On May 7, 1945, sixty-nine years ago, Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl affixed his name to the instrument of surrender and the war in Europe was over.
Price Day of The Baltimore Sun witnessed that quiet, somber ceremony, the only staff correspondent of an individual newspaper to be present at the German surrender. It was a little less than a year since British, American, and Canadian troops had stormed the beaches of Normandy, and Price Day was one of a handful of Sun correspondents who followed the troops from Normandy to German soil.
There is nothing novel about embedded reporters. Correspondents of The Sun and The Evening Sun moved across the battlefields with American troops, ducking for cover under artillery fire, sleeping rough, eating cold rations, and filing their stories for readers back in Maryland.
The Baltimore Sun is publishing a selection of their stories in Written Under Fire: Baltimore Sun Correspondents' Dispatches from Normandy to the German Surrender. Their articles have been selected by Zachary J. Dixon, along with photographs, in a 255-page book, available today.*
In it you will find Holbrook Bradley's account of the 29th Division's landing at the Normandy beachhead, Mark S. Watson's account of the advance from the beaches, Bradley's crawl through no man's land outside a Norman village, Lee McCardell's account of the cellar-to-cellar fighting to clear out Fort Driant at Metz, McCardell's description of GIs digging foxholes in the frozen ground in the Ardennes, McCardell again as the 3rd Army crosses the Saar into Germany under machine-gun fire.
There is a particularly sobering account by McCardell of an event at the German village of Neunburg, outside of which retreating SS guards had murdered 160 starving concentration camp inmates. The Army corps commander ordered residents of the village to make 160 coffins and give the dead honorable burial. But first he required every resident of Neunburg, with the exception of some toddlers and infirm elders, to serve as pallbearers or to stand on the main street to look at the open coffins as they were carried past--so that no one in Neunburg would ever be able to say that they didn't know anything about what was going on in the camps.
These stories were not the official war reporting carried in the pages of The Sun and The Evening Sun. These were the sidebars about ordinary U.S. soldiers in action. The reporters typically listed the names and hometowns of the Marylanders they encountered. This is not official writing; this is straightforward you-are-there reportage about ordinary citizens called upon to make heroic efforts in the middle of one of the biggest events of the twentieth century.
The Baltimore Sun chronicled this ordinary heroism at the time, and now it makes these compelling accounts available again so that you can see how a little band of Sun correspondents made it possible for you to know who these Americans were and what they did there.
*Propriety demands that I disclose that I had a hand in the production of this volume. I edited it lightly, without disturbing some of the minor inconsistencies (The Sun and The Evening Sun observed differing house styles). I was mainly on the lookout for typos and glitches resulting from the electronic transfer of the articles into the software for book publication. The integrity of the original reporting is preserved.