“Band of Brothers ” by Stephen Ambrose belongs to that rare list of books which I read after seeing the movie, or in this case, the HBO miniseries. It also belongs to the rarer list where the visual representation is every bit as engaging and haunting as the written word.
506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (later attached to 101st Airborne) was a new experiment, a completely volunteer unit. Men mostly in the range 20-25 years of age came together for $50 monthly bonus, for the thrill and honour, for the “bloused” trousers of paratroopers, but mostly for the desire to belong to an elite unit where the man next to them would be a tested volunteer and not a draftee. Less than 30% of the volunteers (both enlisted men and officers) made it through Camp Toccoa.
94% of 506th men qualified as Parachutists, a record which stands even today. Just after training, the 506th Regiment 2nd Battalion set a world record for endurance marching by covering 118 miles in 75 hours, scored 97% in standard fitness test (and 98% in the later one when somebody thought the score was rigged).
The E(cho) company of 2nd Battalion (whose war the book follows) survived the training at Toccoa under the martinet Capt. Sobel, who made them into one of the best rifle companies in the World, and an elite airborne unit. Air-dropped in France on the night before D-Day, Echo company carried out a textbook attack on a German battery looking down Utah beach. This was followed by major roles in Operation Market Garden, defence of Bastogne and in Battle of Bulge, and taking Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.
At the end of the day, it is astonishing that the company was made up of common men, who worked in construction, manufacturing business, a rare Yale or Harvard student. Yet these citizen soldiers produced superb soldiers and excellent leaders (Most of the Battalion officers were Echo men).
Mentioning names would be quite out of question here, because each man is a whole story in himself. Just to read the story of their training, and their journey to maturity is inspirational.
Real-life war stories belong to that rare genre which are made for a visual representation. The first day 3-mile up-and-back run on Mount Currahee or the slaughter caused by artillery barrage in Bastogne are interesting/horrific enough on paper, but watching them on screen really bring them to life. Those who have watched (and I mean, “watched”) “Saving Private Ryan” would testify to that.
If you are a war buff, this is a book for you. If you want to read real inspirational stories, this is the book for you.
Quote of The Day:
Maj. Richard D. Winters: [quotes Mike Ranney on how Ranney answered a question his grandson once asked him] I treasure my remark to my grandson who asked, "Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?" Grandpa said, "No… but I served in a company of heroes".