Photos from the Vault

Eisenhower named invasion leader, San Luis Obispo mission bells: World War II week by week

Christmas Eve 1943 found Eisenhower named leader of invasion and the bells at Mission San Luis Obispo to be rung for the first time since the war began.
Christmas Eve 1943 found Eisenhower named leader of invasion and the bells at Mission San Luis Obispo to be rung for the first time since the war began.

President Roosevelt announced the appointment of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower as commander of the forthcoming Allied invasion of Europe in a Christmas Eve radio address to the nation.

"The Russian army will continue its stern offensives on Germany's eastern front," he said in discussing plans for Europe, "the allied armies in Italy and Africa will bring relentless pressure on Germany from the south, and now their encirclement will be complete as great American and British forces attack from other points of the compass."

Gen. George C. Marshall remained in command of the nation's global war plan.

In San Luis Obispo, more turkeys sold than at Thanksgiving according to local markets. Housewives stocked up on canned goods with expiring ration points. Many stores sold out of dolls, scooters and tricycles. Railroad trains came in wood, as metal was prioritized for the war effort. Servicemen shopped for perfumes and jewelry.

The Kiwanis club sponsored a party for servicemen in the hospital at Camp San Luis.

A Bakersfield truck driver narrowly escaped injury when his semi-trailer went out of control halfway down La Cuesta (Grade).

Christmas Mass at Mission San Luis Obispo was scheduled.

Veteran Bell Ringer Will Sound Christmas Chimes

Christmas chimes will ring out again at the Old Mission for solemn high mass Friday at midnight, when Gregory Silverio, oldest bell ringer in the United States and possibly in the world, sends out the familiar strains that were taught to him by the early mission fathers when he was only 11 years of age.

Silverio, who has been ringing the bells for mass, weddings, funerals, etc., at the Old Mission for 53 years, was placed in the hands of the kindly mission priests when he was 11, by his widowed mother who had six other children to care for.

Between his regular chores of feeding the horses, driving the priests on their visits to the sick, sweeping and cleaning the mission, and attending school, he was taught the language of the bells by the Rev. Peter Carasco, Father Aguilero and Father Francisco Nunez.

From them he learned to toll the bells in Spain. He tolled them by himself for the first time at the noon Angelus, July 24, 1891.

When he married, at the age of 29, he moved outside the mission but continued his duties there as bell ringer. Many persons have requested that he ring the bells for their funerals. Silverio says that to him the Christmas bells are the most inspirational and he is happy to ring them again this Christmas after two years of silence since war was declared.

According to legend there were originally five bells at the mission, but two have disappeared.

Of the three remaining bells, two carry the name of the maker "Manuel Vargas, 1818," and "Lima," presumed to be Lima, Peru. The other smaller bell appears to be much older but bears no inscription.

Most of the picturesque bell ringers of the California coast land have died, but Silverio remains, not only to ring the Christmas bells, but to build his annual replica of the manger scene in Bethlehem, which he has created each year for more than 40 years in the sanctuary of the Old Mission.

It portrays the Christ child, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and wise men, with the city of Bethlehem in the distance. Above is a canopy of stars. Each year a slight change is made in the scene, and this year an electric star will be substituted for the cross above the "Gloria in Excelsis Deo," Silverio said.