How often does a book come out of a dumpster dive? Maybe more often than we know. Jared Frederick, instructor of history at Penn State Altoona, had a bundle of old newspapers dumped (figuratively) in his lap. A student had found them in a dumpster and, knowing his instructor’s interests, brought them to Frederick, saying, “I figured you’d be interested in these.”
The student was correct. Frederick looked at the papers—copies of the Altoona Tribune from the years of World War II—and, as he says, “I started to dig deeper and find more. There was a lot more material to share than just in the classroom.” That digging led to more research and out of all of it came Frederick’s latest book, Dispatches of D-Day: A People’s History of the Normandy Invasion (May 2019).
June 6, 2019, is the 75th anniversary of the Allied troops landing in Normandy, France, the largest amphibious invasion of World War II and a high-risk gamble against the beachside cliffs dotted with Nazi bunkers. There was no guarantee that the Allies would succeed but they did. D-Day is seen as one of the major turning points in the war in Europe.
Frederick mined newspapers for the kind of story often not found in history books—the personal, up-close, both soldiers and homefront. Readers might easily recognize Ernie Pyle’s name but another frequently quoted source in the book is Don Whitehead, a journalist who landed on Omaha Beach with the troops so that he could report on the war. While Frederick researched, he came to appreciate even more “how vitally important newspapers were back then. Unless you had a movie theater in your town that showed newsreels, the only way to find out what was going on was the newspaper.”
With the two-and-a-half year project that is Dispatches of D-Day completed, where will Frederick turn next? When asked what his next history writing project will be, he just smiles. “I’ve got a list of about 75 subjects,” he says. And then again, who knows what might drop in his lap to make 76?
—Therese Boyd, ’79