One of the benefits of my job is that I get a week and a half off over the Christmas holiday. During these extended breaks, I sit down and watch the entire HBO series called Band of Brothers*. To me, this series is a great look at leadership and sacrifice. One of the things I had not yet done is read the book upon which the series was made. Last week, I finally had an opportunity to read Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and I am glad that I did. The HBO series follows the book quite closely; however, the book did share some details that could not be adequately shown on film. This was the second book I had read from Stephen Ambrose. I had previously read The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45. I like the relaxed story-like pace of his books.
Band of Brothers follows one company of soldiers from the time they are formed, through all the different campaigns in World War II, until they are disbanded. They are the men of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army. Ambrose wrote the book primarily based on the interviews with the soldiers of Easy Company. I sit in awe of what these young men did to prepare for and fight in World War II. This company jumped and fought during D-day and Operation Market Garden. They fought at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. They invaded Germany in the Rhineland campaign as well as secured Hitler’s Eagle Nest at Berchtesgaden. All in all, they suffered 150% casualties. The majority of the men were wounded at least once if not multiple times during their service in the company.
Band of Brothers is 336 pages long spread over 19 chapters. Each chapter focuses on a select period of time, place, and theme in respect to Easy Company. Here are those chapters:
- “We wanted those wings”; Camp Toccoa, July-December 1942
- “Stand up and hook up”; Benning, Mackall, Bragg, Shanks, December 1942-September 1943
- “Duties of the latrine orderly”; Aldbourne, September 1943-March 1944
- “Look out Hitler! Here we come!”; Slapton Sands, Uppottery, April 1-June 5, 1944
- “Follow me”; Normandy, June 6, 1944
- “Move out!”; Carentan, June 7-July 12, 1944
- Healing wounds and scrubbed missions; Aldbourne, July 13-September 16, 1944
- “Hell’s Highway”; Holland, September 17-October 1, 1944
- The island; Holland, October 2-November 25, 1944
- Resting, recovering, and refitting; Mourmelon-le-Grand, November 26-December 18, 1944
- “They got us surrounded—the poor bastards”; Bastogne, December 19-31, 1944
- The breaking point; Bastogne, January 1-13, 1945
- Attack; Norville, January 14-17, 1945
- The patrol; Haguenau, January 18-February 23, 1945
- “The best feeling in the world”; Mourmelon, February 25-April 2, 1945
- Getting to know the enemy; Germany, April 2-30, 1945
- Drinking Hitler’s champagne; Berchtesgaden, May 1-8, 1945
- The soldier’s dream life; Austria, May 8-July 31, 1945
- Postwar careers; 1945-1991
As I noted, I really enjoyed reading this book. I was hoping for some more insight into the lives of Dick Winters and the rest of the company. Fortunately, I did get some of what I was looking for. Ambrose included stories that were not in the HBO series such as the training the company conducted in various parts of the United States. Another story was about a 137-mile march from Toccoa to Atlanta in the winter. I also thought that Ambrose glossed over the discovery of the work camp in Germany. The HBO series seemed to give this more prominence.
If you are looking for a relatively quick read that focuses on a portion of World War II history, I think you will like this book. It is a group of guys who wanted to be around the best. They saw their membership in this now famous company to be their best choice for survival. This is odd because they were so well trained, they were volunteered for some of the most dangerous assignments. I really enjoyed Band of Brothers, both the book and the HBO series. I think you will too.
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