We got the news at 9:57. I was working on the swing shift at the time.
The work was routine and everyone was very bored. Lou Cooley, my partner on the desk, was at the far end of the operations room, Rotarianing with some of the boys. The traffic chief, a short, blue-eyed, red-faced Swede had opened a front door because the oil stove was overheating and I was arguing with him to close it because the draft was cold on my legs. He yelled “did you ever work next to a hot stove” and I yelled “did you ever work with a cold wind on your legs.” The guys near the stove tried to drown me out and the guys near the door tried to drown him out. The switchboard phone rang and I went over to it. In the evenings the censors handle the ACS phone switchboard.
I always have a hell of a time with the contraption. This time I expected more trouble than usual because two calls were coming in at once. I answered and a real excited voice said, “The invasion’s started. Tell the boys.” I said thanks and started flipping switches to answer the other call. On the second try I got the ringing party. He said, “Let me speak to Coolie.” I called Lou and as he came to the phone I told him quietly the invasion had started. He said “Sure,” and answered the phone. Then he said, “What! When?” He turned to me and said “The invasion’s started. Somebody just picked it up over the local station. They interrupted a regular program to put it out. Tell the fellows to turn on the radio.”
I yelled “Hey fellows, the invasion is on. Turn on the radio.” The room froze. Everyone looked at whoever was nearest him. The spell broke immediately. No one believed it. I shouted “Honest!” and ran back to tell the boys who were locked in the crypto room.
Jensen, the traffic chief with whom I had been arguing went to the switchboard and started twisting dials. No amplifiers were free and he put on a pair of headphones. Everyone clustered around him except Cooley, who was working the switchboard which was going mad. There was little excitement. No one really believed it. Half a dozen of the fellows said “remember the AP gal who punched out a story like that by mistake.”
Jensen said, “They say it is the real thing. Eisenhower’s headquarters. Official announcement.”
“I won’t believe it,” a tall rosy cheeked boy said. “I won’t believe it.”
“Yeah, after all this time…”
“It had to come sometime, why not now?”
“Shuttup. What’s he saying JJ?”
“I can’t understand them now at all.”
Jensen put down the earphones and I picked them up and listened at one while another man listened at another. Someone was talking very rapidly through a blur of static. I could not catch a word. I gave up the receiver.
A stack of messages had accumulated on the censor desk for, in spite of the excitement—the dull, shocked, strange excitement—the key men in the room were still at work. I went back to my desk and started censoring. The wind from the open door still whipped about my legs but they were no longer cold. My hands were like ice though; each finger seemed a fist. My chest was tight with excitement and when I was writing it felt as though I had to move my entire torso to move the pencil. I suddenly realized why I had not been able to understand the speeches on the radio. They had been in French.
By a quarter past ten the invasion was an accepted fact. The talk had swung to where the landings had been made. One rumor was Dieppe, another at L’Orient, still another Dunkirk. Finally someone phoned from one of the huts to say that it was officially announced that the landing was on the northern French coast. A few moments later it was narrowed to Normandy.
“Good,” said Lou, “that’s right next to Holland.” Cooley is one of our local strategic optimists but the elimination of the Pas de Calais area and all of Belgium from the European front is a bit exuberant even for him. I kept myself from correcting him, though. Not out of politeness but simply because I was thinking of an island and a church and an omelet with ashes in it. Normandy in June. Somebody came in to say that a report on the pre-invasion bombing was that the coastal area had been pounded by tremendous aerial formations, that in some areas observers felt nothing could have survived the naval and aerial bombardment. Normandy in June and omelets at St. Michel, and croissants and chocolate in a tiny bakery and a fenced off spot where a king was forced to do penance.
I told Lou that Normandy was west of Holland by a couple of hundred miles. He didn’t argue.
The talk shifted to strategy. Would we hit Holland too? Would we attack Norway? Would we hit Southern France? Ignoring the Alps, Lou insisted our troops would drive overland from Rome into the Riviera. Somebody suggested Greece. Another Bulgaria. What would Russia do? Where would the Russians attack. How much longer for the war in Europe? Three weeks. You’re crazy, three months. Aw, we’ll be lucky to finish it this year. This year! Christ man, we’ll be hitting them from all sides. How they going to stand that. What do you think the Japs’ll do? Oh the hell with the Japs, how’d you like to be in Paris tonight? Or Berlin?
That sort of talk carried us through until quitting time. The graveyard shift brought in extra details fished from the short wave. The Germans had made the first announcement. Radio Tokyo had had some reports on the fighting. Tokyo claimed there were big air battles in progress. Our radio said we had absolute air supremacy over the Channel and that resistance on the beach was surprisingly light.
Big arguments were going on at several points about the time difference between here and London. This argument was extremely foolish, because, after all, we operate on Greenwich Time. Our day begins at two o’clock in the afternoon of which is really the day before. In other words we are ten hours behind London. But some of the arguments had us really, two days ahead of them. They must have done it with War Time.
The bull sessions lasted all the way to the mess hall. Just as I was leaving the operations building, Usedane and Vern Jackson—the two men I feel closest to in this outfit—came in. They had been climbing our local mountain and missed the first announcements but had been listening attentively and intelligently since reaching their huts. We all three looked at each other, silently. Bill said, “I’m glad our remarks were wordless.” We smiled at each other and passed on.
Everyone was hungry at the mess hall. The radio was booming. The local station’s corporal commentator, an incredibly boring boy, was droning on about channel topography and promising to keep us all informed. Somebody yelled “turn that bastard off and get some music.” Somebody turned him off but got San Francisco which was giving a resume of the news. It was the first journalistically presented account we had had. Everyone was quiet, eating pork steaks and pears. A few were frankly not interested in the news. One of them read the cartoons in a January issue of Colliers, and another, the boy who had said he wouldn’t believe about the invasion, kept reading the latest issue of the ACS news bulletin. He occasionally read items aloud.
After dinner I stayed by the radio. Russ MacDonald, one of the crypto men, and Junior Huttala, the Elma Finn, stayed on, as did a couple of KPs—but they had to. We finally picked up WABC. I heard CBS covering the invasion. They did an excellent job. It made me feel very useful, listening to that show.
And now it is very late. Bill Usedane and I have just settled the fate of the nations. We’re agin em. Seriously, it was a good bull session. I delight in finding someone moodier than I.
Your letter today (#8) was excellent. About it, more tomorrow. Until then, goodnight my sweet. I love you so very much.