In the early hours of Tuesday, June 6, 1944, in New York City’s Times Square, a group of cab drivers, a cop on the beat, and some servicemen hunched around a Yellow cab’s open door listening to the radio reports. Above their heads the world famous electric message board of the New York Times Tower flashed the news; letter by letter the good news wrapped around the building for all to see — INVASION.
The night owls of the east coast’s graveyard shift were the first to hear the news of the long awaited and greatly anticipated Invasion of Hitler’s Fortress Europe. The German Transocean News Agency reported the Allied invasion first and American news services and radio stations began reporting the German report at 12:53 a.m. eastern war time. Most listeners, war weary after two and one-half years of conflict, waited for War Department confirmation, but they smiled just the same; if the invasion succeeded, the last stage of the European war was at hand.
In Washington D.C., President Roosevelt told his wife Eleanor about the invasion earlier in the evening; then he went to bed hoping to grab a few hours sleep before the whole world learned of the invasion. The First Lady could not sleep; therefore, when army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall called the president at 3 a.m. the White House operator connected the call to Mrs. Roosevelt. The First Lady went in and awakened her husband. “He sat up in bed and put on his sweater, and from then on he was on the phone.” The president called his White House staff and ordered them to report for duty immediately.
At 3:32 eastern war time, the War Department made the official announcement and read General Eisenhower’s order of the day: “Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark on the great crusade…. The tide has turned!… We will accept nothing less than full victory.”
In New York, following the official announcement, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia went on the radio at 3:40 a.m. He told his audience that the Invasion Day mass ceremony, planned a month previously, would be held in Madison Square, site of the eternal flame honoring World War I soldiers. The mayor told reporters, “This is the most exciting moment of our lives.”
In San Francisco, the first bulletins blared from radios a few hours before midnight Pacific war time catching most people before they went to bed. The next morning many people rose earlier than usual to attend an early mass or stop at a church or a synagogue to pray. The Grace Cathedral carillon played the opening notes of Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony,” the prelude to victory, followed by “America.” At the Bethlehem shipyard, workers streamed through the gate with a jauntier attitude. Miss Kay Davis, however, worried that the people will think “The war’s over and let down. The war is just starting.”
Back in Washington, President Roosevelt met with congressional and military leaders in the morning and held his regular tuesday afternoon press conference at 4 p.m. When the doors opened, the Oval Office filled to bursting with reporters. The President wore a white shirt with a blue bow tie, his upraised cigarette holder poked out of a broad grin. He noted the reporters’ smiles and said, “Well, I think this is a very happy conference today.”
“Mr. President,” a reporter asked, “How long have you known that this was the date?” Roosevelt told him, “I knew last night, when I was doing that broadcast on Rome, that the troops were actually in the boats — in the vessels — on the way across. (FDR made a broadcast the previous night about the U.S. Fifth Army’s June 4 liberation of Rome.) The conference ended with a presidential warning: “The war isn’t over by any means. This operation isn’t over. You don’t just land on a beach and walk through — if you land successfully without breaking your leg — walk through to Berlin. And the quicker this country understands it the better. Again a question of learning a little geography.”
Many businesses shut down for the day or gave their employees extend lunch hours so they could go to church. The ball game at Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn between the Dodgers and Phillies was cancelled along with the only other Major league game scheduled for that evening, a Reds-Pirates contest in Pittsburgh. Most race tracks canceled their races. A movie theatre manager along New York’s Broadway said business was down. “Who wants to see a picture show at a time like this.” Most people stayed home listening for the latest bulletin and for FDR’s D-Day prayer schedule for later that evening.
At 10 p.m. eastern war time, the President went on the air. In many restaurants no food was served during his prayer; in other public places, people bowed their heads and prayed with the President. “Almighty God: Our sons pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity…. For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good-will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.”
The President’s warning about premature victory, shared by Miss Davis in San Francisco and many others around the nation, was prophetic. D-Day meant the European war’s main offensive had just begun. Many battles from the Normandy hedgerows to the Bulge and beyond lay ahead before the war ended on May 8, 1945 — D plus 335. Yet, all across the United States on this June day in 1944, Americans rejoiced over the first step taken on that final journey.