Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Book Review: The Longest Day: June 6, 1944

It was the morning of June 6, 1944, and sixty-year-old school mistress Madame Angele Levrault stood in her Normandy garden, watching the bright white, yellow and red flashes of nearby German 88s. As Levrault looked up toward the sky, she heard a strange fluttering noise and then noticed, descending through the exceptionally moonlit night, the parachute of eighteen-year-old paratrooper Robert M. Murphy, a pathfinder of the 82nd Airborne. After hitting the ground with a thud, Murphy cut himself free from his chute. Upon standing up "...he saw Madame Levrault. They stood looking at each other for a long moment. To the old Frenchwoman, the paratrooper looked weirdly frightening. He was tall and thin, his face was streaked with war paint, accentuating his cheekbones and nose. He seemed weighted down with weapons and equipment. Then, as the old lady watched in terror, unable to move, the strange apparition put a finger to his lips in a gesture of silence and swiftly disappeared."

This is one of the great scenes in Cornelius Ryan's The Longest Day: June 6, 1944, a book that the author worked tirelessly on, over ten years, interviewing 700 participants and not using anything from said interviews unless an assertion could be corroborated by two other sources. After doing so, Ryan could then weave a brand of non-fiction into a seemingly fictional narrative that takes the reader from submarine to fighter plane to commando mission and alll the way the element of human interest sustains.

Sadly, the movie version of Longest Day comes nowhere close to telling Ryan's tale, but it is worth a view.

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