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"June 11, 1944. Since the sixth, we have stayed dressed, night and day, washed essential things in haste, and fixed our hair on the run. Panicked or wounded animals stampede and many are killed. The cats are scared, the goat nervous. I think about the women and the children, about the sick who are under this uninterrupted pounding that shatters your nerves!"

 

 

The Best Easy Reads

The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan, published in 1959, remains popular. It is filled with spirited and dramatic individual accounts of June 6, 1944. Ryan was not a historian, but a newspaperman trying to meet a deadline and he made many errors, especially about Rudder’s Rangers. I will correct some of Ryan’s errors in the very places that he described erroneously. Also, the book is concerned with only one day, the first day of a three-month battle. However, if you can only read one book, The Longest Day is a good starter.

 

The Normandy Diary of Marie-Louise Osmont: 1940-1944. This is a little-known account of a French widow's life during the occupation when the Germans took over her home in Normandy, treating her respectfully, and allowing her to retain her bedroom. For several years I recommended this book for women, only to learn that men also appreciated it. It is out of print, but available from used booksellers through amazon. Here is an excerpt: "June 11, 1944. Since the sixth, we have stayed dressed, night and day, washed essential things in haste, and fixed our hair on the run. Panicked or wounded animals stampede and many are killed. The cats are scared, the goat nervous. I think about the women and the children, about the sick who are under this uninterrupted pounding that shatters your nerves!"

Digging Deeper

The best current book about the war in Normandy is Antony Beevor's number one international bestseller D-Day: The Battle for Normandy. This truly extraordinary book has few errors and lucid accounts of the landings and the fight inland. Beevor acknowledges the suffering of French civilians, estimated at 20,000 deaths. I recommend it without reservation. It is okay to read a book selectively, especially a large volume like this one, making your choices from the index and chapter headings. 

 

Guns at Last Light by Rick Atkinson is a magnificent Pulitzer Prize-winning book of almost 1,000 pages, covering D-day to V-E Day.  It is a massive undertaking, but it is organized chronologically and you can read it selectively by chapter. Atkinson brings the human element into warfare like no other historian writing in English today. Lots of anecdotal stories about the hardships of ground war soldiers and pulls no punches criticizing American generals and emphasizing losses. One reviewer wrote, "With a mastery of sources that support nearly every sentence, Atkinson achieves a military history with few peers as an overview of the 1944–45 campaigns in Western Europe."  


Carlo d'Este's Decision in Normandy explains the crises of the Battle of Normandy from the perspective of the top-level commanders, beginning with tensions between Eisenhower and Montgomery and their subordinates. Also, d'Este’s biography of General Patton –– A Genius for War –– is excellent! Literate, lively and substantive, without being pedantic.

 

Keep in mind my biography of James Earl Rudder, Rudder: From Leader to Legend. Rudder had a unique role in planning and executing the Normandy invasion.  He planned and led the assault to scale the 100-foot cliffs at Pointe du Hoc to knock out six long-range German guns, which were considered the most dangerous on French coast by the Allied commanders. Although the book covers Rudder’s entire life, the sections on his experiences in Normandy from D-Day until early August add up more than 25,000 words, equivalent to many books.

 

Another remarkable book that may have special appeal to women is the Journal of Hélène Berr, the joyful but ultimately heartbreaking journal of a young Jewish woman in occupied Paris, not published until 63 years after her death in a Nazi concentration camp. The Germans occupied Paris in June 1940. She began keeping her journal on April 7, 1942, while a 21-year-old student of English literature at the Sorbonne, writing with creative enthusiasm and style about her everyday life in Paris — about her studies, her friends, her growing affection for the “boy with the grey eyes,” about the sun in the dewdrops, and about the effect of the growing restrictions imposed by the Nazis. She gently remarks on her frustrations with Christians who do not live up to their beliefs. Her keen sense of literature enriches the story, while rendering it all the more heartbreaking

Videos & Movies

The Longest Day. Darryl F. Zanuck, 1962. 2 hours 58 minutes. Academy Award for Cinematography and others. In 1944, the U.S. Army and Allied forces plan an invasion landing in Normandy, France that will determine the outcome of the European war. Despite bad weather, General Eisenhower gives the okay and the Allies land at Normandy. General Norma Cota (Robert Mitchum) accompanies his men onto Omaha Beach. With much effort, and loss of life, they get off the beach, and drive further into French territory. The German military, handicapped by a sleeping Adolf Hitler and lack of air support, delay their response to the Allied landings, with crippling results.

 

Saving Private Ryan. Steven Spielberg, 1998. 2 hours, 49 minutes. Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Sound. Opens with the Allied invasion of Normandy on  June 6, 1944. In scenes highly praised for their realism, members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion under Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) fight their way ashore to secure the beachhead. Amidst the fighting, two brothers are killed in action. Earlier in New Guinea, a third brother was killed. Their mother, Mrs. Ryan, is to receive all three of the telegrams on the same day. When the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, learns that a fourth brother, Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), is missing in Normandy, Captain Miller and eight men from 2nd Rangers are sent to find and remove him from combat.

 

The Best Years of Our Lives. William Wyler, 1946. 2 hours 52 minutes. Academy Award for Best Picture. Fred, Al and Homer are three World War II veterans facing difficulties as they re-enter civilian life. Fred (Dana Andrews) an officer and war hero, is unable to compete with more highly skilled workers, and has to return to his low-wage soda jerk job. Bank executive Al (Fredric March) returns to his job and gets into trouble for offering favorable loans to veterans. After losing both hands in the war, Homer (Harold Russell) returns to his loving fiancée, but must struggle to adjust. Russell plays himself and wins an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor.

If you want to talk with me about these readings or additional readings, or the itinerary, send me a message at hatfield@austin.utexas.edu or call me.  I welcome your calls.

 

Tom Hatfield.

September 23, 2019.

512-633-6483.

Voice & Text

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