Dachokie's Reviews > Omaha Beach and Beyond: The Long March of Sergeant Bob Slaughter

Omaha Beach and Beyond by John Robert Slaughter
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Jul 29, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: world-war-ii
Read from July 29 to August 03, 2011

Omaha Beach through the Eyes of Teenage Boy ..., August 8, 2011

Of the scores of books covering the dramatic D-Day invasion in 1944, there are relatively few first-hand accounts from those who survived the initial assault on Omaha Beach, let alone live long enough to write about it 65 years later. Thankfully, Sgt. Bob Slaughter is still alive to serve as one, if not the last, voice of a generation of (very) young men that accomplished the deadly and daring task of storming the beaches of Normandy against overwhelming odds. Slaughter's book OMAHA BEACH AND BEYOND serves as a shining example of the type of individual that carried out the D-Day operation ... the typical all-American boy.

I was familiar with Sgt. Slaughter prior to the release of his book mainly due to his home-town (Roanoke, VA) hero status as a D-Day veteran and his prominent role in bringing the National D-Day Memorial to nearby Bedford, Virginia (the chosen location because it had the greatest per capita loss of life during the invasion of any town in the United States). Slaughter's post-war career with the Roanoke Times newspaper is probably key to the paper graciously providing readers in our region with an annual dose of D-Day anniversary coverage and his presence alongside US Presidents at annual D-Day commemorative events are indicative of his national significance as a surviving Omaha Beach veteran. I found Slaughter's "Ernie Pyle-esque" writing style of his wartime experience as surprisingly fresh, honest and open. OMAHA BEACH AND BEYOND is not a rehash of the operations history, but a very personal and unique view of the events of June 6 (and beyond) through the eyes of a teenage boy.

What really stands out in Slaughter's book is that it is easy to assimilate his voice representing the millions of men who quietly and patriotically answered their country's call to duty, completed their task and quietly merged back into the "normal" world of civilian life once the war was over. Slaughter was only 16 years old when he enlisted in the US Army through the National Guard ... a mere kid. The optimistic, youthful exuberance of his early days in the Army are told in a manner that could easily parallel a man recalling his youth in the Boy Scouts. Although there was a serious global war being fought and Slaughter knew he and his buddies would be participating in it soon enough; his recollection of events leading up to that moment still read more like kids preparing for a grand adventure than an uncertain future ... young, energetic, mischievous and naïve. Slaughter introduces the reader to the rest of the "boys" in Company D, as well as their leaders (who would still be considered boys by today's standard) in a manner that reminds me of Ernie Pyle's BRAVE MEN. The tone gets serious when the training becomes more specialized and it is evident that the men are preparing for a monumental operation. As the Normandy operation unfolds, Slaughter's recollections are vivid, matter-of-fact and serious; the reader braces his or herself alongside Slaughter as his landing craft approaches the Normandy coast. Moment-by-moment we experience a sense of anxiety as the craft is enveloped in sea-spray and hot lead as the enemy beings targeting the boats approaching the shore ... we even feel a sense of urgency to get out of the boat. The detail of events from the moment Slaughter departs from his landing craft to the eventual securing of the beachhead will probably remind readers of that visceral opening scene in "Saving Private Ryan" ... the deafening cacophony of hell breaking loose and people getting killed everywhere. The "storming of the beach moment" is both exhilarating and scary; the pace of the book is somewhat frenetic. There is an appreciated sense of catching one's breath when Slaughter finally has the opportunity to rest from the morning's events, look back at the beach and reflect on what he'd just been through. I'm sure many readers will wonder, as I did, how the 6'5" Slaughter lived to write about the experience in first place.

While D-Day comprises the bulk of Slaughter's combat action, plenty more subsequent combat occurs such as the capture of St. Lo (which officially secured the beachhead), the vicious hedgerow fighting, the Battle of the Bulge and fighting in Germany. There is a notable difference in the tone of the book following D-Day ... the stories are no longer being told through the eyes of a boy, but from the point-of-view of grizzled veteran. The maturation process that was surviving Omaha Beach is clearly evident. A Sergeant before the age of twenty, Slaughter's numbness to the rigors of combat become evident and the reader can sense the sudden loss of innocence that many of these young men must have experienced during the war.

I found OMAHA BEACH AND BEYOND to be a fascinating read and a fresh view of an event that has become somewhat media-saturated in that the same stories are constantly being retold. The appendices at the end of the book are a bonus as they include several other colorful first-person Omaha Beach accounts, D-Company casualties and a section explaining the nature of Normandy's tides as it related to the landings. OMAHA BEACH AND BEYOND is a most-welcomed addition to my World War II library.
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