Journal-News, Wednesday, June 1, 1994
D-Day tenseness gripped Hamilton June 6, 1944
By Jim Blount
"D-Day tenseness gripped Hamilton early Tuesday as its citizens arose to be met with the electrifying words: 'The invasion's on!' "
That's how the June 6, 1944, Journal-News summarized local reaction to news that Allied forces had launched the anticipated military epic code-named "Operation Overlord" during World War II, but known more familiarly for 50 years as "D-Day."
A page one Associated Press report said "Allied troops landed on the Normandy coast of France in tremendous strength by cloudy daylight today and stormed several miles inland with tanks and infantry in the grand assault which Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called a crusade in which 'we will accept nothing less than full victory.' "
"The invasion was timed at 2:32 a.m. (Hamilton time), and the word was broadcast here seconds later," the Journal-News reported.
It was accepted here as both good news and bad news -- good news in that it promised to lead to the defeat of Nazi Germany, and bad news because the road to Berlin was certain to cost the lives of sons, grandsons, husbands, fathers, nephews and uncles from Hamilton-area families.
Weeks of heavy bombing of rail and road targets in France preceded the invasion -- air action which involved many men from this area. In a 19-day period starting in mid-May 1944, the Journal-News reported 14 local airmen killed or missing during the pre-invasion campaign over Europe.
On D-Day "there was no ringing of church bells, no sounding of factory whistles, no shouts of joy," the newspaper said. "As a matter of fact, there was a certain calmness as men and women, boys and girls, greeted each other with the news."
Local churches quickly announced already-planned D-Day prayer services and masses, and several places of worship were open all day for individual prayers.
"Today the world watches -- watches the shores of France -- watches and hopes and prays that on those shores the Allied soldiers will bring victory," observed a Journal-News editorial. "We cannot speak of the liberation of conquered and oppressed and stricken peoples as an invasion. It's liberation made necessary because most of the world slept in self-centered contentment while a handful of maniacs planned universal slavery."
For security reasons, many details of the invasion weren't immediately reported to the homefront, especially in accounts published June 6 when Allied leaders were trying to make Hitler believe the Normandy action could be a feint.
"Aside from confirming that Normandy was the general area of the assault," noted the AP's Wes Gallagher, "supreme headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force was silent concerning the location" of the invasion. Later, it would be learned that American forces had landed on two beaches code-named Utah and Omaha.
Gallagher said "all reports from the beachhead, meager though they were in specific detail, agreed the Allies had made good the great gamble of amphibious landing against possibly the strongest fortified section of coast in the world."
Gallagher also couldn't report how many troops were involved in the landing. Now it is known that on that first day about 150,000 Allied troops -- plus vehicles, equipment, munitions and food and medical supplies -- were sent ashore.
The AP writer said the invasion included more than 4,000 ships and 11,000 planes, numbers supported by recent histories of World War II. The assault was "history's largest amphibious landing," said Norman Polmar and Thomas B. Allen in World War II, America at War, 1941-1945.
"The U. S. buildup in England for the invasion consisted of 1,527,000 troops, including 620,504 men of the ground forces in 21 divisions, plus support troops," recalled Polmar and Allen in their encyclopedic history of the war published in 1991.
"The massive invasion, the mightiest armada ever assembled, included more than 4,400 ships and landing craft to carry the 154,000 troops -- 50,000 of them assault troops of D-Day -- and 1,500 tanks. With the invasion fleet was an aerial armada of 11,000 fighters, bombers, transports and gliders to provide protection, support and supplies," explained Polmar and Allen.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 8, 1994
D-Day sparked patriotism in Hamilton
By Jim Blount
War-related agencies in Hamilton quickly took advantage of the patriotic renewal stimulated by news of the fall of Rome and the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944.
For example, Thursday, June 8, 1944 -- four days after Allied troops moved into Rome and two days after the invasion of the French beaches -- the Hamilton Chapter of the American Red Cross issued an urgent appeal to the women of Hamilton to "get into the fight on the home front" by volunteering to produce hospital garments and roll surgical dressings for World War II victims.
"With the invasion in full swing, and with action growing on all other battlefields, the need is greater than ever," said Mrs. Guy H. Beckett, head of Red Cross volunteer special services.
The local chapter's three-month production quotas included 200 lightweight pajamas, 200 heavyweight pajamas and 215 robes for wounded and ill servicemen.
Less than a week after the Normandy invasion, the Fifth War Loan drive was launched, a campaign which expected Butler Countians to buy $10.2 million in war bonds.
Instead, by July 6 -- only a month after D-Day -- purchases totaled $14,334,321, exceeding the goal by more than 40 percent, and placing Butler County first in sales in its 22-county district, according to the War Finance Committee.
The $14.3 million response in one month represented 13.2 percent of the $108.5 million in bonds sold in the county in more than four full war years (through December 1945).
Also in June 1944, in announcing that the local bus company had won first place in a 1943 national safety contest, it was noted that Hamilton City Lines Inc. had carried 10,548,334 passengers, an increase of 26 percent over 1942, and the largest number of passengers carried in the history of the company. That ridership volume reflected both the impact of war-time gas and tire restrictions, and local compliance with requests to rely on public transit instead of private vehicles.
But the good news of the capture of Rome June 4 and the massive Allied amphibious landing in Normandy June 6 soon was tempered by mounting casualty reports.
During June 1944, the Journal-News continued to publish reports of local airmen killed, missing or captured as American bombers pounded German factories and supply routes to Normandy.
In 19 days in May, 14 local airmen had been reported as killed or missing during the air offensive which preceded the invasion known as "Operation Overlord."
The first local death in France wasn't reported here until July 27 when it was revealed that Pvt. Julian F. Preston had been killed in action in July 6, "just 19 days before his baby daughter was born in Fort Hamilton Hospital."
The 22-year-old Hamiltonian -- who had been a painter in Hamilton before entering the Army in October 1942 -- and his wife, Margaret, also were the parents of a 15-month-old daughter when he died.
Six other area deaths in France were reported within the first two months of the campaign. They were George W. Shirley, 32, Luther W. Ward, 32, Beve Burns, 21, and Thomas T. Flynn, 19, all of Hamilton; James W. Gilbert, 20, Okeana; and James R. Widmeyer, 26, West Chester.
In its first 30 months -- through May 30, 1944 -- the war had taken the lives of 63 men from the Hamilton area.
By the end of 1944, the local death toll reached 168 with 105 names added to the list in the last seven months of the year from battlefronts in the Pacific and European theaters.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 15, 1994
Record heat wave claimed 16 lives in 1934, Depression⁄Dust Bowl year
By Jim Blount
Fourteen days of temperatures in the 100s, a severe drought and at least 16 heat-related deaths easily establish 1934 as one of Hamilton's worst summers.
Conditions were exhausting, but sleep was difficult in that Depression and Dust Bowl year when air-conditioned cars and residences were rarities. People seeking relief abandoned stuffy bedrooms for relatively cooler sleep on porches and in yards.
Counted among the weather victims was a 26-year-old Middletown man. He was killed by a switching steam locomotive on a siding at the American Rolling Mill steel plant (later Armco, and now AK Steel). A companion said the victim had been sleeping on the seldom-used track to escape the heat in his house.
By mid July, pastures were described as "burnt brown" and "almost totally devoid of grass," forcing Butler County dairy farmers "to dig into their winter supply of hay." When the heat wave arrived in mid-May, government agencies already were surveying the impact of the extended drought in the county. Less than an inch of rain was measured in Hamilton that month.
The mercury topped 90 degrees 21 times and exceeded 100 four times in Hamilton in June (101 June 1 and 103, 105 and 106 June 27, 28 and 29) before a meager shower (a tenth of an inch) brought relative relief at the end of the month.
The 106 on Friday, June 29, was the hottest June day in Hamilton history, according to A. B. Heath, the Journal's local weather observer.
But the worst was still to come in July. Hamilton's lowest daily high that month was 86 degrees on Sunday, July 8. Highs on 25 of 31 days were over 90 degrees, and 100 was surpassed on nine days, a local record. The average maximum temperature was 97. The 2.22 inches of rain here was an inch and a half below the July average.
Consecutive highs of 100 were recorded Saturday and Sunday, July 14-15, followed by daily readings of 95, 94 and 98 degrees.
Then, starting Thursday, July 19, Hamilton suffered through eight straight days above the 100 mark (101, 107, 111.5, 110, 106, 111, 110 and 107) before 57⁄100ths of an inch of rain produced a high of "only 94" on Friday, July 17. (The previous Hamilton high of 109 had been recorded July 22, 1901.)
Saturday, July 21 -- considered the hottest day in Ohio -- included reports of 113 degrees at Gallipolis, 111.5 in Hamilton, 109 in Cincinnati and 107 in Middletown.
"Had the thermometer registered one-half degree more it would have burst," said the Journal of the 111.5 here. The weather observer's thermometer "was taken from the sun to prevent it from busting" after reaching 111.5, the newspaper reported.
The first heat-related death was Wednesday, July 18, when a 55-year-old Hamilton stoneworker died of sunstroke, according to Coroner Edward Cook. By Friday, July 27 -- nine days later -- 15 more people had succumbed to the heat.
Besides the Middletown railroad victim, the others were a five-month old Middletown boy; an 11-month-old Hamilton girl; an eight-year-old Hamilton girl; two Hamilton women (68 and 80 years of age); seven Hamilton men (ages 47, 48, 61, 64, 66, 76 and 85); a Middletown man, 60; and a Liberty Twp. man, 74.
During the period, more than 1,360 heat deaths were reported in the nation,. Few topics commanded as much attention as the deadly weather. An exception was the death of bank-robber John Dillinger, 32, who was shot by federal agents Sunday evening, July 22, in Chicago.
Hamilton ice consumption jumped 50 percent to 550,000 pounds daily, according to operators of two local ice plants, the Valley Ice Company, 327 S. Front Street, and the McGreevy Dairy and Ice Company, 2707 Dixie Highway. The demands were so great that Valley Ice reopened a small ice plant at McKinley and Western avenues, which had been closed two years earlier.
The heat wave continued into August when a 14th 100 reading was recorded Aug. 9 (102). Rain that month totaled only 1.12 inches, less than a third of the 3.79-inch local average.
The heat and drought covered 75 percent of the nation and was severe in 27 states. The impact was evident in food prices. Within a few months, consumers saw steak jump from 28 cents a pound to 38 cents, eggs from 27 cents a dozen to 34 cents, and butter from 29 cents to 36 cents a pound.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 22, 1994
Deadly heat hit Hamilton again in record-setting summer of 1936
By Jim Blount
For the second time in three years, Butler County residents in 1936 suffered through a summer of killing heat and frightening drought.
Fresh in their memory was the deadly dry summer of 1934 when the daily high in Hamilton topped 100 degrees 14 times and 16 people died of heat-related causes in nine days in July. By contrast, the summer of 1935 had only two 100-degree highs.
In 1936, the official thermometer hit 100 for the first time Wednesday, June 17 -- which was 16 days later than the first three-digit reading two years earlier.
In May and June 1936, Hamilton had 1.75 inches of rain, only 24 percent of the two-month norm of 7.4 inches. Only 39⁄100ths of an inch fell in June. For the first six months, it totaled 11.7 inches, or 56 percent of the six-month average of 20.9.
The Journal declared most Hamiltonians "tired and heavy-eyed" and "simply exhausted" after "futile efforts to find a cool spot to sleep" after a 99-degree high Monday, June 29, and a low of 81 degrees the next morning, June 30.
The situation worsened a week later, Tuesday, July 7, when Hamilton sweated through nine straight days of 100-degree highs (100, 103, 106.5, 108, 107, 107, 106, 108.5 and 106). That surpassed the eight-day 100-plus record set in 1934. There were three more 100 days in 1936 (July 17, 26 and 27), bringing the summer total to 13, one short of the number during 1934.
The first of the county's six 1936 heat deaths was a 10-day-old Trenton boy who died July 9 of heat prostration at his home. Later, two Hamilton men, ages 48 and 66, a Hamilton woman, 85, and two Okeana men, 56 and 71, were victims of the heat. July 17 the Ohio death toll was 331 while nationally it reached 4,400 people.
The weather took its toll in many other ways, especially during the nine-day 100-degree streak. Roads buckled, including Hamilton-Middletown Road (Ohio 4) and Ohio 129 near Millville. The sidewalk burst at Second and High streets. Grass fires consumed hundreds of acres in the county. Homes along Headgates Road, north of Hamilton, were saved when about 100 young men from a nearby Civilian Conservation Corps camp helped firemen control an expanding grass fire.
Fish in the Great Miami River suffocated because of a lack of oxygen, a byproduct of low, stagnant water. After only 51⁄100ths of an inch of rain in July, water was just ankle deep in the river. Sunday, Aug. 3, it was reported at its lowest level since the Miami Conservancy District started keeping records in 1916.
Hardest hit by the heat wave were Butler County farmers, many suffering long term setbacks. By July 16, crop damage estimates exceeded $1 million, and half of the 1936 corn crop was believed lost.
Cattle became ill after eating dead grass. Hay and corn intended for winter feedings had to be used.
Rural wells and cisterns went dry and no water could be drawn from dusty creeks. By July 23, more than a third of the area's farmers were hauling water from municipal systems in Hamilton, Middletown and Oxford. Hamilton offered the water free, and an average of 8,000 gallons a day was taken by farmers.
On the positive side, Hamilton's recently improved water system passed its first test. Joseph Hart, water superintendent, reported a 53 percent jump in consumption during the peak of the heat streak. A daily record was set Wednesday, July 15, when 6.2 million gallons were pumped to parched citizens, topping the six million gallons supplied July 25, 1934.
Eastview, then Hamilton's only municipal swimming pool, reported capacity crowds. "Beat the heat at the cool Paramount -- carefully cooled -- we manufacture our own weather." suggested the ads of Hamilton's newest movie theater. At the same time, ads for Wilmur's Department Store featured a fur coat sale -- "now only $48."
Through the summer, infrequent showers brought scant relief. A. B. Heath, weather observer, said rain "is of such a small amount that it evaporates immediately upon hitting the ground, giving off a steam which almost bakes us." A welcomed 2.5 inches in 24 hours Sept. 2 was Hamilton's heaviest rain in 41 months.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 29, 1994
County's worst railroad accident killed 24; passenger and freight collided July 4, 1910
By Jim Blount
Butler County's worst railroad accident July 4, 1910, killed 24 people and injured about 35 when passenger and freight trains collided about 500 yards north of the West Middletown station near Poasttown.
The head-on crash at 1:02 p.m. on the Independence Day holiday was on the busy Cincinnati-Detroit mainline of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad. The route-- later the Baltimore & Ohio and Chessie -- is now operated by CSX.
The southbound passenger train was the Cincinnati Flyer, No. 21, said to be the fastest train on the New York Central System between New York City and Cincinnati. The CH&D's northbound freight No. 90 was almost stopped when the passenger train - traveling at 50 to 60 miles an hour - plowed into it.
"The two huge engines were reduced to a pile of worthless junk," a newspaper said. "The passenger coaches were splintered and broken into an unrecognizable mass of kindling, while along the tracks for 100 yards was strewn a miscellaneous lot of personal property dropped in the wild scramble of the passengers to get out of the coaches."
Within an hour, more than 2,000 spectators were at the scene, complicating the rescue and the preliminary investigation.
Several Hamilton surgeons went to the scene by train and auto. An extra train hauled some of the injured to Hamilton, arriving at about 4 p.m. at Dayton Street where five local ambulances waited to take the victims the remaining two blocks to Mercy Hospital. Other injured were removed to hospitals in Dayton (there was no hospital in Middletown then).
Some of the victims died in the Hamilton hospital, the last one eight days after the accident. All but one of the 24 dead were from Ohio, but none were Butler County residents. A Hamilton man, Chester Hagan, was listed among the injured.
The next morning, workers found a seven-month-old girl alive -- and apparently uninjured -- in a cornfield where she had been hurled by the impact.
The engineers, both from Cincinnati, survived. The engineer on the passenger train suffered minor injuries, and was unconscious for about five hours. He couldn't remember if he had jumped or had been thrown from the cab of the steam locomotive. The freight engineer jumped from his locomotive before the crash.
At the time of the collision, the Butler County coroner, John A. Burnett, was at Gano on the New York Central's Cincinnati-Middletown-Dayton line investigating the death of a stranger who had been killed in a railroad accident there.
That minor mishap had blocked the tracks and caused the NYC's passenger train to be rerouted over the CH&D between Dayton and Cincinnati.
Later, two investigations blamed the Poasttown tragedy on conflicting orders.
The freight crew was told by a dispatcher at West Middletown that it should reach the Poasttown siding by 1:07 p.m. so the southbound Flyer could pass.
Meanwhile, based on orders from Dayton, the passenger crew believed it had clear track to Cincinnati with the freight on a West Middletown siding.
Lee Crider, a veteran West Middletown dispatcher, said he received a 12:58 order to hold the freight there, but by then 21 of its cars had passed his station, and he realized the collision was imminent. Conductor John Weaver said he received Crider's verbal warning and was flagging the engineer when the trains collided.
The CH&D's chief dispatcher in Dayton confirmed the sequence of events and acknowledged his part in it, but claimed that the detoured Flyer's excessive speed and the freight crew's negligence had foiled the passing plan.
But, after a CH&D investigation, that Dayton dispatcher was fired because, a newspaper said, his "judgment had been poor and if he had acted otherwise, there would have been no crash."
Coroner Burnett, in a separate investigation, attributed the tragedy to the "carelessness and negligence" of the Dayton dispatcher, the freight crew and the CH&D pilot engineer aboard the NYC passenger train.
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