Wednesday, June 6, 2012

D-Day Remembered

I came along just a few months before Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939, so I grew up listening to wartime news on the radio. My father would blow in from work, turn the dial to the five o'clock news, and listen until it was time for dinner.

By the time I was five, I'd discovered that that little brown box was also a smorgasbord of music, so Pop had to switch the station to hear the news. When I made objection, which I did every time, he told me the news was more important, that America was fighting a war, and our lives depended on it.

Well, I knew that. I'd heard it all around the neighborhood, and had spent a fair bit of time scouring the streets for discarded aluminum foil from cigarette packages, to turn in to make weapons and ammunition to kill Germans, Italians, and Japanese. That was fine. But I didn't like to have my musical appreciation hour preempted by sonorous, somber voices, talking about people and places utterly unfamiliar to me.

In early June of 1944, my father got more irritable than usual, sweeping into the house and flipping the radio switch even before he said hello to my mother or me. "There's something about to happen," he said. "We're going to invade from the Western Front - but all the information is second-hand, coming from intercepted German reports. Why do we need to get our news from Germany? Can you tell me that?"

Then, on June 6, as I came down for breakfast, Pop was already at the table, the radio blaring loud enough for neighbors on both sides to hear. The speaker was a man named H. V. Kaltenborn, and he was telling the story of the Allied invasion of France. "This had better succeed," Pop boomed. "If it does, it will be the end of the war. If it doesn't..."

If my father finished that sentence, I didn't hear it. "The end of the war?" I piped?

"Yes, I'm sure of it."

"Hurray!" I shouted, and I remember jumping up and down. "No more news. Then I'll be able to listen to music."

Which cracked up the old man no end. "There'll still be news," he said.

My face must've replied that I didn't understand.

"Peacetime news," my father said. "There'll always be news.

And so there has been. But peacetime news on commercial radio stations has become an endless litany of murders, assaults sexual and otherwise, lawsuits, callous interviews of disturbed people, the silly cavortings of celebrities of all stripes, and repeated weather and traffic reports. Fortunately, we have NPR, to which I'm glad to send periodic contributions to support its broadcasts of excellent music, interrupted hourly by intelligent and informative newscasts. A good balance. I think my father would've approved.

No, the NPR reporters don't sound quite up to Mr. Kaltenborn, or, for that matter, to Robert Trout, Ed Murrow, and many other names with which I could pad this post. But all right. There are a lot of things that ain't quite what they used to be. Go to, and listen to Kaltenborn's report from sixty-eight years ago today. It's worth a few minutes of your time.

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