway tunnel in France. Furness’ D-Day mission with the Eighth Air Force was the blockage of three railway tunnels, hampering the movement of enemy troops and supply vehicles.
On June 9, the Gazette reported the Navy’s Frank Terry, a Draper High School graduate and electrician’s mate first class, guided a landing craft tank toward the Normandy coast. The 27-year-old Terry reported a German 88-millimeter shell smacked the tank’s pilot house, but he was not hurt.
Joe Furness’ mother, Mrs. Peter Andreine, made the news herself a few days later. Andreine and her daughter, Rita Gignac, donated blood at a Red Cross donor center.
“I wish I could give more often because I feel my son is very apt to be one of those who may need blood plasma to save his life,” Andreine said.
Rallies to raise money and interest for war bonds were held throughout Schenectady in the days following D-Day.
“While you’re cheering the attack, remember that your biggest job between now and the time the Fifth War Loan ends is to buy an extra bond,” read one ad for a gathering in Central Park on Sunday, June 18. “We in Schenectady can’t let our sons, our brothers, our husbands and our loved ones on the beachheads of France down.”