Back Cornelius Ryan, “The Longest Day Dawns”

Cornelius Ryan (1920–1974)
From Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far

Members of an Army Engineer Special Brigade (identifiable by the insignias on their helmets) assist troops whose landing craft was sunk by enemy fire off Omaha Beach, near Colleville-sur-Mer, on June 6, 1944. (Louis Weintraub, Army Signal Corps / National Archives)

“Never had there been a dawn like this. . . .”

Seventy-five years ago today, on June 6, 1944, the Allied Forces launched Operation Neptune, the invasion of five Normandy beaches that we know as D-Day.

The journalist Cornelius Ryan planned to be in a plane on a bombing mission early that day, to report on the invasion from above, but mechanical failure forced the pilot to turn back before they had arrived at the coast. Instead he was “the last correspondent to fly over the Allied Beachhead,” yet he ended up having the best view, since the fog had lifted and the skies were clear.

Five years later, a visit to the site with fellow journalists convinced him he should try to write a book on that historic day—a narrative focusing not simply on the generals and officers and maneuvers but instead on the stories of the troops on the ground. “I am not actually writing about war. I use it only as a frame-work,” he later said. “I am writing about the human spirit in the midst of war—incredible courage, loyalty, hope, despair, and, all too often, ineptitude and bad management.”

The result was The Longest Day, which, since its publication sixty years ago, has sold millions of copies. For our Story of the Week selection, we present Ryan’s riveting account of the invasion at dawn, and our introduction provides additional details about the creation and aftermath of the best-selling book—and about Ryan’s involvement in the star-studded blockbuster movie.

Read “The Longest Day Dawns” by Cornelius Ryan

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