For, on a hitherto unknown stretch of beach more than half a century and half a world away (at Normandy on June 6, 1944), thousands of American young men (the average age was only 19) spent their own day in the waves and on the sand. Only, they had to fight their way ashore against savage resistance from an entrenched and brutal adversary. By comparison, my only inconvenience was the occasional cloud.
And later, when my own day at the beach was done, I made my way off the beach to a comfortable condo and soft bed just over the dunes. Today, situated just over the hill from that other beach is a hallowed cemetery full of brave men, all resting in rough wooden coffins and covered in grass.
Each and every one of them willingly sacrificed their lives in order that I might have the freedoms that I enjoy today. In short, my day at the beach was made possible by their day at the
beach. And I, for one, will never forget the price they paid. Never!
NOTE: In my four plus years of blogging, I do not know if I have ever received as much feedback as I have from my post last week about D-Day. I thought I would take the time today to list a few resources for those who desire to know more about that day of days.
Of course, for armchair historians, the internet is both the greatest blessing and the greatest curse of the day. For instance, in response to a query on “D-Day”, Google returned about 1,260,000,000 results, all in less than .26 seconds. That is simply awesome! But who has the time to sort through more than one and a quarter billion items?! In light of this, where does one begin to learn more about this topic? Here are some suggestions for the average layman from an amateur WWII sleuth.
To begin with, channels like National Geographic, The History Channel, H2, Discovery, AHC (American Heroes Channel – the new name for what was once the Military Channel) and even PBS have numerous documentaries on the topic of World War Two. Many of these are one or two hour specials devoted specifically to Operation Overlord (the Allied Invasion of Nazi Occupied Europe via Normandy in June of 1944). Air times for these can be found on the respective web pages of these networks. Most are also for sale in DVD format as well.
Some of the best documentary series are World War II in Colour (an exceptional British Production, thus the unique spelling of the word color), The Color of War, WWII in HD, Victory at Sea, and the landmark series, The World at War. These can all be purchased fairly inexpensively online at places like eBay and/or Amazon. (A word to the wise: make certain that you are purchasing DVDs compatible with your own DVD Region. England differs from North America.)
Needless to say, as World War Two was the single biggest event in human history, books on the subject fairly abound. In my opinion, the definitive work on the subject for layman is Norman Stone’s World War Two: A Short History. Much more in depth studies exist, including works like William L. Shirer’s c. 1500 page tome, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. More readable one volume histories include John Keegan's The Second World War (at only 608 pages) and Martin Gilbert's similarly titled The Second World War (at 928 pages). (Gilbert has a companion volume on The First World War.) Norman Polmar’s works are all good, as well as varied and informative. Studs Terkel (The Good War) also did a lot with oral histories from actual WWII veterans.
Books devoted specifically to D-Day include the classic work, The Longest Day, by Cornelius Ryan, which was later made into a movie. Stephen Ambrose wrote several good, readable books as well - among them D-Day, Pegasus Bridge, Band of Brothers, and Citizen Soldiers.
Band of Brothers, itself, was made into an award winning mini-series by HBO. Other classic dramatic renditions include films like The Longest Day (star studded and the best of them all), The Big Red One (based on the book of the same name by Samuel Fuller detailing his own experiences invading North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy), D-Day: The Sixth of June (an old black and white film starring Robert Taylor), and, of course, the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan.
Lastly, web sites exist which are devoted entirely to Old Time Radio. A Google search will lead anyone interested in knowing more to wonderful first-hand accounts of the war as they unfolded. One such example can be found online at https://archive.org/details/Complete_Broadcast_Day_D-Day.
This site contains the complete, unedited radio recordings that were broadcasted on CBS and NBC back here in America while the actual landings were taking place. Listening to this, one gets the sense of what it must have been like to have sat “glued to the radio”, as it were, breathlessly awaiting any word of news from the battlefield. Given that some 200,000 men were ultimately involved in the landings, no doubt many anxious wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters did just that.