To D-Day and Back
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 8 Oct 2007
Full Title: To D-Day and Back: Adventures with the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment and Life as a World War II POW
Paratroopers had always been of popular interest ever since airborne assault tactics were first developed. With the relatively recent success of Stephen Ambrose's works, particularly the book Band of Brothers and its television adaptation, a slew of books on this topic appeared in what seemed to be over night. Even video games such as Call of Duty jumped onto the bandwagon. However, Bob Bearden's To D-Day and Back was not just another paratrooper-themed memoir trying to ride on the success of others. Several distinctions set this work apart from others.
Bearden told his story from a very personal angle. He did not stop at telling how the paratrooper training shaped him or how the fighting in Europe changed his perspective. Taking it further, he went on to tell the stories of his exciting (if irresponsible) adventures in Alliance, Nebraska, United States while training and the unexplainable feeling of jealousy of the Irish who remained neutral during the war. Coupled with the use of everyday prose, the book was another one of those works that felt much like storytelling by a member of family. It was not just another war memoir, but rather, the book told how the war interacted with Bearden's life.
Bearden also had the unfortunate experience of becoming a German prisoner of war merely two days after he jumped into Normandy, France. He faithfully recorded his observations while at came, amidst braving malnutrition and the cold winter. While other authors told the horrors of war through descriptions of exploding shells and flying shrapnel, Bearden completed the picture by telling the horrors of war through experiences of being imprisoned by the Germans. Being an American, he recalled that he was actually lucky, as the prisoners of conquered European nations, particularly Russians, were treated even worse; deaths of Russian prisoners at the camp during the winter of 1944-1945 was so frequent that Bearden had almost grown immune to the sight of dead bodies being wheeled out from the barracks where the Russian POWs were kept. To lighten the mood, he often included anecdotes of the comedic nature, everything from how the prisoners played pranks on the German guards to how Bearden and his buddy figured out a system to cheat the bread lines. He attributes his survival to a degree to the perception of the German guards. As the guards were brainwashed to believe that the Germans were superior and the others less intelligent, Bearden and his buddies were able to regularly perform sub-par on their tasks, in some cases done so badly that the work acted as sabotage, without the guards realizing that they had done so intentionally. The guards simply thought the prisoners were stupid.
The last leg of Bearden's journey during WW2 took place after being liberated by the Russian Army. This experience was rather atypical of paratrooper experiences in WW2, and it eerily reflected Isabel Denny's words in The Fall of Hitler's Fortress City as he realized that the Russians were bent on revenge more so than anything else. What resulted was his continued fight to survive even after being freed, having need to raid abandoned stores for goods so that he could later trade them for food.
"As I look back at my life at the age of 84, I can truly say it has been an adventure", said Bearden in the final chapter of the book. Indeed, his WW2 experience had been an unique and remarkable adventure, recorded in captivating detail in To D-Day and Back.
Please also check out WW2DB contributor Bryan Hiatt's review of To D-Day and Back.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945