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Book Review: ‘When the Sea Came Alive’ expands understanding of D-Day invasion

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Writing about the Allied invasion of Normandy, Garrett M. Graff is treading onto familiar history with his latest book.

From books by historian Stephen Ambrose to films like Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” there’s ample works chronicling the June 6, 1944, landing during World War II that ultimately led to the downfall of Nazi Germany.

But in “When The Sea Came Alive: An Oral History of D-Day,” Graff weaves together hundreds of eyewitness accounts to create a history that stands alongside those works, expanding readers’ understanding of D-Day and offering a new, complete portrait in time for the 80th anniversary commemorations.

The oral history begins with a look at the planning of the operation, going back to 1943, and the buildup of personnel and equipment in the months leading up to the operation.

Graff uses a wide array and diversity of voices that give a fuller picture of the lead-up to the invasion, as well as the fighting itself. The book excels in highlighting the experiences of Black soldiers who landed on D-Day beaches and women who were part of the story, such as correspondent Martha Gellhorn.

But it should come as no surprise that the most harrowing portions of the book remain the landing and the battles that occurred on D-Day itself, with vivid first-hand account. Graff skills at sifting through the accounts and documents propel the action throughout the book.

Graff’s book is a testimony to the value in preserving memories from grand historical events, demonstrating how much can be unearthed from even the most familiar stories.


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Associated Press