Campus Life

Author Details Heroic Efforts During D-Day Invasion

Speaking at Texas A&M, military historian Alex Kershaw discussed his book The First Wave and said Allied troops were determined to achieve victory.
By Keith Randall, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications September 20, 2019

Author Alex Kershaw sits at a table as he signs a student's book
Author Alex Kershaw held a book signing in advance of his talk at the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center.

Jesse Everett/Texas A&M Marketing & Communications

Best-selling author Alex Kershaw said that the D-Day invasion of Normandy was a watershed moment in history. The men who died there should never be forgotten because “they helped to save the world,” he said during an appearance at Texas A&M University.

Speaking at a lecture sponsored by the Bush School of Government and Public Service’s Albritton Center for Grand Strategy, Kershaw discussed his latest book, The First Wave, about the first few hours of D-Day. “The bloodiest place to be was on Omaha Beach, where 900 men died in the first few hours,” Kershaw said. “Of the first 118 men who set foot on Omaha, 102 were killed.”

Omaha Beach would be the site of thousands of casualties that day, Kershaw said. It was also the scene of one of the saddest events: 19 men from the small town of Bedford, Va., (pop. 3,200) were killed, meaning Bedford had the highest percentage of men die from one city than any other on D-Day.

“It’s why the national D-Day Memorial is located in Bedford,” he said. “The town’s sacrifice was unmatched.”

Kershaw, a native of York, England and a graduate of Oxford University, has written numerous books, most of them about military history. The First Wave tells the story of the men who fought at D-Day, from the first paratroopers to land in France to the scaling of the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc. Kershaw has also written a book about the Bedford Boys. His book The Liberator is currently being adapted as a series to run on Netflix and will be aired next year. Kershaw moved to the United States in 1994 and lives in Savannah, Ga.

Kershaw said that both of his grandfathers fought in World War II and his father was a pilot in the Royal Air Force.
He showed photos of former Texas A&M president James Earl Rudder after his Army Rangers had scaled the 90-foot cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, which seemed like an impossible task at the time. The strategic landmark hid huge German cannons that could devastate Allied troops on ships as far as 14 miles away as they attempted their beach landing. It was a task that took almost two full days before Rudder and his men successfully made it to the top.

Rudder and his men captured the site, but at no small cost. Only 90 Rangers lived to fight another day, and Rudder himself was wounded twice during the assault. They were exhausted, Kershaw said, pointing to a photo of Rudder and his men, and they had been fighting for 28 straight hours before they captured Pointe du Hoc.

“That is one thing that was a common theme about D-Day I learned about from talking to the men who were there,” Kershaw said. “Fear of failure moved them. They were more afraid of failure than of being killed.”

Rudder, a native of tiny Eden in Central Texas, would go on to fight in the historic Battle of the Bulge and was eventually awarded numerous medals for his legendary career. His son, James “Bud” Rudder, was in the audience and briefly spoke about his father’s exploits that day.

Kershaw said that in all, 150,000 allied troops from 12 countries participated in the D-Day invasion, with 4,414 killed.
“England suffered greatly during World War II,” he said. “My home country was scarred for decades. I remember going to spots around London in 1976, and you could still see huge bomb craters in certain parts of the city.”

Media contact: Keith Randall, 979-845-4644,

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