At 9:32 a.m. local time on June 6, 1944, Col. R. Ernest Dupuy spoke into a microphone at Senate House on the University of London campus, transmitting what he later called “in all probability the most widely broadcast news the world has known.”
His message was brief, but it brought the news that had been anticipated by millions for months, even years:
D-Day had arrived, and the 57-year-old Dupuy had delivered the first official word of the invasion to the world.
Richard Ernest Dupuy was born March 24, 1887 in New York City. He joined the reporting staff of the New York Herald as a 20-year-old and covered stories throughout the city for the next decade. For most of that period, he was a member of the New York Army National Guard, which he had joined in 1909.
When the United States entered the Great War in 1917, Dupuy deployed to France as an artillery officer, and he found the military life to his liking. He was commissioned into the regular army following the war and would remain in the service through his retirement in February 1946.
He performed a variety of duties in the interwar period, including a stint in the Philippines, but eventually settled into a role that suited his journalism background. He led the Army Information Service for three years and later worked in the G-2 (intelligence) section at Governors Island, New York.
In 1937, he published the first two of his nearly two dozen books, a history of Governors Island and a collaboration with future CBS war analyst George Fielding Eliot entitled If War Comes.
The following year, Dupuy was appointed as public relations officer at West Point, where he spent two and a half years before being assigned to the War Department’s PR department in Washington in the spring of 1941.
Now Lt. Col. Dupuy, and soon to be promoted to full colonel in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack, the veteran officer would be placed in charge of the War Department’s news division in September 1942. That post led to the spot that put him behind the microphone on D-Day, as he headed to London in December 1943 to join Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff in planning for the invasion.
By the time the final preparations for Operation Overlord were put in motion, there were 461 correspondents accredited to SHAEF.
Dupuy’s job was to balance their wants and needs in invasion coverage with those of his fellow staff officers. Or, as he put it in a 1957 story in Army magazine, “to ensure that the people most concerned — those of the United States and the British Commonwealth — should get all news of the Allied Expeditionary Force. It was their expedition and they were entitled to know.”
Of course, it was more complicated than that, particularly to members of the press who were jockeying for position to cover the most anticipated story of the war. And that, as much as anything, is why it was Dupuy who sat before the microphone to read Communique No. 1 on D-Day instead of turning those duties over to a professional broadcaster.
It had been decided by the usual General Staff conference procedure that the simplest method of giving SHAEF’s communique to the world would be by one voice broadcast. It was simple and it was fair. It relieved the war correspondents of the urge of trying to be first on the wire with the Big Flash, and it eliminated the filing of thousands of extra words upon a strained radio and cable network.
The newspaper and wire service representatives had no issue with this setup, but the three major American radio networks — CBS, NBC and Mutual — and the BBC certainly did. Each would have preferred its own man read the official announcement, and there were divisions even beyond that. At the very least, the BBC insisted, the “one voice” should be British. The Americans, naturally, disagreed.
I couldn’t blame them; they were businessmen. But I was a soldier. I didn’t have the slightest intention of having the news of the opening of the second front go to the world by courtesy either of the BBC or of Blotz’s Snow Flakes. I told the conference the matter was settled: I was the PR chief; I’d give the flash.
(The British ultimately would do it their way, having BBC announcer John Snagge read the initial communique on the air.)
Early on the morning of June 6, the correspondents who hadn’t been assigned to accompany the troops on D-Day were told to report to MacMillan Hall at Senate House, where SHAEF’s public relations department had set up a press workroom overnight.
Around 8 a.m., the text of the communique and Eisenhower’s Order of the Day were provided to the assembled correspondents and they were allowed to pre-write their stories, to be released for publication only after the official announcement was made.
Dupuy soon retired to his office to await word from Gen. Bernard Montgomery’s public relations officer that the landing troops had a foothold on the continent. That call came in, and at 9:15 a.m. Dupuy got final approval from Maj. Gen. Harold “Pinky” Bull, who was with Eisenhower at his forward headquarters near Portsmouth, to release the news. Minutes later, Dupuy was on the air.
“D-Day had been made official,” he wrote, “the biggest story in the world had broken.”
Dupuy returned to the War Department in D.C. after the German surrender and worked there until his retirement the following spring, but he never stopped writing.
He ultimately would author three books about West Point and write about all aspects of military history. His son, World War II veteran Col. Trevor Nevitt Dupuy, would collaborate with him on four books, including the posthumously published Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 B.C. to the Present.
Dupuy died of heart failure in April 1975 at Walter Reed Hospital. He was 88 years old.