I love a good story. If it is a war story, I love it all the more. In War Stories of D-Day, Michael Green and James D. Brown have compiled a gripping collection of first-person stories of dozens of American soldiers who participated in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and those stories should be appreciated by all of us who study WWII.
Logically divided into six chapters based on the elements of the US-portion of the invasion, War Stories of D-Day includes chapters on the experiences of the paratroops, glider forces, the men hitting both Omaha and Utah Beaches, the Rangers and the men flying air support. Although none of the accounts of D-Day explore new territory in the study of Operation Overlord, the story of each man who participated in the invasion is unique and adds to our understanding of the collective experience of those soldiers. As such, the personal accounts that are recorded in War Stories of D-Day fill in a lot of the smaller holes in our knowledge of who was where and when that day in June.
The collected stories offer the full range of human experience and human emotion (other than death, as the men who are telling the stories obviously lived through the war). Some demonstrate the lonliness of each soldier's experience and the humanity that infuses even the harshest of conflicts. For example, Captain Robert E. Walker described a poignant scene in which he participated on the afternoon of D-Day:
"I assumed it was around noon when I left the beach and probably late in the afternoon when I made it to the top of the ridge. About halfway to the top, I rested a while in a small gully. After a while, I heard someone nearby who was groaning and calling for help. He was about fifteen to twenty feet away. Cautiously, I went over to investigate and saw that it was a German soldier, gravely wounded in his groin. He had already been treated by a medical aidman. A bandage was loosely fixed over the wound, and it had been sprinkled with sulfa powder. He was gasping, "Wasser, wasser," German for water. I assumed he had been given a sulfa pill, which causes great thirst. In German, I told the man I had no water with me and didn't know where to get any. He then said there was a spring, he called it "ein born," about fifty feet away. I didn't believe him but I made my way over to the area he indicated. Incredibly, there was a spring, a sort of waterhole with apparently clear water in it. I filled my helmet and brought it to him. After drinking thirstily, he thanked me profusely. I left him some water in his canteen cup. Later on, his groans became weaker and he soon died."
Those are the experiences of soldiers in wartime. It is hard to imagine a more lonely way to die or a more noble act of kindness than to give comfort to a wounded enemy soldier who could just as easily have been by-passed or avoided. In that story, we see that Captain Walker chose to retain his humanity, despite the chaos that surrounded him that day, and to value human life even though he knew that at any moment he would be called upon to kill or to die, himself.
War Stories of D-Day is an entertaining and informative book that students of the human condition and the experience of soldiers during WWII will have a hard time putting down. Indeed, I read the book a week ago but still find myself returning to certain stories and rereading them. I think you will, too.
War Stories of D-Day, by Michael Green and James D. Brown (Zenith Press, October 2009; 320 pages)
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