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In days after D-Day, Lehigh Valley prayed

<i>This article was originally published in June 1994 for the 50th anniversary of D-Day.</i>

At 12:32 a.m. on June 6, 1944, the sixth year of World War II, most  residents of the Lehigh Valley were probably sleeping, or trying to sleep.

At the office of The Morning Call, the paper was preparing to put out its  first edition of the Tuesday paper.

The big news was the American capture of Rome, the first Axis capital to  fall to Allied troops. President Roosevelt had pledged aid to help war-ravaged Italy; Pope Pius XII was expressing thanks that the city was saved from  further destruction. In a hint of the still uncertain future was a report that the Polish prime minister had come to Washington to discuss with the State  Department its disagreement with Soviet Union over the post-war border.

But then the teletype machines started to rattle like crazy. Reports were  coming in that the German news agency Transocean was reporting Allied landings in Normandy. Nobody was sure what was really happening. The previous Saturday, a 22-year-old AP sender named Joan Ellis had accidently put out over the wire  from London the word that Allies had landed in France. That mistake had made  newsmen across America wary.

When the first edition of the Call hit the streets, it bore the headline,  "GERMANS SAY INVASION STARTED." The Associated Press story pointed out that  the Allies had yet to confirm these reports. "The German broadcast could be  one which Allied leaders have expected would be made with the purpose of  usetting (upsetting) patriot plans inside the conquered countries," AP said  cautiously. A little box added that the War Department claimed to have no  knowledge of any invasion.

Three hours later, confirmation of the invasion came from Allied  headquarters. The Call's third edition bore the headline, "ALLIES LAND ON  COAST OF FRANCE."

By then, many people across the Valley were awake. Friends began calling  friends with the news. The newspaper was swamped with phone calls. But  overall, the reaction was not one of celebration.

"This community made D-Day a day of devotion, dedication and  determination," The Call later wrote

"Instead of screeching factory whistles  and raucous horns, they heard only church bells that called the community to  prayer and the chimes that wafted more prayers across the city."

People weren't yet sure whether the invasion would mean jubilation or  heartache.

For many people, the word of the invasion had a personal meaning. They saw  the face of a father, husband, brother or son when they prayed. And sadly for  some, D-Day was to bring heartbreaking news. On June 26, the parents and  family of Pfc. Robert R. Whitehead at 156 Hamilton St. would be the first  Allentown family to learn that their son had been killed on D-Day.

(Whitehead's brother Rolland, also an Army private, later wrote a letter  home to his family when he found his brother's grave in France. It was printed in the Morning Call on Oct. 6.

"Seeing Bob's grave was the saddest experience I have ever encountered and  it left me brokenhearted," Rolland Whitehead wrote. "I never gave up hope that Bob might be alive but, seeing that grave has resigned me to the fact that he  was gone. Leaving him here alone will be the hardest, ... but someday he will  be brought back to rest in peace in the country he fought and died for." On  Feb. 14, 1948, Robert Whitehead was reburied in Cedar Hill Memorial Park with  a military guard of honor provided by the Greater Allentown Post 13, VFW.)

The day after D-Day, many stores around the area opened late or not at all, to give their employees a chance to attend religious services. That evening,  many churches across the Valley held special services that were well-attended. At Muhlenberg College, the military officers taking training courses packed  the chapel service.

Soon, there was evidence that the war had taken a turn. At the Victory  booth in Allentown's Center Square, large maps of the invasion front that  showed the progress of the troops with lights, were set up. Loudspeakers were  set up to broadcast the latest news from Europe.

On Friday, June 9, a special program was held at the Victory booth. It  featured Army Signal Corps film of American troops getting ready for D-Day.  Late on the morning of June 6, city park employees began to place American  flags in the light standards along Hamilton Street from Penn to 12th streets.

Of course, even with the D-Day landings, a lot of life went on as it had  before. Hess's, Leh's and Zollinger's had big advertisements for Father's Day, coming in a few weeks. At the Lyric, the summer theater season was about to  begin with a production of "You Can't Take It With You."

There was escapism aplenty at the movies: Danny Kaye and Dinah Shore were  opening at the Boyd Theater in the MGM musical "Up In Arms." Gregory Peck and  Tamara Toumanova starred in the war drama "Days of Glory" at the Rialto, and a young singer named Mel Torme was featured with the Bob Crosby Orchestra in  "Pardon My Rhythm" at the Earle.

But it was clear a new determination had taken over the Lehigh Valley's war effort after D-Day. Perhaps it was summed up best by The Morning Call's  editorial for June 6, 1944: "The Great Push Has Begun."

The editor went on to praise the Allied effort and to point out the  formidable task ahead. But for him, success was assured. "This is what the  world will hope and pray for, inasmuch as by every day the war is shortened,  so will anticipated human loses be reduced."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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