“As good a rifle company as any in the world, Easy Company, 506th Airborne Division, U.S. Army, kept getting the tough assignments – responsible for everything from parachuting into France early D-Day morning to the capture of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden. In Band of Brothers, Ambrose tells of the men in this brave unit who fought, went hungry, froze, and died, a company that took 150 percent casualties and considered the Purple Heart a badge of office. Drawing on hours of interviews with survivors as well as the soldiers’ journals and letters, Stephen Ambrose recounts the stories, often in the men’s own words, of these American heroes.
I’ve never been a non-fiction book fan (UPDATE 2019: I now love non-fiction). In fact, Band of Brothers was the first non-fiction book that I thoroughly enjoyed and couldn’t put down. I’ve never been so captivated by a historical book before, but perhaps that had something to do with watching the TV miniseries first. I already cared about the story and cared about the people.
Speaking of the miniseries, it is mine and Peter’s absolute favourite! We watch it every couple of months and I don’t think we’ll ever get sick of it. Reading the book and understanding who the veterans were, as described by themselves and the other veterans interviewed, I really think that the actors in the miniseries did a fantastic job of portraying them accurately. Not only did they do a great job of embodying the characters, the casting directors did an incredible job finding people who looked similar to the real life veterans. So much detail was put into this amazing series. It’s no wonder that it’s still regarded as being the best miniseries of all time!
What I love about the miniseries is how they included interviews with the Easy Company veterans in each episode. It makes it that much more real and reminds us that, for those men, this was their reality. It was what made me stop and actually pay attention to the history of WWII for a change. This miniseries was what woke me up and changed my worldview. It reminded me that WWII was very real and I should never forget those men who sacrificed their lives for us.
Enough about the miniseries and more about the book. I cannot say enough good things about this book. Stephen E. Ambrose actually took the time to interview the Easy Company veterans, comparing their stories and making it all as accurate as possible. He made the veterans a part of the process so that he could honour them by telling their story and by telling the truth. I appreciate that so much, knowing that nothing was exaggerated. At the end of the book, we feel like we know these incredible men. We feel like we’ve experienced all they went through and all of the emotions that they felt. To be moved by a book in that way is so special.
I have so much admiration for these veterans that we were given the privilege to get to “know”, even just a little bit. Major Richard D. Winters, in particular, was such an honourable man. The Easy Company men couldn’t say enough good things about him. To give a little insight into what kind of man Major Winters was, here is what he wrote about leadership:
Ten Principles for Success by Major Richard D. Winters
- Strive to be a leader of character, competence, and courage.
- Lead from the front. Say, “Follow me!” and then lead the way.
- Stay in top physical shape – physical stamina is the root of mental toughness.
- Develop your team. If you know your people, are fair in setting realistic goals and expectations, and lead by example, you will develop teamwork.
- Delegate responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their job. You can’t do a good job if you don’t have a chance to use your imagination and creativity.
- Anticipate problems and prepare to overcome obstacles. Don’t wait until you get to the top of the ridge and then make up your mind.
- Remain humble. Don’t worry about who receives the credit. Never let power or authority go to your head.
- Take a moment of self-reflection. Look at yourself in the mirror every night and ask yourself if you did your best.
- True satisfaction comes from getting the job done. The key to a successful leader is to earn respect – not because of rank or position, but because you are a leader of character.
- Hang Tough! – Never, ever, give up.
That is just one example of the many honourable and heroic men that served in the war.
The stories in Band of Brothers will make you laugh, and they will make you cry. They will make you feel anger, and they will make you feel joy. They will make you feel fear, and they will make you feel relief. You will experience almost every emotion there is to feel and will walk away having a new found respect for Easy Company and what they did to help win the war.
I highly recommend reading this book or even watching the miniseries, though I should mention that there is a fair amount of language in the miniseries and one very brief sexual scene in the 9th episode. Both the book and the miniseries are incredible and they had such an huge impact on my life. It’s important to gain a little perspective and remember that we are so incredibly blessed to live in a world without war.
“I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ Grandpa said ‘No… but I served in a company of heroes.” – Major Richard D. Winters