Monday, June 7, 2010

June 6: The Longest Day

Yesterday was the 66th Anniversary of the Operation Overlord, the allied invasion of Hitler's Europe - better known as D-Day.

I am very late getting on the World War II bandwagon that seems to be going strong ever since Saving Private Ryan and Enemy at the Gates were released (followed by the excellent Band of Brothers, which I'm about halfway through). Nevertheless, I am on that bandwagon now.

When I was a little kid, my dad had a Time-Life Books history of WWII, and I mostly just looked at the pictures (this led to the early conclusion that while the Nazi party were awful people who committed some of the worst atrocities in history, they certainly had better fashion designers and artists than any other WWII military group - sorry!). I also saw the underrated Lee Marvin/Mark Hammill movie The Big Red One as a kid, and used to play at being a WWII soldier.

Later in life I wanted to learn more about WWII and looked around for a good narrative history of the whole conflict. I had trouble finding one (in fact, I haven't). Most of the books I could find focused on single battles or localized aspects of the war. I didn't get a hold of a basic narrative until I read Weird War II, a setting for the Savage Worlds RPG, and this gave me a good framework for understanding the events of the war.

I picked up The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan, a book that is considered a classic (both of history and of journalism) and was absolutely enthralled by it. It kept me turning page after page and it almost felt like reading a novel. It essentially takes us minute-by-minute through the whole battle, more-or-less from midnight to midnight of that day (June 6, 1944). It's full of anecdotes and wilder-than-fiction adventures.

It's not a long read and it's the kind of book you're likely to breeze through (it's hard to put down!). I would recommend that anyone interested in not only WWII history, but history in general, read this book. From the night time drop of paratroopers to the bloody beaches of Normandy, it's BAM! BAM! BAM! action from the beginning to the end.

And best yet, it's all REAL. We can play all the heroic games we want, but what these guys went through...well, it humbles me, and fills me with awe to realize what feats of courage normal people like you and me are capable of when they're in dangerous, even impossible, situations.

I am looking forward to continuing my adventures with Cornelius Ryan with the book A Bridge Too Far, about Operation Market Garden, and The Last Battle, about the Battle of Berlin.

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