War In The Dark

Why World War II is so difficult to get right on the screen—and the movies that do it best

Well before the film’s debut we could hear the drumbeat of publicity. Steven Spielberg, America’s favorite moviemaker, was going to give us a film about World War II. The title, Saving Private Ryan , gave away nothing. Unlike Schindler’s List , which translated Thomas Keneally’s best-selling book on the Holocaust to the screen, Saving Private Ryan would build its plot around an obscure incident from the invasion of Normandy.

 
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“I Learn a Lot from the Veterans”

Reminiscences of World War II’s European Theater add up to considerably more than a bunch of good war stories

Last fall the author published his book Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army From the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945 . It quickly bounced onto bestseller lists across the country, and the reason this happened is suggested in the rich and moving correspondence it had the power to generate among its readers.

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“Medic!”

IN A HARD WAR theirs may have been the hardest job of all. But together with Army doctors and Army nurses, they worked something very close to a miracle in the European theater.

 

It wasn’t any different getting killed in World War II than in the Civil War, but if the shrapnel, bullet, or tree limb wounded a GI without killing him, his experience as a casualty was infinitely better. The medical team, from the medics in the field to the nurses and doctors in the tent-city hospitals, compiled a remarkable record. More than 8 percent of the soldiers who underwent emergency operations in a mobile field or evacuation hospital survived. Read more »

Normandy, 1994

This magazine’s publication of wrenching wartime letters between the author’s parents brought her to international attention. At the same time, it initiated some very heartfelt conversations with our readers.

I have always had a sense that a war claims many more casualties than those who perish on the battlefields. Each statistic, each white cross or star of David in a military cemetery suggests a mother, a father, a wife, a lover, a child left to grieve. I am sure of it, because I was one of the children. I was left with a hole in my heart and a sense of emptiness and vulnerability that comes from never knowing a father, wounds that will probably never totally heal.Read more »

D-Day: What It Meant

A soldier who landed in the second wave on Omaha Beach assesses the broadest implications of what he and his comrades achieved there

A conjecture, worthy of a certainty, is that no American soldier on Omaha Beach at high noon, June 6, 1944, gave thought to being present at a turning point in world history. Any abstract thinking he may have done was more likely along the lines of being in a major debacle. The English Channel to his back, his weapons, fouled by saltwater and sand, he was largely naked before an enemy firing down from trenches and massive concrete bunkers along high bluffs looming to his immediate front.Read more »

Chaplain Kidder’s Song

A D-DAY VETERAN’S GRANDSON ATTEMPTS TO FIND THE ANSWER TO THAT MOST IMPENETRABLE QUESTION: WHAT WAS IT LIKE?

The Reverend Maurice Kidder used to wake at five to write sermons in his dark study where the beagle slept; that early hour seemed to give him the clarity to compose his lectures, which he delivered in an unaffected but commanding baritone voice each Sunday at his All Saints’ Church in western Massachusetts. By the time I knew him my grandfather had been giving sermons for more than thirty years. He was a tall, powerfully genial man with blue eyes, a colonial-looking head of wavy white hair, and a long, squared jaw.Read more »

Battlefield Souvenir

It has been a disquieting presence on my bookshelf for twenty-six years now, in four houses and four apartments, a large, handsome volume, bound in white leather and stamped in gold. Its title, also in gold, is in Italian: Leonardo da Vinci S’ul Volo degli Ucelli (Leonardo Da Vinci on the Flight of Birds). It is copy number 152 of a limited edition of 300, and inside, on rich, creamy paper, Leonardo’s drawings and notes are beautifully reproduced and meticulously annotated. Read more »

On Omaha Beach

Along this narrow stretch of sand, all the painstaking plans for the Normandy invasion fell apart. One of the men who was lucky enough to make it past the beachhead recalls a day of fear, chaos, grief—and triumph.

I WAS A CAPTAIN in the Stonewall Brigade when I first went into battle at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Our outfit was directly descended from the famed command of Gen. Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson and proud of it, and D-day was for me much as the First Manassas had been in 1861 for a Capt. Randolph Barton, CSA, of the Stonewall Brigade, who wrote: “I think I went into that action with less trepidation than into any subsequent one.Read more »

Pursuit: Normandy, 1944

An infantryman remembers how it was

Victory in Europe seemed sure and near for the Western Allies in late summer, 1944, as their armies broke out of a shallow beachhead on the Channel coast of France and rolled, seemingly unstoppable, across Normandy, Brittany, Flanders, on to Paris, and up to the borders of Germany itself. But here, braked by worn-out men and machines and an outrun fuel supply, the advance slowed and halted. The dark winter of the Ardennes followed, and it was spring before Germany was finally reduced to the smoking, starving ruin that constituted defeat. Read more »

July, 1944: St. Lô

A soldier remembers a great battle

Three decades ago a battle was fought for St. Lô , Normandy, France, in the second of the great world wars of this century. To have been young at St. Lô and now to be old is a matter of personal amazement, for the time lapse seems instantaneous. In rank, the battle is in that heavily populated tier of major bloodlettings that have determined the course of campaigns, as opposed to the few decisive Gettysburgs and Waterloos on which history itself has turned. In keeping with this stature, St.Read more »