In ships and planes, they crossed the English Channel.
On the other side Hitler's army waited.
And the longest day was about to begin....
In the spring of 1944, 120,000 Allied soldiers crossed the English Channel in the most ambitious invasion force ever assembled. Rangers, paratroopers, infantry, and armored personnel, these soldiers--some who had just cut their teeth in Africa and Sicily and some who were brand-new to war--joined a force aimed at the heart of Europe and Hitler's defenses. On the morning of June 6, D-Day began. And in the hours that followed, thousands lost their lives, while those who survived would be changed forever
No other chronicle of D-Day can match Gerald Astor's extraordinary work--a vivid first-person account told with stunning immediacy by the men who were there. From soldiers who waded through the bullet-riddled water to those who dropped behind enemy lines, from moments of terror and confusion to acts of incredible camaraderie and heroism, June 6, 1944 plunges us into history in the making--and the most pivotal battle ever waged.
Astor ( The Blood-Dimmed Tide: The Battle of the Bulge By the Men Who Fought It ) here recreates the biggest amphibious assault in history, told in large part by the soldiers, sailors and airmen who survived the ordeal 50 years ago. Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of German-occupied France, was staggering in its scope: on June 6, 175,000 troops and their equipment--which included 50,000 vehicles--crossed the English Channel in a 5000-vessel armada to do battle with well-entrenched German troops in Normandy. Despite horrific losses, the Allies succeeded in gaining a precarious foothold by nightfall on D-Day. Astor's mosaic portrait of the fighting--the Canadians at Juno Beach, the British at Sword Beach, the Americans at Omaha Beach, plus supporting air and naval units--vividly demonstrates how the victory was accomplished. His account of the U.S. Ranger assault on the German artillery positions atop Pointe du Hoc is especially memorable. Astor's narrative is noteworthy for its immediacy and for the way he presents his spokesmen in the context of their families, schools, hometowns, nations and finally of their military training. Photos.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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April 29, 2002
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Excerpt from June 6, 1944 by Gerald Astor
THE PREWAR SOLDIERS THE CALAMITY VISITED upon the Bedford community rose from the American tradition of home militia--National Guard units formed in states or regions and then in wartime federalized intact into the United States Army. The young men from Bedford belonged to the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Division. They were enlistees from Bedford, Charlottesville, Roanoke (Bob Slaughter's hometown), and other places toward the southwestern part of the state. The regiment's origins lie in the American Revolution of the 1770s, when George Washington and Patrick Henry led the early militia. The outfit later stood with Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson as part of the Confederacy in what some still call the War Between the States. As "doughboys" in the 116th, fathers of those who would slosh ashore on Omaha Beach had fought in France with the 1917 American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Well before the first Japanese bomb fell on Pearl Harbor, the 116th filled its ranks with earnest local youths as well as, according to Bob Slaughter, "thugs and drunks." The original roster of Slaughter's D Company, like the memorial at Bedford, speaks of a homogeneous population--Smith, Slaughter, Lancaster, Boyd, Jones, Baker, Croft, Atkins, and the like--an Americanized Anglo-Saxon, Scotch-Irish replica of those who accompanied Henry V into France for St. Crispin's Day. "We grew up together, went to school together, played together, worked together, and went to church together," says Bob Slaughter. "We were all Baptists; we didn't know what a Jew was. I never met a Roman Catholic until after the war started." A notable exception to the common strain is one of the names on the Bedford monument, that of Weldon A. Rosazza, dimly remembered fifty years later in the local dialect as "an Eyetalian boy" who worked at a small manufacturing plant. By contrast, the Normandy adventure of 1944 brought to bear almost all of the ethnic elements of America, with much of the homogeneous quality of the 116th vanishing under the influx of manpower demands. Slaughter notes that once war reached the States, attrition and authorities weeded out most of the misfits he originally encountered. Draftees from neighboring states like Pennsylvania and Maryland sewed on the circle-shaped blue-and-gray patch of the 29th Division. Thus, Frustoso Chavez, Jacob Osofsky, Francis Malinowski, John DiBeneditti, and Edward Berghoff also died wearing it on the Normandy shores. Still, the 116th started out as a homegrown Virginia product. Slaughter traces his history with the unit. "My father was a construction company vice president in Tennessee, but during the Depression he lost his job and we moved to Virginia, where he caught on as a warehouse foreman. We had current events in school, but I didn't know or care anything about the war in Europe or the Far East. The propaganda films were very popular--For Whom the Bell Tolls, Sergeant York, A Yank in the RAF. "One of my neighborhood buddies, Medron R. 'Nudy' Patterson, came by the house one night on his way to National Guard drill. He was all decked out in an immaculate uniform with brass insignias shining. He was a well-built lad, very impressive-looking in his olive-drab wool dress uniform. I secretly admired his military demeanor." Slaughter also was attracted for financial reasons. "You received a whopping dollar per drill, and during the summer the outfit spent two weeks at Virginia Beach. We didn't have enough money for the family to vacation, and the Guard trained in the morning and gave you the afternoon off." Presenting himself as a year older than he was for an interview with a Guard captain--Slaughter, only sixteen, was big for his age and eventually would reach six feet five--he learned that if his folks signed he might be accepted. "My parents had a fit.