What is A Quiet War?

It’s the war you haven’t heard of. The war waged out of the spotlight. The dustier cemetery headstones. The people who didn’t get a fancy blurb in a history book.

Women, people of color, unexpected heroes — they all contributed to what is likely the single greatest military victory in the 20th century, victory in World War II. Their stories are told — occasionally — but quickly forgotten, drowned out by the focus placed on the forces that crust Fascism in Europe and Asia, and lost in the overwhelming task of cataloging a massive war that spanned more than half a decade and more than half the globe.

Back in 2016, I found myself — quite unwillingly — standing on a beach in Normandy, France, trying to keep the sand out of my eyes with a scarf and listening to my husband parse out the details of the assault on Omaha. All day long, I’d tripped through quaint French villages, climbed out of massive potholes left by American artillery on seaside cliffs, and generally gotten bored while my husband paid rapt attention to a British military historian with plastic binder pages and a tendency to gesture grandly at trees.

And then we hit the cemetery.

It’s hard to put death into perspective when it happens on such a scale, but the rows of identical white headstones drove home what happened that day in 1944 when the tide of the War in Europe turned precipitously, in the hands of thousands of men who were, in most cases, barely out of high school.

And in the hands of women.

And people of color.

On my way out of the cemetery, they told me six women were buried there and left it at that. And suddenly, the weight of the day came crashing in on me. Who were these women? What gave them the ability to be buried in a cemetery reserved for those who stormed the beaches and secured the bridges and liberated the towns and blew holes in the beachhead? Why haven’t I heard this before?

That last question became a nagging need. It’s the question that keeps me up at night.

It’s not to say that everyone who fights in a war isn’t important, especially World War II. But telling one person’s story doesn’t diminish the stories of others. And when we see valor and victory on such a scale, we have an obligation to ensure that no story is lost, no person who contributed to the cause goes unheralded.

So here I am. Just trying to tell the story of the quiet ones. The quiet war.

Who is Emily Zanotti?

I’m a political writer, a journalist, a mom to three kids under two, and an urban homesteader, newly transplanted to the south. I’m not a traditional historian, at least in the official, “I went to school for it” sense.

I’m a storyteller.

I became a reporter so that I could tell people’s stories. It just so happened that when the moment of purpose struck, the stories I wanted to tell weren’t of politicians or their constituents. They were of women who cut communications lines and distracted soldiers, and men whose families were trapped in internment camps at home even as they were liberating prisoners in foreign lands.

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