June 6, 1944, is one of the most momentous days out of many in twentieth-century history.
It was the day sixty-seven years ago that the free west summoned every resource available, and gambled everything on the outcome of this one day, and one vast attack—an assault across the English Channel on five beaches in western France. It’s object: to free Western Europe from the Nazi jackboot.
This was D-Day.
The tale of Operation Overlord, a heroic assault on the Atlantic Wall launched by the greatest invasion armada the world has ever seen, has been told many times but never so well or as effectively as the sweeping story told by Cornelius Ryan in his non-fiction account The Longest Day—which became a surprisingly effective 1962 movie starring everyone at the time who held an Actors Equity card.
Don’t accept cheap imitations. Unlike the Spielberg splatterfest which purports to portray the same momentous event, this film (and more especially the book on which it was based) shows both the context of this landmark event and its human interest stories.
Cycling around those Normandy beaches a few years ago with my copy of Ryan’s book as one of my guides, I soon discovered that when they saw the book the locals were still keen to stop me and talk about what happened that day so many decades ago. And sometimes (since they were talking very fast, very idiosyncratic French) I could even work out what they were talking about. Or some of it.
And I remember sitting in a pillbox on Omaha beach, imagining how it must have felt that morning to have looked out to sea and seen the whole horizon armed to the teeth and heading straight for you…