The first week of September 1939, when the world suddenly exploded into war with the invasion of Poland by Germany and the subsequent declaration of war by England and France, was defined by black headlines, extra editions and crackling trans-Atlantic radio broadcasts from foreign correspondents.
The Sun wasted no time on Sunday, Sept. 3, 1939, when a mere 30 minutes after the expiration of the British ultimatum that Germany withdraw her troops from Poland at 11 a.m. London time (5 a.m. EST), early risers could read the headline "ENGLAND GOES TO WAR" marching across the top of the newspaper.
It took England only 15 minutes to declare war after all diplomatic efforts at peace failed after the deadline.
An extra edition later that morning proclaimed "ENGLAND DECLARES WAR ON GERMANY," with an Associated Press dispatch from Paris that said it was "assumed that today France considered herself at war with Germany inasmuch as she has said she would follow whatever steps Britain took."
In his radio address, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain concluded his declaration of war with a prayer.
"May God bless you all and may he defend the right," Chamberlain said.
"We have a clear conscience. We have done all that any country could do to establish peace," he said. "Now that we have resolved to finish it, I know that you will all do your part."
That Sunday evening in a nationwide radio broadcast, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to reassure an apprehensive nation of the U.S. position.
"Let no man or woman thoughtlessly or falsely talk of America sending its armies to European fields. At this moment, there is being prepared a proclamation of American neutrality," Roosevelt said.
"This would have been done even if there had been no neutrality statute on the books, for this proclamation is in accordance with international law and with American policy," he said.
Roosevelt said that it was a "national duty to use every effort to keep [war] out of the Americas," and that "partisanship and selfishness be adjourned and that national unity be the thought that underlies all others."
He added: "I have said not once but many times that I have seen war and that I hate war. I say that again and again."
Events were moving quickly, as Chamberlain formed a new wartime cabinet that included Winston Churchill, who had resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty during World War I after the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.
Churchill, who had endured years of political obscurity, was again named First Lord of the Admiralty as British naval vessels rejoiced at the news and flashed the message: "Winnie's Back."
Within eight months, with the British war effort flagging, Chamberlain resigned, and Churchill became England's wartime prime minister.
As local residents took in the Maryland State Fair at Timonium or listened to the Glenn Miller Orchestra, which was playing the Hippodrome that Labor Day weekend, The Sun reported that the German-American League meeting in Cleveland urged the German people to "rise up and defeat Adolf Hitler," while Fritz Kuhn, head of the German-American Bund, said in a rally in Sellersville, Pa., that "Adolf Hitler will lick the whole of Europe."
Staring out from the news pages of The Sun on Sept. 4 was the picture of a kindly-looking, mustachioed, white-haired gentleman, former German Kaiser Wilhelm, who had been in exile in Doorn, the Netherlands, where he had fled after the collapse of Germany at the end of World War I.
He followed the progress of the war in its early stages through books, atlases, newspapers, maps and radio reports.
Until the Austrian Anschluss in 1938, The Sun reported that the former kaiser had been "a great admirer of Hitler. He felt the Nazi Government was better than previous regimes in Germany, but now he was gravely concerned."
He had told reporters a year earlier that "Hitler is living dangerously. Let him take care."
If the former kaiser envisioned a restoration of the Hohenzollerns and a return to power, it was a dream that would forever elude him. He was 82 when he died in 1941, never returning to the homeland that he left in 1919.
In his Sun editorial page column, "Why Not Be Honest?" published at the end of that momentous week on Sept. 10, 1939, H.L. Mencken challenged Roosevelt's proclamation of neutrality.
Mencken dismissed the position as so much "preposterous rumble-bumble."
"Why the Hon. Mr. Roosevelt should indulge himself in this transparent hocus-pocus I do not know, and it would probably be in vain to inquire," he wrote. "It may be that false pretenses run inevitably with the practice of statecraft; it may be only that quacks, in the long run, always swallow their own buncombe.
"But whatever the cause," he added, "the fact is surely plain enough. The hon. gentleman is actually no more neutral in this war than the British Ambassador."
In conclusion, Mencken wrote, "Thus the fate and fortunes of the American people are once more pledged to England, whose gratitude the last time took the form of calling us names and bilking us out of many billions. If things go badly on the Western Front, who'll take over for a second time the burden of saving democracy, and once more we'll pay the check."