I have great admiration for our soldiers who have fought in previous wars (as well as current ones, of course). My favorite period to study has always been World War II, though. I eat up war memoirs from those soldiers who made it through the long struggle to end Nazism. Bob Slaughterís Omaha Beach and Beyond is another excellent story of a soldier's life and how he survived that fateful day in Normandy, as well as the rest of the war.
Slaughter entered the military when he was 16, joining the National Guard more for financial reasons than anything else. The year was 1940, and good-paying jobs were scarce. The Slaughter family was having difficulty making ends meet due to medical problems with his father and a lot of mouths to feed. After trying a few jobs that were either dangerous or unfulfilling for the pay that was offered, he decided to enlist. His parents were reluctant to let him at first (being 16, he needed their signed permission), but eventually relented. Thus began Slaughter's long road to the beaches of France and beyond.
Itís interesting to get a look at the military before the United States entered the war - lots of drilling, maneuvers, marching and the like. Actual combat was the furthest thing from these young men's minds. Until the attack on Pearl Harbor, that is. After that, the 116th Infantry Regiment was shipped off to England for further training, getting ready for the biggest invasion the world had ever seen. Slaughter's stories and anecdotes, such as how he and a buddy almost got drummed out of the Regiment for misbehaving, really makes this part captivating.
Even more interesting, of course, is his story of the fateful day itself. Watching good friends fall into the surf, dead. Getting onto the beach and cowering behind emplacements as German mortar fire rained down. Finally getting off that beach and starting to move inland, facing German soldiers at whom they could actually shoot back. Slaughter captures the fear, tension, and bravery of the soldiers (and his own, though he doesn't mention that) as they fought and died on the beaches.
Slaughter brings detailed touches to the narrative that only a soldier who was there would even think about - touches such as a man accidentally pulling the pin on a grenade and losing his backside, the rumor that the sun had cooked the grenade leading many men to throw their valuable grenades away. Stories about life on the front line, or just behind the front line when German artillery zeroed in.
He analyzes the invasion a bit, vehement about the soldiers being overloaded with arms and equipment during the invasion, causing many deaths due to drowning or because soldiers moving too slowly due to carrying too much weight resulted in them getting shot.
Slaughter was one of the D-Day veterans who were instrumental in the creation and funding of the National D-Day memorial. He and a few of his fellow 116th fellows spent many years advocating and fundraising for it, trying to get the word out. He tells that story here as well, along with how difficult the post-War era was for him and his fellows, nightmares that would wake them up from deep sleep and more.
Bob Slaughter is definitely a war hero, though he may not want that title. Omaha Beach and Beyond is a must-read memoir for anyone interested in World War II. Slaughter became a journalist after the war; he knows how to write. He keeps the book fascinating from the first page, and it won't let you go.