Tonight We Die As Men: The Untold Story of 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, From Toccoa to D-Day
by Ian Gardner and Roger Day, Osprey Publishing, 2009, $27.95
Tonight We Die As Men holds a magnifying glass to one of the lesser-known battles of World War II—the assignment of the 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, to secure wooden bridges near the small French village of Brevands early on the morning of June 6, 1944.
This was not one of D-Day’s great battles, but there’s no shortage of gallantry in these pages: There was the doctor who, besides treating his own wounded, managed to save the lives of several French civilians. There was the paratrooper who refused an order to shoot his prisoners. And there’s the officer who, pressed into service at a POW camp, coolly removed the dog tags—marked with an H for “Hebrew” —from a Jewish comrade.
But perhaps the most interesting sections of the book are those that dwell on the battalion’s everyday life—in the United States and in Britain. We read of practical jokes played and evenings in one of the half-dozen or so pubs in the English village where the men are quartered. The stories of American and British solidarity notwithstanding, we hear of publicans overcharging Yanks confused by the intricacies of the British monetary system.
The battalion, composed of every ethnic group in the country, might have been one of those companies beloved by Hollywood. Among its roster were Hank DiCarlo, Niels Christensen, Oakie Hilderbrand and Zalman Rosenfield. Bobbie Rommel was distantly related to the German general, and Major George Grant was descended from the Civil War general and onetime president.
The book is not without its unintentionally comic side. One can empathize with the enlightened soul who changed the name of the regiment’s original base from Camp Toombs to the less ominous-sounding Camp Toccoa. But what is one to make of a parachute regiment commanded by a Colonel Sink, and a battalion by a Lt. Col. Strayer?
Ian Gardner and Roger Day follow the regiment through Normandy, back to Britain and on to demobilization in the States. With solid research, the book brings to life the battle and the men—hardly more than boys, really—who fought it.
Originally published in the September 2009 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.