Looking Back: D-Day in Haywood County 70 years ago
Seventy years ago, D-Day, June 6, 1944, the long awaited invasion of Europe began. Newspaper headlines around the world proclaimed the event.
A look back at The Mountaineer in Haywood County is both surprising and instructive.
The weekly edition appeared on Thursday, June 8, after the cross channel invasion on Tuesday, but the bold print headline read "NC Buys 300 Acres Here for Test Farm.”
The mast head had its usual proclamation “One Day Nearer Victory,” with a smaller headline “Haywood Citizens Take Invasion News Calmly, Yet Seriously.”
The previous week’s edition had noted that the invasion appeared imminent, and that if it occurred all the churches would be open all day for prayer. So the big event was hardly a surprise and business continued as usual.
The usual business in Haywood was supporting the war effort. The weekly agriculture column urged everyone to “Grow Vegetables for Vitamins & Victory” and noted that a spray mixture of alum, sweet milk and water would protect the garden from rabbits.
The Draft Board continued its weekly listing of boys turning 18, reclassifications, and requests for up to date addresses of eligible men. Pearce’s Bakery announced that it had a fresh batch of fruit cake “ideal for overseas shipping.”
War production and national rationing of all products toward that effort had mixed news. Gas remained available at forty-three per cent of the baseline production of 1941 but ice cream manufacturers announced that the June quota would be 85 percent production, “the largest in many months because of an increase in national milk production.”
Even want ads were full of war items listing the loss and hoped for recovery of twenty-three much needed ration books. The social news noted that Raymond K. Caldwell, seaman second class, was spending a few days leave with family, joined by his father home from the Wilmington ship yards.
Hazelwood was abuzz with its genuine hero, First Lt. T. E. Blalock, at home having earned 30-day leave for successfully completing 51 missions as a bombardier-navigator over enemy territory in eight countries in eight months.
“I’ll admit at times I was plenty scared,” he said, “but I can relate more after the war.”
The most touted news was the launching of the fifth national War Bond Drive which leaders hoped would be the last such effort at financing the war.
Citizens were asked, once again, to buy government guaranteed bonds of varying denominations at various interest rates to “Let Your $$ Fight Beside our Fighting Men.”
The Haywood County quota was $822,000. The June 8 issue had multiple full page ads provided by both the federal war finance office and the largest local employer in the war effort, Dayco Rubber Company.
To create incentive and demonstrate the importance of its role in the economy, Dayco paid all employees in silver dollars that week, urging them to spend some of them on war bonds with the slogan “Let the Silver Dollars on Main Street Remind You That Victory Isn’t Cheap.”
A half-ton of silver dollars were distributed to its eight hundred employees. Local banks listed every county man and woman in service and every casualty asking that each person who purchased a war bond place a star beside a different name.
One brief syndicated column from Washington noted that the present level of war production was satisfactory, a national distribution system for the “so called miracle drug” penicillin was in place, and that peace overtures from Japan were a possibility with the established beachhead in France.
A few people listening to the radio first knew of the invasion around 3 a.m. All knew by the fire whistle which sounded twice around 5:30, and then by the ringing of church bells.
The staff of The Mountaineer stopped work midmorning, closed up, and went to a nearby church for prayer.
No absentees were reported at Dayco for either shift on D-Day as workers sought to keep high speed production up. Families of those in service figured out why they had received no mail from England for several weeks. Radio provided national news and it was generally perceived that the “President’s prayer was one of the most impressive programs ever broadcast.”
It took several weeks for hard news of local men to filter back home. Pictures of service men began to appear noting they were at “a secret base” or “serving in England.”
Robert Gibson, motor machinist first class in the landing craft infantry, was credited with making two trips across the English Channel landing troops on the coast of France.
Private Charles Ketner’s letter home on French stationary noted his feelings that he had dug so many foxholes he felt like a squirrel but that he was enjoying Spring onions from conquered gardens with his canned fighting food.
This one issue of The Mountaineer for June 8, 1944 aptly illustrates that Haywood County was focused on the war effort, and that such focus nationwide won the war in conjunction with the momentous news of D-Day.
Those who have memories of D-Day in Haywood or overseas are invited to jot them down and email them to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Wednesday for inclusion in Friday’s paper.