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Remembering D-Day: When determination and dedication rose above Hitler's destruction

Here’s how the front page of The Courier-Times looked on June 6, 1944, when the D-Day Invasion of World War II began.

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

On June 6, 1944, The Courier-Times didn’t just print one edition. There were three.

During a time when there was no internet or 24-hour cable news cycle, the newspaper served as the source when big things happened. And what happened on June 6, 1944, was one of the biggest military events in United States history.

D-Day had arrived.

Labeled as an “Extra” edition of The Courier-Times, giant headlines seemed to shout the news: ALLIES BEGIN INVASION OF EUROPE; TROOPS SWARM FRENCH BEACHES.

“Allied forces landed in northern France early today in history’s greatest overseas operation, designed to destroy the power of Hitler’s Germany and wrest enslaved Europe from the Nazis,” The Associated Press reported in that day’s local newspaper.

Two other special editions were printed that same day. The second included large headlines that read “ALLIED TROOPS HOLD BEACHHEADS ON NORMANDY, BRITTANY COAST.” A subhead proclaimed “Allies have started invasion of Hitler’s European Fortress!”

A third edition of the newspaper, again published and distributed that same day, read “INVASION PROGRESSING RAPIDLY.”

Current and future Henry County residents were among those in this great wave of U.S. military might. 

Homer Peckinpaugh Jr., – father of local resident Steve Peckinpaugh and uncle to New Castle City Councilman Rex Peckinpaugh – was there. So was future Mooreland Town Marshal, fireman and fair board member Jim Radford.

Many no doubt remember Homer “Petey” Peckinpaugh Jr. After coming home from the war, he was elected commissioner as a Democrat in a Republican-dominated county. He also served on the Shenandoah School Board. And all of this after he quite literally nearly gave an arm and a leg for his country.

Meanwhile, Radford (late father of this reporter) was a fixture in the Mooreland area for many years, always ready to lend a hand in town activities, fire and emergency situations as well as local law enforcement. 

The fact that both survived and came home, while an estimated 10,000 Allied soldiers did not, is never far from the minds of both families, particularly on this, the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Another local person – Mike Murphy – was on the front page of the June 7 edition in a story that detailed how his “Flying Falcon” led the way in the “gigantic aerial maneuver” which has landed thousands of troops behind the German coastal defenses in France.

The Courier-Times of that era strived to keep area residents updated on military activities, running short stories of local service members on the front page daily. The war effort was constantly on the minds of local residents then, or so it seemed. 

One article on the June 6, 1944, front page featured news of a community D-Day religious service at the First Christian Church that night, under the sponsorship of the New Castle Ministerial Association. The announcement was made by Rev. R. Melvyn Thompson, pastor of the 1st Christian Church and Chairman of the D-Day service committee, The Rose City Chorus was listed on the program for two musical numbers.

Meanwhile, numbers associated with the invasion were staggering. Historic sources say:

• 156,000 allied troops were part of the invasion, including 73,000 Americans;

• 11,590 aircraft and 6,939 vessels were used; and

• 4,413 allied troops died on D-Day alone.

Germans reportedly had 1,750 fighter planes and 500 bombers to oppose the allies. 

“Allied soldiers leaped onto the shores which the Germans have spent nearly 4 years fortifying while allied planes and ships hurled into those defenses barrages which the Nazis admitted were terrific.”

But the effort was declared a monumental success. Within five days, 326,547 troops and 104,428 tons of supplies had been landed on the Normandy beaches.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous speech set the tone for the invasion, and reverberates yet today, 75 years later.

“You are about to embark on a great crusade. The eyes of the world are upon you and the hopes and prayers of all liberty-loving people go with you.”

“In a speech which made no reference to invasion but was delivered in the certain knowledge that the climactic hour finally had come, President Roosevelt told the nation last night that victory over Germany is certain but “it will be tough and it will be costly.”

In an interview with The Courier-Times last year at this time, Rex Peckinpaugh says remembering the price paid for freedom, particularly at D-Day, is more important than ever.

“There’s a lot of those guys like Homer I think about a lot,” Peckinpaugh said. “I just have so much respect for them. A lot of women who stayed behind and worked at home then were also worthy of honor. What those people did is amazing to me.”