In honor of Veterans Day coming up here in the US, I thought I would depart from my usual urban fantasy reviews and cover something different, Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. I studied US military history at college and I have had to read a lot of books about World War II. This is the best one I have ever read. And the miniseries is amazing.
In case you have not seen the miniseries, Band of Brothers tells the story of Easy Company, 2nd battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry regiment of the 101st Airborne in the US Army. The story starts with the corps group of men in training at Camp Toccoa in Georgia (after the war starts, they often times refer to themselves as Toccoa men to distinguish themselves from the replacements). Their commanding officer is a man by the name of Herbert Sobel (David Schwimmer in the miniseries) and he is the epitome of the hated drill instructor. And as much as you love to hate the man as presented, you cannot deny that hating him brought Easy Company together as a unit. Whether or not that was intentional is, I think, up to some debate.
The book goes into detail on their training and just how close the men became, even before being shipped off to England. Easy Company was one of many Airborne divisions that jumped behind the lines at Normandy during D-Day. The men were scattered as they jumped, some having to bail out of their planes before they were over the landing zone because of heavy flak. Some men lost almost all of their gear, having been forced to put it all in a ridiculous bag that was strapped to their legs by a single thin cord that had a tendency to snap when chutes deployed.
After Normandy was Carentan and after Carentan was the massive failure known as Operation Market Garden. Easy Company had precious little respite during this time and ended up being sent into Bastogne just before the Battle of the Bulge got underway. Easy Company ended up surrounded by the German army with little ammunition and supplies and no winter gear (not good when Christmas was fast approaching). It was well into January by the time Patton’s 3rd Army rolled into Bastogne to “rescue” the 101st Airborne. My favorite bit about the Bastogne siege was that “no member of the 101st Airborne ever admitted to needing rescuing” (I’m not sure if this is a direct quote or a paraphrase but as a historian it’s better to give Ambrose and or the miniseries writers the credit).
Easy Company continued to follow the front lines, getting little break away from battle. The book and the series does not shy away from the mental toll this took and still takes on these men. Eventually, though, Easy Company marched into Germany and right up to Berchtesgaden (Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest), one of the bastions of Nazism in Germany. If you were any sort of major player in the Nazi party, you had a home here.
Now I know there are issues and claims of plagiarism on Stephen E. Ambrose but I really hope that it would not take away your enjoyment of this book. It is simply amazing. I also recommend reading Beyond Band of Brothers by Major Dick Winters (rest in peace Major Winters). Major Winters was Easy Company’s CO starting in Normandy and going until Holland when he got promoted. Even then, he was there on the lines with them. Major Winters wrote his recollections of this same time frame and it is just as good as Band of Brothers. So many thanks to the men and women who have serves in the Armed Forces an any capacity (especially my grandfather, great uncles and current friends). Rating: A. Also, if you haven’t seen the miniseries, DO IT. Be warned that it is graphic but it is amazingly good!