D-Day Mass on Omaha Beach

This is said, in many places on the Internet, to be a picture of a priest celebrating Mass on Omaha Beach on D-Day.

Several of my friends posted this picture on Facebook, and I was immediately suspicious. You may claim that I am always suspicious, and there’s something to that, but in this case I had a good reason for my suspicions:

Omaha Beach wasn’t cleared until the evening of the 6th, yet no one in the picture looks fearful. Sad, yes (for good reason, as we’ll see), but not as if they’re under fire or in real danger of it. A friend more versed in military matters than I says that the kneeling soldier in the front row displays a lack of muzzle awareness that would be unacceptable in an active combat zone.

It was also against Church law in those days to start Mass after noon (IIRC), and though Church law isn’t always rigorously applied in dangerous situations (nor should it be), that’s another reason to doubt the timing.

I tried a reverse image search and didn’t find much worthwhile evidence. A lot of places (e.g., Pinterest) have the picture with the D-Day claim, but never with any support. I also found a few that merely said that the picture was taken in Normandy in June of 1944, which (spoiler) turns out to be correct.

At this point, I crowd-sourced the question on FB, and two of my friends came through for me, having much madder picture-searching skilz than I do. One friend discovered that the picture was taken by Robert Capa, as you can see on the page here. (Note that the caption on this page doesn’t make the D-Day claim.) Capa rather famously had only 11 pictures of D-Day survive, and this isn’t one of them.

Another friend found a similar picture in the Spokane Daily Chronicle for June 12, 1944. (Page 47, lower right corner.) The priest is identified as J. McGovern, of Boston, and the occasion is the dedication of the first military cemetery in France, on Omaha Beach. The picture is credited to the Army Signal Corps, for which I believe Capa was working at the time.

With that info, I was able to find other sources which told me that “J” stands for “John.” And with that, I was able to track down this video at this link. Even in low-res with a watermark, it’s clearly the same Mass in the same place, and the place is Omaha Beach, but the date is June 10, not June 6.

By no means does any of this detract from the honor and courage of Fr. McGovern and his fellow chaplains, nor that of the soldiers in attendance.