It started five years ago today… (9-3-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (September 3, 1944)

It started five years ago today…

After five years of global warfare, the sun now never sets on U.S. troops. They are scattered over the face of the Earth.

It was exactly five years ago today (Sept. 3, 1939, also a Sunday) that England and France declared war on Germany. The Germans had invaded Poland on Sept. 1, officially calling their action a “counterattack with pursuit.” Britain and France, finally abandoning their policy of appeasement, sent an ultimatum to Hitler that if he did not recall his forces they would go to war in her defense.

War seemed far away to Americans when, on Sunday, Prime Minister Chamberlain announced to Commons that Great Britain was at war with Germany and then France later in the day followed suit. That night, the steamship Athenia, bound for Montréal with refugees from war zones, was sunk by an explosion 200 miles northwest of Ireland, with a loss of 112 lives. Three hundred of the passengers were Americans.

Americans felt secure under a neutrality law which provided a “cash-and-carry” system for sale of war supplies to belligerents. We had a standing army smaller than the forces that invaded Normandy and it was not uncommon for troops in maneuvers to use broomsticks and trucks to simulate guns and tanks. We were little armed than the French Maquis now coming to the assistance of two invading U.S. armies.

On Sept. 4, Japan announced that “Japan does not intend to be involved in it” and the next day President Roosevelt issued two proclamations announcing neutrality and putting an embargo on shipments of arms to the belligerent countries.

Most Americans had never heard of such strange places as Guadalcanal and Saipan or dreamed that their sons and brothers would soon be stationed in Greenland and the Aleutians and Burma and Iraq and fighting bitter battles in Italy, France, New Guinea, Bougainville and North Africa.

Yet by April 20, 1941, nearly eight months before Pearl Harbor, U.S. troops were in Bermuda and the next June, they were in Greenland, as this map by the National Geographic Society shows. For war was inexorably moving toward America and we were advancing to protect ourselves.

Japan struck us on Dec. 7, 1941, and Germany and Italy promptly declared war against the United States.

This map shows how our forces have spread throughout the world, giving the location and landing date of the various troop concentrations.

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