One last jump
BOOKS | It’s a good time to revisit Band of Brothers
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Early last month, Bradford Freeman, the last surviving “Band of Brothers” paratrooper, died in Caledonia, Miss. Thirty years ago, historian Stephen Ambrose brought Freeman’s unit to public attention with the publication of his book Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.
Many have seen the Band of Brothers HBO miniseries from 2001. Those still hungry for real-life American heroism will find the original book worth revisiting today. Ambrose covers the founding of E Company in Georgia in 1942, the unit’s role on D-Day, as well as its engagements during Operation Market Garden and the decisive Battle of the Bulge.
Most of the men in E company weren’t devoted Christians, and Ambrose doesn’t wink at their swearing, drinking, carousing—or the racially divided world they inhabited. To his credit as a historian, Ambrose also doesn’t hide their looting of Germans citizens or one episode in which a prisoner is unlawfully executed.
But those darker realities make the unit’s accomplishments in helping defeat fascism that much more remarkable. As Ambrose points out, these civilian soldiers “came from different backgrounds, different parts of the country,” yet they “found in combat the closest brotherhood they ever knew. They found selflessness. They found they could love the other guy in their foxhole more than themselves. They found that in war, men who loved life would give their lives for them.”
One leader epitomizes such greatness—Maj. Richard “Dick” Winters. Ambrose quotes Winters’ letters and autobiography at length, giving his audience a close look at the servant leader. At one point, Winters stands alone on a road while enemy fire rains down. He yells, kicks, whatever it takes to rouse his men from near-certain death to victory. Another time, Winters draws his firearm on an American soldier to protect unarmed Germans.
Sadly for Ambrose, investigators found evidence of plagiarism in several of his other books. Despite that cloud, as the Greatest Generation makes its final exit, Band of Brothers can help older teens and adults remember the sacrifice and heroism that purchased our freedom today.
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