Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Band of Brothers

Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose

This book is the true story of the men who fought in the 101st Airborne in WWII. Ambrose interviewed many of the men and got their stories. He gives the readers a glimpse into the lives of Dick Winters, Lewis Nixon, Ronald Speirs, Eugene Roe, David Webster, Carwood Lipton, and the men who fought with them.

The Airborne was something of an experiment. Young men were put through vigorous training with the idea of having them parachute in behind enemy lines and fight their way into Germany. It was something of a suicide mission. Once in they were pretty much on their own, except for the men landing on the beach in Normandy.

Most of the men were young, eighteen or there abouts when they joined up. There was one who was in his mid to late twenties and got nicknamed the "Old Man" by the others. I'm not sure how many of them knew exactly what they were getting into, but they all knew there was something special about becoming a paratrooper. The training alone was next to impossible, especially under Sorbel, a man who lived to make their lives miserable.

If the young men lasted through training they were given the honor of wearing their wing pin and fanning their pants out above their boots. (A mixture, added with their dashing faces, which seemed to make them irresistible to the ladies.) Not that they had much of a chance to try it out as they were then dropped into Normandy and the fighting began.

What I like best about the book is the brutal honesty. The men held nothing back when talking to Ambrose, no matter how nightmarish the detail or embarrassing the incident. And Ambrose, in turn, didn't try and cover anything up. Including the fella's faults in an attempt to make them look more heroic.

Of course, they were heroic. They fought against overwhelming odds and refused to back down. They were there during the Battle of the Bulge and watched their friends die left and right around them and still held on. They kept pushing until they'd made their way to Hitler's Eagle's Nest - but they were far from perfect. They chased women, swore, and drank, and they admitted to all of the above.

The best part though, was the fact that the moment they were not engaged in battle they turned into a wild group of unruly boys. Winters even had to come up with games for them to take part in, such as a football match, to keep from tearing towns apart while they waited for their next battle. By the time they reached the Eagle's Nest though he kind of gave up and let them go. He even let Nix have his pick of Hitler's best wine.

I really enjoyed the book. As I said, there is language and the mention of girls, though the awkward scene from the mini series isn't in it. The book is well worth reading, just to learn about these men and what they did. And the ending...there was something in the ending which had me swooning like a hopeless romantic. (Spoiler for those who've read it, highlight....There was comment at the beginning of the book of Harry Welsh, I believe, refusing to use his reserve chute because he wanted to take it home to his girl so she could use it for a wedding dress. He carried it all through the war and brought it home with her. I squealed and had to hug the book. Sweetest, most romantic thing I've ever read in a war story. End Spoiler)

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