Wednesday, June 25, 2014

D Day in Penn Yan

So yesterday I drove down to the Historical Society in my home town, to see if I could find out what, as an 18-year-old reporter, I had written in the Penn Yan Chronicle Express when I covered D Day.  That museum must have a remarkable endowment, for niece Amy and I met at least three staff persons, and we’re talking a village of maybe 5,000 people, seat of Little Yates, the smallest county in New York state.
An obliging gentleman brought up from the basement the bound volume of the 1944 paper, and there it was -- the June 8, 1944 issue (two days after the Sixth of June; we came out on Thursday mornings).   Looks like I didn’t have a byline – there were none in the whole paper, nor could I find my name or even the editor’s on the masthead.  But I remember him sending me out – on foot of course – to report on the village’s reaction to the momentous news that the invasion of Europe had begun.
What I remember today is what a beautiful sunny day it was and how silent the whole town was, all the church doors open, nothing being spoken, people just sitting unmoving, in the pews.  Writing today, that’s what I would report – the silence, the sunshine, the air filled with unspoken fears, hopes, prayers.  My report has absolutely none of that, and not a thing I remember writing. 
I started with a quote from “a woman whose husband is overseas” and ended with one from a junior high student whose “brother is in England.”  I wrote about flags being set out along the business district of Main Street [all two blocks] and private homes.  Parents of boys in England, I reported, now understood why they’d had no mail for weeks.  The Lutheran minister said “I hope they reach Denmark soon” [lots of Danes in Penn Yan] and we carried a statement from the Commander of the American Legion, which was big in those days.

At the Academy, junior and senior high schools held a meditation service that afternoon, led by the Superintendent of Schools.   In a small town, though, the churches are at the heart of everything and I reported that the Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians had held a union service that evening.  St. Mark’s Episcopal had its own, as did the Lutherans, and St. Michael’s holy hour included a rosary, prayers and benediction.      
“Penn Yan worked Tuesday,” I reported, “making uniforms, army truck bodies, task boats  [I believe those were PT Boats, maybe even Jack Kennedy's], machine parts and other war items."

Not bad for a small town.




  1. Fascinating follow up to your previous report on your memories from that day. How cool to go back and find your article! Let's hope that the digital era doesn't result in the destruction of such archives. CMS

  2. Even before I read CMS's comment, I was thinking that bound volumes of a small-town newspaper must be on the endangered species list. I too rejoice that the helpful staff was able to locate this one--and that there was such a staff.

    As for your memories of the day itself, I can't help wondering whether today's citizenry would be capable of such a thoughtful, quiet, reflective response to a great national event. I fear not.