June 6, 1944
Hard to imagine the tension, the hope, the fear Americans are feeling as word of the Allied invasion of France filters homeward. The first troops hit the beaches of Normandy just after 6:30 a.m. on a Tuesday n 10:30 p.m. Monday in Montana. A long blast from the Northern Pacific siren in Missoula at 1:45 a.m. marks the initial report of the D-Day attack.
By morning, the radio waves are filled with the news. Headlines across Montana blare it.
"INVASION IS ON," reads the Missoulian's first of the day. It becomes "ALLIED INVADERS SMASHING INLAND" as extra editions hit the streets later in the day.
The Missoula Mercantile already has a large newspaper ad promoting the purchase of war bonds ready to go.
"Lafayette, we are here … again," it says, playing off Gen. John Pershing's words in 1917, when American troops arrived in France during the World War I to pay back a debt to the French for their help in the American Revolution.
"We can't all be on the beachheads of France today," the ad concludes, "but we can all help to give our men the extra impetus that will bring the struggle to a swifter conclusion. Buy that extra bond today!" In the evening, "Victory Volunteers" in the Ninemile community meet with representatives of the Fifth War Loan committee to plan for another war bonds campaign. Other rural meetings are slated for Potomac, Frenchtown, Lolo, Hell Gate and Missoula's six grade schools.
Reports immediately cast the D-Day invasion as the largest military action of all time. It later proves to be the turning point of World War II in the European theater, but no one can know that yet. It's a day when it seems as though time should be suspended. That, of course, is impossible.
Fish Creek, Mineral Co.
Smoke is spotted in the morning, and four Forest Service smokejumpers from the Ninemile Camp make the first jump of the season. They stamp out a small, man-caused fire some five miles south of Tarkio.
Through May 31 the Forest Service had responded to 77 fire calls in the forests. That compared to nine the year before, following a dry winter.
A presumably distracted President Franklin Roosevelt signs a bill authorizing $40 million to build Hungry Horse Dam. Rep. Mike Mansfield and Sen. Burton Wheeler pass the news on to Ernest Eaton, acting governor while Sam Ford is in Washington testifying before a Senate subcommittee on other water resource issues.
Ford is on record as saying approval of the bill was the beginning of the development of the Columbia River Basin in accordance with plans of the Northwest States Development Association.
(Construction of Hungry Horse Dam begins in 1948 and is completed five years later).
The deadline for filing for the governor's race is bearing down, and Roy Ayers throws his hat in the ring again.
He requests that his campaign slogan be printed on the primary ballot. It reads: "Exert persistent war effort and prepare a useful permanent postwar effort." A congressman from 1933-1937, Ayers had retired to his ranch near Lewistown after ending a four-year term as governor in 1941. He enjoys the distinction of being the state's first Montana-born governor.
Now he joins a Democratic primary race that includes associate justice Leif Erickson and Austin Middleton, chairman of the Railroad and Public Service Commission. Erickson will win the nomination but lose to incumbent Sam Ford in the general election.
Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.