Atlanta was in the thick of D-Day action

Journal had a clear scoop through its managing editor

Fast Facts about D-Day

Editor’s note: This story originally ran in 1999 as part of a series of columns Jim Minter wrote on his visit to the American invasion beaches in France.

''We had a radio on in the newsroom when we heard our boss speaking from England," remembers Pat LaHatte, The Atlanta Journal's picture editor on D-Day. "Pandemonium broke out."

This was surely the Journal's finest hour. Managing editor Wright Bryan, on leave as a war correspondent, had hitched a ride to France on a C-47 transport carrying paratroopers. Immediately after landing back in England he was on NBC Radio with arguably the "scoop" of the century.

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While reporters for the big wire services, the New York and Chicago newspapers, Edward R. Murrow and Ernie Pyle either sat in London or floated aboard ships in the invasion armada, the Journal's man on the scene watched paratroopers jump into battle as German tracers climbed into the night.

His eyewitness account was distributed to newspapers across the country. "WRIGHT BRYAN FLIES TO ATTACK IN TROOP PLANE," read the headline in the Journal's Final Home edition. "Journal Editor Writes Graphic Account of U.S. Paratroopers' Leap into Action.," added the subhead.

Doris Lockerman covered the local angle. Her headline read, "D-Day Finds Atlantians in Prayer," followed by "Relatives and Friends Gather Throughout Day at Church Altars."

"Bells tolled in Atlanta Tuesday," she wrote. "They were not air-raid alarms, but the age-old summons to prayer that sounded over the city and united its people into huge congregations of supplicants. Church members and non-church members, men, women and children of all beliefs and denominations knelt for prayers for the success of the invasion, and for the safety of sons, husbands and friends locked in the titanic struggle of D-Day."

"Certainly," says LaHatte. "We all had friends and relatives over there."

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower presenting the Medal of Freedom to Wright Bryan, on Nov. 20, 1947, Editor of the Atlanta Journal, for services as a war correspondent in European Theatre, 1943-45. (File photo)

Credit: Unknown

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Credit: Unknown

There were no computers, no CNN, no electronic typesetting, no e-mail and no satellite transmissions. Military traffic overloaded shortwave radio and undersea cables. The Journal managed to get a single six-column picture through a laborious process of metal engraving in time for a before noon deadline.

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Showing a flotilla of warships protected by barrage balloons, the picture came from the Associated Press via the Coast Guard and Army Signal Corps Radio.

"Quite a feat," says LaHatte, who wrote the caption Atlantans read that afternoon.

"People were standing on the street, waiting for the paper to come off the press," she recalls. "We had a board in front of the newspaper building where we posted pictures we couldn't get in the newspaper." Newsprint rationing had cut the number of pages to a minimum. According to the index, sports news was on page 14.

The reporters and editors on the firing line that fateful morning in 1944 went on to greater things in the postwar world.

A rule broken, but no complaint

Bryan, after being captured and spending time as a prisoner of war, came home to take over as top editor of the Journal, and later moved to a similar post with the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. In "retirement" he served as a vice president of Clemson University, his alma mater. He died in 1991.

» READ MORE: Wright Bryan also broadcast during the liberation of Paris and was captured as a POW

LaHatte, the legendary picture editor, became Mrs. J.D. Langley when she married the championship football coach. (Note: LaHatte died in 2010. Read her obituary here.)

As a Journal-Constitution executive, she broke serious ground for women in Atlanta business circles, one of the first four to be admitted into the previously all-male Commerce Club.

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Probably the most informed historian of Atlanta journalism in the 20th century, she kept copies of all the front pages from major World War II events, from Pearl Harbor through D-Day, the atom bomb and the two surrenders. I asked her which of those days stands out as her most unforgettable.

She replied without hesitation. "The day we got the first pictures from the concentration camp."

When Patton's Third Army broke into Buchenwald, the toughest of all American generals was so shocked by what he saw that he called Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to ask for photographers, so the world could see.

The pictures, now so horrifyingly familiar, soon arrived on LaHatte's desk. She had a problem.

The Journal's owner, James M. Cox, former Ohio governor and Democratic presidential candidate, let local editors make their own decisions, except for one rule: No pictures of dead bodies in the newspaper.

"When I took the Buchenwald pictures to a meeting of editors, the rule came up," LaHatte says. "I said, 'We've got to run them. That's what the war was all about.' Mr. (William) Kirkpatrick, who was acting managing editor in Wright Bryan's absence, agreed and told me to put together a full page of pictures." Gov. Cox never complained.

After the war Lockerman moved to the Constitution, where she became a star columnist. Before coming to Atlanta as the bride of attorney Allen Lockerman, she had written a column for the Chicago Tribune, and before that was secretary to Melvin Purvis, the FBI special agent who did in the John Dillinger gang and today is well-known to all television watchers.

Allen Lockerman, then a young FBI man, was one of the agents in Purvis' stakeout who shot the notorious criminal as he came out of a Chicago movie house, betrayed by the Lady in Red.

» Read more about the career of journalist Doris Lockerman

LaHatte describes Doris Lockerman as "a vigorous resident of St. Anne's Episcopal Complex" in Atlanta. She, too, has vivid memories of the fateful June morning in 1944 when she was called on to reflect the mood of the city.

"I don't know if people realized how important that day was," she says. "I'm sure I didn't. So much had happened we were just overwhelmed."

Perhaps that pretty much sums up the enormity of D-Day, the whole of World War II, and the 20th century. Present and future generations cannot be expected to fully understand, or appreciate. The best they can do is figure out enough to heed Gen. Eisenhower's plea, and try not to let it happen again.

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