D-Day’s success gave Allies critical European foothold, and their World War II victory was to follow
The Modesto area sent its share of the 156,000 troops who landed on Normandy’s beaches on June 6, 1944. Folks on the home front could read that evening about this turning point in World War II.
“The day for which the world has long awaited — D-Day — is here,” said an editorial in The Modesto Bee. “The Allied forces of liberation, spearheaded by American troops, are swarming across the English Channel ... God be with them all.”
Exactly 75 years later, we know that D-Day helped to bring about Nazi Germany’s surrender in May 1945. But back then, Modesto area residents could only hope and pray for victory in a conflict that already had taken many lives in Europe, the Pacific and other theaters.
The main invasion forces arrived at 6:30 a.m. local time in France, eight hours ahead of Modesto’s clocks. The Bee was an evening paper then, so its June 6 edition had plenty of detail from the wires. The Americans and their British, French and Canadian allies had started to push inland on the first day.
Stanislaus County already was on a war footing following the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan. Alcoa in 1942 built a plant in Riverbank that made aluminum for aircraft. And it needed workers.
“Men: You can help hasten the day of complete victory by working in an essential industry,” said an ad in the D-Day edition of The Bee. The Claus Road plant still stands and is being redeveloped for other industrial uses.
The massive buildup by the armed forces left a labor shortage in a country just a few years removed from the Great Depression. Another ad in the paper, placed by Borden Dairy Delivery, made a poetic appeal:
“Women wanted, day or night. Take the jobs of men who fight.”
It was early June, so fruit was ripening in the orchards and vineyards of the San Joaquin Valley. Some of it would be canned or dried into rations for service members.
“All possible assistance of everyone is needed to meet requirements of the armed forces and civilian needs,” an ad in the June 6 paper said.
It sought people to process apricots, pears, peaches, fruit cocktail, tomatoes and figs. All but figs are still big business in the Modesto area today.
The war prompted the 1942 construction of Hammond General Hospital in Modesto for wounded service members. The Blue Gum Avenue site would later become a state mental hospital and then the West Campus of Modesto Junior College.
On D-Day, the hospital staff was in the midst of a war bond drive with specific goals: $1,300 would build a jeep, $2,635 an ambulance and $6,575 a surgical van for a war zone.
Another war bond appeal was in an ad from Acme Beer of San Francisco. It also gave a shout-out to “the valiant troupers of the entertainment world who are bringing a laugh, a song and ‘a bit of home’ to our fighting men.”
The D-Day newspaper ran several ads for building insulation, part of a national campaign to conserve fuel. And it reported on a Newman man suspected of using a fake name to obtain extra gasoline ration coupons.
A war-weary populace could tune their radios that Tuesday night to the comedy of “Fibber McGee and Molly” and shows with Bob Hope and Red Skelton. The Strand Theater in downtown Modesto screened “No Time for Love” with Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray.
The Bee announced that several churches would hold special D-Day services, or just open their doors to people needing to reflect alone. Mayor Carl Shannon issued a statement:
“It is my hope and belief that all Modestans, either in their home or at church, will give prayer in remembrance and token of the men in our armed forces who are invading Europe.”