D-Day — Real and Dramatized

1944 NormandyLST

Thanks to Old Time Radio Researchers collections at the Internet Archive here are two versions of what June 6, 1944, sounded like to the World War II era listening audience.

The first presents 45 minutes of selections from the actual all-night CBS radio news broadcast, starting after midnight with the CBS and Associated Press translations of reports of an “invasion” overheard from German radio, cautions about possibly deceptive announcements, and eventually the allies’ confirmation, with reports from Edward R. Murrow and Gen. Eisenhower.

(For more about CBS’s Robert Trout, who anchored the marathon early morning coverage, see this NPR memorial at the time of his death in 2000, and a North Carolina History Project biography.)

The second item is more in keeping with my podcast theme of radio drama. During the war years, the United Press, which competed with Associated Press for newspaper and broadcast affiliates, created a dramatic series portraying the work of its foreign correspondents, titled “Soldiers of the Press.”

This Soldiers of the Press D-Day Invasion episode was broadcast several weeks after the events depicted, and presents behind the scenes stories of the day’s coverage as a whole, from reporters starting their secret assignments to UP editors back in the United States waiting for the official dispatches — quite similar to Robert Trout’s situation at CBS.

Virgil Pinkley, European general manager of United Press, is featured in the opening of the broadcast, and had the byline on the invasion story.

Most episodes of the Soldiers of the Press series focused on a single UP war correspondent on the front lines, in a “how I got the story” format, complete with “live” interviews, first-person narration and battlefield sound effects. As a result, many oldtime-radio collections incorrectly identify the speakers as United Press reporters, rather than actors back in a New York studio.

Virgil Pinkley, his assistant Ed Beattie, and correspondents including Collie Small, Leo Disher and Richard MacMillan are named in the D-Day Invasion episode. As usual, the actors voicing their “roles” aren’t identified. According to Pinkley’s 1992 Los Angeles Times obituary, he landed his job with United Press in London in 1929, after working his way to Europe on a cattle boat. During the war, he was head of UP operations in Europe and traveled to 43 countries. He was a vice president at UP when he returned to his native state of California, becoming publisher of the Los Angeles Mirror and other papers.

Former United Press correspondent Walter Cronkite, on an NPR program, commented years later on the strangeness of hearing an unidentified New York actor saying “This is Walter Cronkite…” and reading one of his UP dispatches in what Cronkite characterized as an “action-adventure show” promoting the wire service.

Ironically, Cronkite’s own voice became more familiar than most of those 1940s radio stars — as reporter and anchor on CBS radio and television, reporting two more wars, the Civil Rights movement and the Apollo moon landings. Cronkite also returned to D-Day’s Omaha Beach in 1963 with Eisenhower for a 20-years-after feature, and reminisced about that trip and D-Day for NPR.

Cronkite’s role in D-Day coverage is not headlined in the “Invasion” episode of Soldiers of the Press, but other stories of his were given the full Soldiers of the Press treatment in programs that are part of the Old Time Radio Researchers Group collection at Archive.org.

Here are a Cronkite episode from 1943 and two from 1945.

Dry Martini

Symbol of Caduceus

Grease Monkey

(Alas, volunteer-produced online archive program file names and notes have had numerous typographical errors over the years, gradually being corrected — including references to Walter “Cronkike,” Richard “McMillan,” and Virgil “Pinkney.”)

For another approach, see the newspaper-listing “sourced” report on the program by DigitalDeli, The Definitive Soldiers of the Press Radio Log with Walter Cronkite, not that 1940s newspaper listings were error-free.

While Cronkite is not mentioned, the June 1944 Soldiers of the Press broadcast is fascinating, if understandably short on details. Check out history.com’s D-Day page or The Library of Congress for some perspective — including statistics that couldn’t be told back then: 18,000 paratroopers leading the way for 176,000 troops who arrived on history’s largest invasion fleet, some 6,000 vessels, supported by 13,000 aircraft. For more personal accounts, see the veterans’ stories in the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project: D-Day 60th anniversary.

Also from the Library of Congress: By dawn in America, The New York Times had an extra on the street

Research note: If you are searching The New York Times website for that “extra,” the big page-one “Allied Armies Land…” banner headline may not be the best search tool, since it covers several stories. It does get you to the full page using the Times archive in a library’s Proquest Historical Newspapers subscription. (Such as the one at the end of this link for RU students only. Your tuition dollars at work.)

Otherwise, try one of the individual column headlines, such as, “EISENHOWER ACTS; U.S., British, Canadian Troops Backed by Sea, Air Forces” in the nyTimes.com archive search.

For more about the series, see the JHeroes.com “Soldiers of the Press” page and links on that page.

[Link address updates and other minor editing here June 5, 2019 and March 28, 2021.]

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.
This entry was posted in foreign correspondents, historical figures, international, reporters, true stories, World War II. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to D-Day — Real and Dramatized

  1. Terry Walbert says:

    I’m enjoying your webpage and the many resources you’ve put together. From just a brief perusal of the broadcasts, I sense that the reporters saw their job as covering the story, not being the story like some of their current successors. Maybe reporting via radio forces you to use your powers more than pointing a camera at a scene and talking.

    • Bob Stepno says:

      Television news literally does put the reporter in the spotlight, for better or for worse. Radio reporters sometimes (Murrow on his London rooftop as bombs fell) were delivering personal experiences, but still had to describe what they saw, as did correspondents for wire services and newspapers. I haven’t done a statistical analysis, but the United Press — in print and on the air — seemed intent on presenting its reporters as individuals, differentiating itself from the larger Associated Press.

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