Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan

The Longest Day
June 6, 2944 D-Day
When Cowards Became Men and Men Became Heroes
Cornelius Ryan
Published 1959

Today is/was D-Day, June 6th. 

Earlier this year, I read The Longest Day for my Well-Educated Mind History project. I found a used copy a year or so ago, and by the time I was done reading it, the pages were falling out and it had to be kept together with packing tape and a large fold back clip. 

This war narrative focused almost entirely on the events of one 24-hour/day of history -- that fateful day called D-Day, otherwise known as the Invasion of Normandy, although it included several other beaches. The author used a technique called micro-history to probe closely the chronological events and individual stories on both sides of the history. It made the telling very personal. 

I read the book earlier this year, and knowing how full these last five months have been, it feels like eons ago. I do recall it was enjoyable reading, and I liked the personal stories, including the stories about the Germans. 

Our mandatory stay-at-home lockdown had just begun here and when I read about the bell in Roche-Guyon that rang to end the night's curfew, marking 1451 days of German occupation, I noted in my margin: Imagine 1451 days of isolation. (Trying to get perspective, I suppose.)

The art of intercepting and decoding the Allies' messages, coded messages, fake messages, and finally the real message was truly interesting. The Germans knew about the "invasion." They expected it. But...they didn't know where or when. That was what they did all day every day trying to intercept and decode the right message. Totally fascinating. 

There was an underground resistance of French civilians who helped the Allies get information about the German movement. This was amazing. Sadly, many French were arrested and executed for the cause of liberation, but they also were instrumental in getting valuable specifics to the Allies and for aiding soldiers to escape. What courage!

The operation of paratroopers was frightening. That work was a hit or miss and many over shot and lost their lives due to mistakes and accidents. In other words, many trained for this mission and never even made it to the ground. They drowned or were caught in trees or on buildings. Nature was a menace to contend with.

Once the ships carrying the soldiers made it across the Channel to their destinations, smaller craft took them to the beaches. In the smaller craft, they had to cope with seasickness as the waves crashed over their heads. They were already weighted down with, some estimated, 300 lbs of equipment. Again, some craft sank, and men drowned because of the heavy burdens attached to them. 

The Germans made their own mistakes estimating the where and when of the beaching of the Allies, and were late in decoding the correct message; once they caught up, they were frantic in their counterattack of the landing of the Americans, British, and Canadians. There is no concrete number for those who gave their lives for liberty that day, but estimates for the Allies are close to 5,000 men. 

By the end of the day, Ryan wrote: 
From this day on the Third Reich had less than one year to live. 
And the bell tolled a final time that day, as at the beginning of the story to note the end of curfew, at midnight, signifying what would later be known as a turning in the War for the world.


Sharon Wilfong said...

Sounds like a great book. It is good to get some perspective. I've been feeling heavy hearted. I have discovered that people who are blind and deaf to reason cannot be reasoned with. I also have to remind myself that God determines all things and He uses all things to perfect us.

Ruth said...

Sharon, I think you would appreciate this book. And also, yes, yes, yes to everything you said.