Etched on a hand-drawn map of Omaha Beach are the troop movements of the U.S. soldiers during the June 6, 1944 invasion of Normandy, known as D-Day. June of this year marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day and a replica of this map, along with facsimiles of other rare documents, has been included in the “The Longest Day,” D-Day 70th Anniversary Edition.
“The Longest Day,” which was originally published in 1959, delivers the narrative of D-Day from the perspective of those who experienced it. Through an extensive process of information gathering, war correspondent and journalist Cornelius Ryan solicited first-hand accounts from civilians and military personnel from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France and Germany. This enabled him to recount the stories of World War II in a way that had never been done before—through the eyes of people who lived it.
Ryan’s research materials, known as the Libraries’ Cornelius Ryan Collection, is comprised of 21,000 primary source materials including hundreds of response questionnaires and first-person accounts of World War II experiences from international military personnel and civilians, as well as interview notes with national leaders like Dwight Eisenhower. The collection even includes Ryan’s desk from his home office.
Released in May of this year, the 70th anniversary edition includes an audio CD featuring excerpts from nine of Ryan’s exclusive interviews and seven envelopes of 30 facsimiles, letters, reports, interview notes, maps and other documents from the Cornelius Ryan Collection.
Today, the Cornelius Ryan Collection draws inquiries from researchers, scholars and visitors from around the world. The collection has inspired research for books, documentaries and military-related films like “Saving Private Ryan.”
John C. McManus, curators professor of U.S. military history at Missouri University of Science and Technology, has accessed the Ryan collection for research in writing two World War II books, “September Hope: The American Side of a Bridge Too Far,” and “The Dead and Those About to Die, D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach.”
“I don’t think there’s anything like it,” said McManus. “It is irreplaceable: the depth of it, the number of people, the access, the vividness of the [military and civilian] recollection.”
Carlton Books, a British publisher, approached Doug McCabe, OHIO’s curator of manuscripts, about a year ago with the idea of creating an interactive, special anniversary edition of “The Longest Day. “ Following the initial outreach, Russell Porter, design director at Carlton Books, visited OHIO to select items for the 70th anniversary edition.
Ryan wanted to “give voice to the everyday person,” McCabe said, by including the stories of civilians and military personnel from various countries. Carlton Books wanted to follow the same blueprint by making sure that the artifacts in the 70th anniversary edition represented a wide-range of people.
McCabe, who wrote the introduction for the 70th anniversary edition, says the book “…combines the original unabridged text with 120 images and removable facsimile documents from the author’s research files so you can experience the original background materials that went into one of the best reads about the monumental day.”
In an online book review, J.H. Thompson of The Chicago Sunday Tribune described the book as “A dramatic, moving masterpiece, a living memorial to the men who died and as suspenseful as the most gripping mystery story.”
Although “The Longest Day” was published 55 years ago, the book is still considered to be very relevant today.
“It is not aged like so many books,” said McCabe. “I think from the standpoint of a library and a university, one of the things that I think this subtly promotes, I guess, is the use of primary source materials. “
Seth Givens, an OHIO Ph.D. student in U.S. military history who has worked closely with the Ryan Collection as an archivist assistant at the Mahn Center, has also accessed the collection for his own research. He says the 70th anniversary book will provide readers with a small glimpse of the many artifacts that make up the Libraries’ comprehensive Cornelius Ryan Collection.
“I believe that everything Ryan collected is so vast and so rich, that there are many more projects waiting to be written using those documents, and this anniversary volume bears that out,” said Givens.
McCabe says there is a lot that students and researchers can learn from primary source materials like those that can be found in the Cornelius Ryan Collection.
The Cornelius Ryan Collection is one of the many remarkable special collections owned by OHIO Libraries. Many of the collections are one-of-a-kind primary source materials that have an impressive historical and educational significance. Through the selected facsimiles, photos and the words of Cornelius Ryan, “The Longest Day,” D-Day 70th Anniversary Edition will allow students, faculty and staff to examine the experiences of those who were a part of D-Day.
For more information on OHIO’s special collections, visit the website for the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections.