Petaluma’s Past: When D-Day dawned and nudists descended in 1944
On June 6, 1944, 11,000 planes, 4,000 ships, thousands of smaller craft and 250,000 men invaded the shores of Normandy in northwest France, just 120 miles from German-occupied Paris. This incredi-ble event was to become forever known as “D-Day,” and it was to mark the beginning of the end to World War II in Europe.
History’s greatest armada had begun crossing the turbulent English Channel at midnight, in a driving rainsquall. Consisting mostly of American, British and Canadian forces, 4,400 of them were to perish as the troops beat down the Nazi coastal defenses. The following day, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced that several strategic bridges had already been captured.
World reaction was huge.
Hundreds of thousands rushed to places of worship. Bells and whistles were heard everywhere. Workers observed a time of silence. President Roosevelt took to the radio. Newspapers issued “extras.” The New York Stock Exchange halted trading. The Summer Olympics were cancelled.
And saloons everywhere … ran out of liquor.
It was, at long last, a happy chaos.
In Petaluma, our Argus-Courier editor John Olmsted opined, “The invasion is on. We are about to determine whether machines can stop machines, whether right can prevail over wrong, whether liberty can strike down tyranny. This is the crucial test of what can be done by military power, backed by productive power.”
Petaluma’s own Gene Benedetti and Al Pelligrini were both skippering landing craft at France’s Omaha Beach that day. Gene came home to be a football star and then to found Clover Dairy, and Al, to own the Tuttle Drug Co. Gene would often reminisce how that day in 1944 had been “the worst day” of his life.
But, the news wasn‘t all about war, that summer of ‘44.
The Argus, at the time, was a Republican paper and editor Olmsted had been staunchly against the Country voting F.D.R. to a third term, much less a fourth term! In an editorial entitled ”A Fourth, A Fifth, A Life Term?” he wrote, “It’s foolish to argue that the man who occupies the office should be continued in office indefinitely, because a crisis exists. Too much fuss is made about the President knowing so much more about conditions than his successor could know. The laxity of long-held power” (he said) “results in a tendency toward personal rule and dynasty.”
But let’s turn to a lighter issue, one that was grabbing our County headlines away from world news that summer. In the Valley of the Moon, a fight was blossoming over the “Sun-O-Ma Nudist Colony,” attracting hundreds of people from everywhere.
This, in a year of national gasoline rationing.
Locals, who did not like the naked idea asked the Office of Price Administration (OPA) to look into how these nudists had acquired the gasoline to get here. Lawyers were hired, and the ensuing press coverage was way too much fun for this writer to ignore.
The Press-Democrat, for example, stated, “Nudes is nudes, whether it be good nudes or bad nudes!” They also, “got down to bare facts,” regarding those “nude nomads flitting about the Sonoma hills, learning the naked truth of poison oak and mosquitoes.”
One of the camp’s neighbors, over whose property the camp’s easement wound, had complained about hundreds of cars spreading dust over his crops and disturbing his peace. Also (he said), the bare skin was “attracting teenage boys from Sonoma High School,” who were “peeking and giggling” from behind his trees.