The Longest Day—the book Michael Shapiro writes “changed journalism”—began with 1,150 responses to Cornelius Ryan’s questionnaire. “The Reporter Who Time Forgot” tells the story behind the book.
Ryan had initially proposed a D-Day book about only the first two or three hours of the invasion. But then he began to report, and his ads (“Personal: Were You There on 6 June 1944?”) yielded thousands of responses. He followed up with a three-page questionnaire that could serve as a primer for reconstructing a narrative: Where did you land and at what time? What was the trip like during the crossing? Do you remember, for example, any conversations you had or how you passed the time? Were you wounded? Do you remember what it was like—that is, do you remember whether you felt any pain or were you so surprised that you felt nothing?