The 'All Americans' in Normandy-The Making of a Legend

By Kingseed, Cole C. | Army, January 2007 | Go to article overview

The 'All Americans' in Normandy-The Making of a Legend


Kingseed, Cole C., Army


The 'All Americans' in Normandy-The Making of a Legend The First Men In: U.S. Paratroopers and the Fight to Save D-Day. Ed Ruggero. HarperCollins Publishers. 349 pages; photographs; maps; index; $26.95.

The late military historian clay Blair described the airborne assault phase of D-Day as "the stuff of instant legend." In the latest addition to our understanding of the complexities of airborne warfare in one of the war's climactic battles, Ed Ruggero examines the remarkable men who battled veteran German troops to secure the lodgment area behind Utah Beach on June 6,1944.

A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Ruggero first narrated the story of American paratroopers in Combat jump: The Young Men Who Led the Assault into Fortress Europe, July 1943. In that study, Ruggero focused exclusively on the exploits of the 505th Regimental Combat Team. Since many of the veterans whom he originally interviewed have passed away, Ruggero widened the scope of this book to include the entire 82nd Airborne Division in order to increase the pool of likely interview subjects. He also relies on memoirs and published and unpublished histories about those crucial first three days in France.

With the Normandy campaign being so well documented, one may ask, "Why yet another book on D-Day?" The answer is simple: Operation Overlord, the invasion of northwest Europe, was so vast in its scope, so devastating in its losses, and so important in its impact, that there is still a story to bo told. Ruggero's chief contribution is to follow the path blazed by Stephen Ambrose, who let his characters speak for themselves by quoting them liberally. The result is the creation of a highly personal account of the junior officers and noncommissioned officers on the front lines.

At the heart of Ruggero's drama is the fight to liberate Ste. Mère Eglise and the crossings of the Merderet River. Under the able leadership of division commander Maj. Gen. Matthew Ridgway and assistant division commander Brig. Gen. James Gavin, soldiers like Waverly Wray, Arthur (Dutch) Schultz, Roy Creek and Ken Russell fought the Germans to a standstill, and then counterattacked to seize all vital divisional objectives. After 33 days of continuous combat, the All Americans had written the brightest page in their storied history.

Throughout the text Ruggero concentrates on the senior commanders' interaction with individual paratroopers and ignores the more controversial aspects of the campaign. One leading historian, Professor Allan R. Millett, who penned the chapter depicting airborne operations for The D-Day Companion, characterized American airborne operations behind Utah Beach as being led by senior officers "consumed by ambition, peer rivalry, and an indecent desire to please the media and their superiors." The sole exception appears to be Gavin, who, in turn, merits Ruggero's special attention.

As commander of Task Force A, consisting of the 505th, 507th and 508th Parachute Infantry Regiments (PIRs), 37-year-old Gavin played an indispensable role in the invasion. Dispatched to England in the months preceding D-Day to serve as the senior American airborne adviser, Gavin standardized American airborne practices and then visited various far-flung headquarters where he encouraged every staff officer and commander to "discuss, alter, criticize and contribute" to the plan.

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