Now and then something comes along unexpectedly to make your day. This is what came along on Tuesday, 1 October.
It’s the short version of what was probably a rich and fascinating longer story, which ended in an old audio recording being stored with other dusty items from World War II in a cabin in New York.
The recording came from the Navy command ship USS Ancon (AGC-4). The date: 6 June 1944. It was made by radio correspondent George Hicks, who was on the Ancon to cover the D-Day landing. Ancon, formerly a civilian vessel, had been converted to a troopship, and then to a command ship for the Atlantic Fleet Amphibious Forces. She had taken part in the landing in Sicily in 1943, and was now the flagship for the U.S. amphibious forces marshaled at Omaha Beach.
Michael Ruane, writing for the Washington Post, was able to hear the 75-year-old recording in preparing for this story.
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As the ship stood off the French coast the evening of June 6, Hicks captured the sounds of German air attacks on the support vessels. His report is punctuated with the roar of gunfire, the drone of enemy aircraft and the cries of those on board.
His voice is tense but controlled, as he yells over a crescendo of antiaircraft fire. “Another one coming over! A cruiser right along side of us is pouring it up!”
Somebody in the background is heard yelling.
Earlier, Hicks, perhaps a little overwhelmed, had said: “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just take a deep breath for a moment and stop speaking.”
A few seconds later: “Something is burning and falling down through the sky,” he says. “Circling down. May be a hit plane.”
The gunfire resumes. It becomes continuous and deafening. Hicks tries to say something over the noise, but it’s hard to make out. As the gunfire dies down, men can be heard shouting and cheering, “we got one!”
The recording was made on an old system called Recordgraph. The current owner of the Mattituck, New York cabin, Bruce Campbell (not the actor), bought it years ago from the one-time vice president of Recordgraph’s parent company, who had a trove of old recordings stored there. He also had some of the original equipment from a Recordgraph. Campbell recently traveled to Britain to connect with someone who could play the recordings. When Campbell realized what he had, he ultimately decided to donate the recordings to the U.S. D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.
The memorial’s website doesn’t yet mention the Hicks dispatch from D-Day. If they’ve been digitized, the WaPo article doesn’t link to them. The recordings were only turned over on Monday (30 September). But if you go to Bedford in the coming months, it’s a good bet you’ll be able to listen, from a copy of the original recording made by the on-scene correspondent, to the sound of D-Day, captured from the decks of USS Ancon on 6 June 1944.