In a sense, Cornelius Ryan started reporting The Longest Day on June 6, 1944, and never really stopped. That day, that war, was his story. And when a reporter comes back with something that, as Norman Maclean once wrote, “tells him something about himself,” readers know it. They feel it on the page and in the prose, and willingly join along in that relentless need to know, and to make sense of things.

Ryan, it turns out, did learn something of himself in his work, and came to know himself well enough to have it inscribed on his tombstone, beneath his name and the years of his too-short life. A single word: Reporter.


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Michael Shapiro is a contributing editor to CJR and teaches at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. His most recent book is Bottom of the Ninth: Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, and the Daring Scheme to Save Baseball From Itself.