Reporter's Audio Recordings Of D-Day Discovered After 75 Years

Nov 11, 2019
Originally published on November 11, 2019 6:30 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

About 10,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded along a stretch of Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. One small American town suffered proportionally more than any other, Bedford, Va. To acknowledge the human loss of so many communities, the National D-Day Memorial is located there. This year, the memorial received an artifact of the Allied landing in France - a rare audio artifact.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE HICKS: The whole seaside is covered with tracer fire, going up, fading. The bombs...

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Radio reporter George Hicks speaking into a device called a Recordgraph. It was new at the time, a sturdier way to capture sound. A ribbon of celluloid was etched in a way similar to how phonograph records were made, but it couldn't easily be disturbed by the sway of a ship or the bombardment of battle.

SHAPIRO: After the report was broadcast, those original celluloid strips wound up stored away in a Long Island home and forgotten.

CORNISH: Enter Bruce Campbell. He bought that house, along with a pile of junk left by the previous owner, who happened to have been an executive of the company that made Recordgraphs.

BRUCE CAMPBELL: And down at the bottom of the pile, as I was throwing everything out, I found all these strange boxes of Recordgraphs and all this. And I had no idea what it was - none.

SHAPIRO: The trouble was Bruce Campbell couldn't find a Recordgraph playback machine. They were discontinued. Then Campbell heard about a man in Bristol, England, who could help.

CAMPBELL: He had been commissioned by the Imperial War Museum in London to build a modern-day Recordgraph machine to play. The same machine was used in the Nuremberg war crime trials.

CORNISH: Campbell took the celluloid strips across the Atlantic. There, he listened to the D-Day reports and brought digital copies home. His plan was to then sell the original tapes, but he found no buyers, so he made a decision.

CAMPBELL: The right thing to do was to donate this to the National D-Day Memorial and have this available forever.

CORNISH: Campbell made good on that promise and brought boxes of tapes to the memorial in Bedford, Va.

APRIL CHEEK-MESSIER: We were so excited to hear from Bruce.

SHAPIRO: That's April Cheek-Messier. She is president and CEO of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation.

CHEEK-MESSIER: I think this is important history not only of D-Day, but also of how these war correspondents really changed the way we experience what happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HICKS: (Unintelligible) The planes seem to be coming over directly overhead.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLANE ROARING)

HICKS: Here we go again. Another plane's come over.

CORNISH: Eventually, the Recordgraph tapes will be on display at the D-Day Memorial, where visitors will be able to listen to George Hicks' first draft of what happened on June 6, 1944.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HICKS: Tracers are making an arc right over our bow (ph) now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.