On June 6, 1944, Parsonians awoke to the news of the invasion of Nazi-occupied Normandy, France, and although their city was located roughly 4,500 miles away, the impact of D-Day was felt throughout town.
Thursday marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Parsons Sun news articles on and after the day of the invasion showed the importance the community gave to the event and that the people in the city heavily supported and were involved in the World War II effort, just like citizens across the nation.
The front page of the Sun was filled with news from the war front as well as local efforts to help in the push to knock out the Nazis. The Sun published an extra edition on the morning of June 6 with a giant two-line headline stretching across the top of the front page that read in all caps, “Allies invade North France; Troops from ships, ’chutes.” Another large headline in the evening edition that day read, “Landing easier than expected.”
The Sun reported that “D-Day found Parsons residents praying fervent for the welfare of their boys overseas and eagerly awaiting additional news about the progress of the invasion.”
Local church bells tolled when the news spread early in the day. First word that many Parsonians received of the invasion “came from the throats of the Sun’s carrier boys who covered the city shortly after 6 a.m. crying ‘extra!’”
Instead of a celebration, the atmosphere seemed “charged with expectancy and there was a new tenseness on the faces of the many who have loved ones on the new raging battlefront.” Still, there was a feeling of relief the long period of waiting was over.
Commander Max Reese of the American Legion called on all downtown businesses to fly their American flags every day until the Germans were defeated. The Rev. Fred Condit, chaplain of the Legion post, and all other ministers in Parsons urged residents again to pray for the men in battle. Virtually all churches were open to hundreds of men, women and children who entered them to offer silent prayers. Special prayer services were held at vacation Bible schools and churches.
The impending invasion apparently had been on the minds of many locally, and there was even a contest to guess the date.
Mrs. C.E. Oldham, 1519 Main St., won the Blue Valley Creamery Co. invasion date guessing contest by predicting that it would occur at 11:55 p.m. June 5 Parsons time. It actually started 25 minutes earlier. Blue Valley had announced the contest May 5, offering three prizes of $5, $3 and $1 worth of milk tickets. Second place went to Mrs. W.R. Arey, 2731 Dirr, and Dallas Luce, 1809 1/2 Main.
The invasion amplified expectations for production at the Kansas Ordnance Plant (later renamed Kansas Army Ammunition Plant) near Parsons.
On June 7, 1944, Lt. Col. Philip Gruber, KOP commanding officer, and Milt Lundquist, J-M Service staff assistant in charge of employment, began an effort to hire at least 500 additional workers. They were appealing to patriotic men and women of the area to take shell-loading jobs to produce ammunition that was needed in great quantities in the invasion. Men and women who really wanted to do their part on the home front in the vital task of helping the “boys” in the “crucial and stupendous invasion” could have no more direct method of doing it than by helping produce ammunition for them, the officials pointed out.
Meanwhile, the city was preparing to kick off its fifth war loan campaign, which took on greater importance following D-Day. Chairman Max Martin listed 48 business and professional men and women who would conduct the drive in the downtown area. A kickoff meeting was planned for the following week at the Kansan theater. No stores would be expected to open that morning until 9:30 a.m., one hour later than usual, so that merchants and their employees could attend the meeting.
Maj. Bob Carnie, an Australian war hero of World War I, was scheduled as the principal speaker for the war bond meeting, and an official war front film not yet released for public viewing would be shown.
At the ordnance plant employees were expected to surpass all previous records set there. That was the unanimous opinion expressed by the area and department captains at a meeting in the private dining room of the cafeteria. Every employee would be asked to make cash purchases of bonds, and those not participating in the payroll deduction plan for the purchase of bonds would be asked to do so. The goal of the drive was $100,000 at the plant, or $10,000 more than the previous quota. That meant that KOP’ers had to buy $100,000 more in bonds than were regularly deducted on the payroll savings plan.
It was pointed out that 95% of the money put into war bonds was used directly to help pay for the costs of the war and that after D-Day, more than at any other time, individuals were being urged to increase or double their bond purchases.
Local children were involved in the war bond effort also. The fifth war loan campaign was offering a free swim ticket for the municipal pool to each child who sold a bond. During the school year, students at public schools already had sold $150,840.15 worth of war bonds and stamps, Superintendent Wallace Guthridge said. That included $19,018 in war stamps and $131,822.15 in series E war bonds. Most of the stamps and bonds were sold by the students during the “Buy a Plane” campaign period of Dec. 7 to May 26. The amount sold was enough to buy one P51 Mustang pursuit plane ($75,000) and four training planes ($80,000).
The invasion obviously ramped up concern for relatives serving overseas, and Parsons Postmaster R.J. Sharshal said the demand for V-mail stationery had risen sharply in the few days following the invasion.
The post office had a limited supply of such stationery free and would give it out two sheets to a person instead of three as in the past, Sharshal said. The postmaster hoped to get additional supplies but said the paper on hand could be exhausted before more was received.
Concern possibly was greatest for the safety of a Parsonian stationed on the U.S. escort carrier Block Island, which was reported lost due to enemy action in the Atlantic Ocean. Although the ship was lost in May, it was just reported around D-Day that it had sunk. Pharmacist Mate Bennie Owens, son of Mrs. Thomas Owens, 608 Lincoln, was aboard the vessel, and no word of his fate was received by relatives at home when the announcement was made.
Soon after, Mrs. Owens received a wire from her son that read, “All well and safe.” The message gave no clue to his whereabouts.