Another one of the 2019 conference package was this new book by Alex Kershaw which tells the story of the first wave of troops that landed on D-Day. It has less of the planning and more of the actual stories of the soldiers that came ashore, and continues their stories through the end of the war and beyond.
I ended up liking this book more after I finished it and realized what it had that other D-Day books didn't. Because it took a narrow slice of the action, it gave you a better understanding of the limited perspective of the participants. I generally like books that tell the entire story – in this case here's what happened from the beginning of the landings through the push up the bluffs and off the beach and into the hedgerows beyond, and how the various engagements were fought and ended up resulting in this objective being successfully taken.
This book wasn't like that. Instead, it skipped back and forth around several different stories, but staying with the same participants. They landed, found a way off the beach, and here's what they did after that. The larger drama isn't present, but it was a bite-sized story that was told at such a personal level that I felt like I understood what was happening. But my favorite part of this book was the story of Lieutenant Spalding and his second in second in command Segeant Streczyk as they made their way up the bluff at Omaha, eventually attacking German trenches at the top of the bluff, and eventually making their way through the orchards and hedgerows into the countryside.
First of all, it's a great story. Second – the path they took still exists as paths up from the beach to the American cemetery at Colleville, which has replaced the orchards and fields they passed through by 0900 that morning. We saw it when we visited the battlefield in 2017 – the gully they worked their way up is behind us in this picture.
The book follows the men's stories through the war, showing which stayed through VE Day and which didn't, and what happened to them after the war. Often, it's sad to read, how successful they were on D-Day was often a sign that their personal lives after the war would be correspondingly unhappy, or even tragic.
One story stood out. Many years after the war one of the soldiers who led a drastically undermanned group of paratroopers in taking a gun battery that had been assigned to them went back to the site. He reluctantly shook the hand of one of the Germans who had commanded the battery's garrison, and later in the day saw families picnicking on grass near the battery. He shooed them off angrily, and explained that he just didn't like people doing that where he remembered his men had bled and died. I found that interesting, because when we were at Omaha Beach and saw large numbers of tourists swimming and playing on the sand, and I had assumed that veterans of the landings would like that the place was one of pleasant things now. It was interesting to see that his reaction was still to the contrary.
There are many ways the tell the D-Day story, and this isn't the best one for the overall story. But it is a useful one for obtaining a better understanding of what happened to the soldiers that landed and what it was like being there.