Sometimes a single day can define a generation. While the greatest generation has multiple where were you days and large events (the pacific war, the european war, the marshall plan), the day they are most associated with is D-Day. Stephen E. Ambrose has a 600 page epic book on the entire D-Day operation for June 6th, 1944. Just one day is covered, but the planning, the build up, the leaders of both sides, the execution of the operation are all documented.
Ambrose uses many different sources, some written and some oral, and explains both the significance of the operation and the actual development of those 24 hours. These are boys of the roaring 20s and the great depression fighting against the Nazi war machine. Ambrose does a great job explaining the detail and minute planning that was involved and all without computer aid. Soil samples, chem warfare prep, false leads and tricks to throw the Nazis off, and minute by minute landing schedules were needed to pull this off. On the back end, there needed to be plenty of men to execute all of those plans and tricks. The best plans go up in smoke if no one charges the beach.
Ambrose focuses his time on the American beaches and gives less time to the British and Canadian beach assaults. I understand why as he has a primarily American audience, but he missed some cool stuff. This is a shame as one of the coolest things about the Normandy landings was the creation of the artifical harbors by the Brits. They sank ships and created a harbor to get supplies to the landing forces. If you go today, the pieces are still there; I have seen them and it is mindblowing. Ambrose does discuss the Germans preparations with building the Atlantic Wall and their mess ups on D-Day. I wish he had spent a few more pages on their reactions to the attacks and how the fake information kept them focused on the Pas-de-Calais for the 'real' invasion.
I read this book because my grandfather gave it to me. He's still alive, and halfway through it, I sent him a letter asking him about it. I don't have many folks to talk to about this stuff, and who better than someone who lived it. He went in on D+2 or +3. When I visited the Normandy beaches, I picked up sand for my grandfathers (and one of their brothers). I also took pics in the bombed out emplacements and on the beach. I know ti meant something to them, and I think I know even more why. It's not just that they were there fighting an evil machine bent on world domination (not hyperbole in this case). It's that they lived and 45 years later they could see a descendant there. They were not one of the thousands of bodies on the beach blown to pieces. They made it, and so did the reasons they fought.