Essentially, Voices of Valor was born in 1983, when the then director of the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans, historian Stephen E. Ambrose, started interviewing D-Day veterans for an oral history project. Realizing how extraordinary it would have been to have had the technology to tape-record the soldiers of Gettysburg or Vicksburg during the U.S. Civil War, Ambrose and his associate, Captain Ron Drez, USMC a decorated rifle company commander in Vietnam in 1968 embarked on a mission. For over a decade they canvassed America, attending veterans' reunions and tracking down forgotten men. The Eisenhower Center collection grew to more than 2,000 accounts of D-Day experiences. "This is the most extensive first-person, I-was-there collection of memoirs of a single battle in existence," Ambrose wrote in the acknowledgments to his best-selling book D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II.
D-Day was the turning point of World War II. British prime minister Winston Churchill summed it up best when he deemed it "the most difficult and most complicated operation ever to take place." That is saying a lot, for it was a rare day during the war when something crucial didn't transpire somewhere in the Pacific, Burma-India-China, the Middle East, North Africa, the Soviet Union, the North Atlantic or Europe. On June 4, 1944, for example, the Americans marched triumphantly into Rome, headquarters of Fascist Italy and the first major capital to be liberated by the Allies. But the D-Day invasion in northern France two days later was a turning point of a different sort: land conquered by the Nazis was taken back for freedom. It was only a narrow strip of sea-sprayed beach, but it was land, hard-fought for, and it was the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler.
Everything about D-Day was large the overarching strategy, the vast mobilization, the sheer number of troops. But it is the daring boldness and intrepid courage of the men America's 1st, 4th, and 29th Infantry Divisions, and its 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, along with the British 3rd and 50th Infantry Divisions, the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division, and the British 6th Airborne Division plus the incredible job of the U.S. Navy and Air Corps, that stand out. One can read biographies of Dwight Eisenhower or watch footage of John Ford, but the only way to understand D-Day fully is as a battle at its smallest: that is, one soldier and one reminiscence at a time. Collectively, these fighting men were the Voices of Valor the title of this book.
Infantryman Al Littke of the 16th Regiment Combat Team, for example, watched the naval bombardment of Omaha Beach as he waited in a boat to join the landing. "With all this fire power, it should be a cinch," he recalled saying to himself, "I thought I was untouchable." Leonard Griffing was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division, preparing to drop onto French soil from a low-flying airplane. "As I stood there with my hands on the edge of the doorway ready to push out," he recalled, "it seemed that we took some kind of a burst under the left wing because the plane went in a sharp roll and I couldn't push myself out because it was uphill, so I just hung on."D-Day was not one day, but a composite of many days, experienced by each of those individuals who played a part on the Allied side from the 120,000 men who landed during the initial action to the millions of personnel who supported them. In this volume, the story of D-Day is told through the impressions of those who were there. None of the people who lend their voices here saw the grand sweep of the battle, but rather only one small snapshot of it. Assembled in this book, Voices of Valor, are those memories some tragic, some humorous, and all of them imbued with human drama. They comprise the big picture of the largest invasion force ever assembled. Voices of Valor: D-Day June 6, 1944 includes two audio CDs of D-Day participants' accounts introduced by Douglas Brinkley. Brinkley is a professor of history at the University of New Orleans, director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Center for American Studies and author of several books. Co-author Ronald J. Drez is writing a children's book on D-Day for National Geographic.