Tonight We Die as Men
ISBN: 978 1 84603 322 3
Reviewer: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 15 Apr 2009
Full Title: Tonight We Die as Men: The Untold Story of the Third Battalion 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment from Toccoa to D-Day
As it turns out, I apparently have a knack for picking all the unlucky books to read when I fly. The last time I flew, I unintentionally picked up Divine Wind, a book about the Japanese kamikaze special attacks. This time it was Tonight We Die as Men about American paratroopers of the 3rd Battalion, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment and their dangerous mission during the Normandy invasion of 1944. Fortunately, I made it home safely both trips, so I suppose the choice of books has not brought me any bad luck.
As boring as long flights might be, Tonight We Die as Men made the trip that much more enjoyable. The book started slowly, and the stories of each individual paratrooper-in-training did not necessary connect with me. However, as the book went on, especially as they were deployed to the United Kingdom, it became extremely engaging. The experiences in the English pubs brought smiles to my face, while the narratives of the gut-retching flight over Normandy subconsciously made me grip on to my seat. Because the authors had gone through lengths to interview veterans and French civilians, the stories told were vividly descriptive, and quotes from the interviews added tremendously to the story of the battalion in Normandy. Hank DiCarlo, one of the paratroopers, shared the following story that made me read and re-read, imagining what it must had been like for his buddy when he and the German soldier stared at each other.
In addition to the Third Battalion paratroopers, the authors Ian Gardner and Roger Day also interviewed a number of English and French locals whose paths crossed with the paratroopers and the war as a whole. These interviews provided a civilian point of view, and they presented parallel views to the military perspective of the invasion. The suffering of the helpless French families during the battle for Normandy particularly etched somewhat of scar in my mind.
The men of the Third Battalion fought the same tough war in Europe as their far famous Band of Brothers comrades of the E Company of the Second Battalion, but their stories were largely untold until Tonight We Die as Men. This is very much unjustified. HBO may never pick up this book as the basis for the next WW2 mini-series, but I recommend any WW2 history enthusiast, particularly those interested in airborne troops or the Normandy invasion, to check out this book. The new material presented in this book is refreshing considering many other works on Normandy are largely regurgitate existing research, while the descriptive narrative makes it, however cliché, a page turner.
As I sat in my comfortable, albeit small, chair in the Boeing 737 passenger aircraft, I could not help it but contrast how different the experience must be for the 3rd Battalion paratroopers. While I was en route to attend a family event, the paratroopers were flying into danger. Some of them would return with scars, physical and emotional, and some others would not return at all. This book tells the story of these men in the very personal manner, the way the story deserved.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945