“From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered—We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me; Shall be my brother…” – Henry V, William Shakespeare.
Almost twenty years ago, the ten-part miniseries, HBO released Band of Brothers. Following the story of 101st Airborne, Easy Company, the collaboration between Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks introduced us to a group of young paratroopers who embodied the phrase “the greatest generation.” A rare breed, these young men were born in the 1910s and 1920s, they survived the Great Depression and were being sent to war, some going out into the world for the first time, hoping to liberate Europe from the Nazis. The series piqued my interest because my grandfather was in the airborne and he did some jumps as shown in the miniseries. A ten-parter, it offers us enough time to become acquainted with the large cast of characters, based on real-life men. At the beginning of each episode, and at the end of the last episode, the real Easy Company men talk about their experiences and offer reflections. In a short amount of time, you fall in love with these men and care deeply about them, rejoicing when they rejoice and mourning when they mourn.
Richard Winters is a mild-mannered, reserved captain, eager to do his part and lead his men, who after the events of D-Day, tells God that after the war he wants to live peacefully. Captain Nixon is a scrounger alcoholic, doing his utmost to survive, whose wife leaves him, taking the family dog, whom he dearly loves. Malarkey impetuously risks his life to pick a luger off of a dead German to give to his kid brother and matures into a man during the war. Compton makes it through many campaigns until he watches his two buddies, Joe Toye and Bill Gaurnere, cruelly wounded and gets struck down with PTSD. George Luz likes to imitate various superiors and is always good for a laugh. Joe Liebgott is Jewish, faces antisemitism and feels crushed when learns what is really going on in Europe. Rumored to have massacred several German prisoners, Ronald Spiers frightens the other men. Then there is Captain Herbert Sobel, who was needlessly cruel to the men during their training at Camp Toccoa.
We come to know these “Band of Brothers” during basic training and watch them transported from America to England, where they prepare for the invasion of Europe. On June 6th, 1944, the Easy Company men and thousands of others paratroop out of C-47s and land in France. They fight their way from village to village and town to town, receiving little support, scarce supplies, and minimal rest. These are young men, in their teens, twenties, and thirties, living and dying to save the world, and preserve it for future generations.
Like many who fought, Easy Company is enthusiastic, believing the war will end by Christmas. Unfortunately, at Christmas time, they are stationed at Bastogne… in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge. By the time of Patton’s rescue, which the men insist is unnecessary, they are near their breaking point. They wonder why they are fighting this war. Sure, the Nazis are evil, but is it worth it? The men receive their answer later that spring, when they, along with other companies, liberate a concentration camp. For years rumors had circulated of how the Nazis mistreated the Jews and anyone else targeted, they had to see the inhumanity with their own eyes to comprehend their sacrifices.
The Easy Company men then invade Berchtesgaden, a.k.a. The Eagles Nest—Hitler’s Bavarian retreat. After all their turmoil, they could enjoy themselves a little. In May 1945, as the men are playing a friendly baseball game, they learn the war in Europe has ended.
If you are curious what happened to them all, after the war, Nix had two broken marriages and continued to struggle with alcohol. Then he met a lovely woman named Grace and turned his life around. Malarkey returned to Oregon, got a degree in business, and became a real estate agent. Compton opted not to pursue a career in minor league baseball, deciding to go to law school, later prosecuting Sirhan Sirhan for the murder of Robert F. Kennedy. Luz became a maintenance consultant, and when an industrial accident killed him, 1600 people came to his funeral to pay their respects. Despite what they showed in Band of Brothers, the real Liebgott was not Jewish, but Catholic; after the war, he became a barber. Spiers fought in the Korean war. In the 1950s, he was the American governor of Spandau Prison and guarded Rudolf Hess. After an honorable discharge, Sobel later served in the Korean War and had a family; 1970, he tried to kill himself, but survived and lived seventeen more years. Following the war, Winters worked for Nixon’s family business, then served in Korea. Afterwards, he settled down and lived peacefully with his wife and family.
Band of Brothers is not for the faint of heart. Not only does it feature war scenes, they show us graphic wounds, violence, harsh behavior, foul language (hundreds of f-words, which weren’t used in WWII), and gratuitous occasional sex scenes. Various men are having extra-marital affairs. However, except for Saving Private Ryan, I have never seen a more realistic and heartfelt depiction of what went on in WWII.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Leigh has been published in several anthologies and her work has appeared on GoWorldTravel.com and the Artist Unleashed, and she has published a couple of fictional stories. She makes her home in Indiana with her family and her furbabies. To learn more about her, visit her blog.