I hope you all enjoyed your Memorial Day weekend and I hope you took a moment to remember the heroes of the past. And then say a prayer for the men and women who serve in dangerous places around the world. Like all the soldiers before them, they faced their fears, they found courage, and they took their positions on the front lines of freedom.
As I have done every year since the premier of Band of Brothers Part 1 “Currahee” on September 1, 2001, I sat transfixed on the TV to begin my Memorial Day Marathon. Each year as the HBO miniseries produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, based on the non-fiction book by Stephen E. Ambrose begins, I question if I sufficiently appreciate the sacrifices made by these men of Easy Company. Their extraordinary courage as they dropped behind enemy lines on D-Day, their never give up attitude during the Battle of the Bulge and their triumphant victory securing Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest,” are mere reflections of the bonds of friendship and brotherhood that carried these men through the darkest moments of the war.
Watching the history of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, from basic training to D-Day is truly an experience like no other. Following these men from the front line soldier, to the privates, to the non-coms to the officers who carry out the grand strategy of generals, makes the viewer feel as if they are standing by the side of these men.
For me, the most meaningful moments of the series is the portrayal of the relationships between the characters and the lengths they go to watch out for one another. I get chills each time I witness men given an opportunity to leave the front line, an instead insist on staying – even in the face of imminent danger and suffering – in order to be there for their fellow soldiers. There are some characters that you come to know a little better than others, but the real star of the series is the brotherhood that these young men shared and continued to share throughout their lives.
I am particularly fond of the interviews of the soldiers in 2000, and their deep love for each other is still apparent as many of them are still choked up as they share their experiences.
Over the course of 10 episodes, viewers (myself included) fall in love with characters as we watch them grow from boys into men. While the film’s rendering of World War II is uncompromising in it’s depiction of the evils of Hitler’s Germany, it also lends an occasional humane eye to some of the young German men who were caught up in a war that was theirs to fight by virtue of living in the wrong place at the wrong time.
One of the most moving parts of the series comes towards the end and surprisingly comes from a speech by a General in the German army. The German general addresses his men while the soldiers of Easy Company watch from a short distance away. Ross McCall portraying Cpl. Joseph Liebgott translated the speech:
Men, it's been a long war, it's been a tough war. You've fought bravely, proudly for your country. You're a special group. You've found in one another a bond, that exists only in combat, among brothers. You've shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You've seen death and suffered together. I'm proud to have served with each and every one of you. You all deserve long and happy lives in peace.
It's a touching scene, and one that attempts to convey the point that all soldiers are human and most share a common bond of brotherhood forged in training and on the battlefield. While the men of Easy Company have witnessed tragedies and atrocities and suffered much loss, for that one moment they share a type of kinship with the defeated Germans, because they can relate to what they've been through and what they've been forced to endure
As difficult as it must have been, the General kept his composure. If good speeches are needed in good times — and they are — they are critical in difficult times, when people are hurting and need to hear words of encouragement and hope. In such times, it is incumbent on speakers to remain poised and to demonstrate leadership, even when they are burdened with the same challenges as the audience.
What makes this speech so poignant?
- The General acknowledged the suffering and hardship that the men endured. He didn’t attempt to soften it. When delivering difficult news, it is almost always better to be upfront with one’s audience.
- He spoke in a loud and clear voice.
- He spoke with genuine emotion.
- He paused frequently
- He maintained constant eye contact with his troops.
- The speech was entirely about the men. In fact, the General referred to himself only once — to say how proud he was to have served with his soldiers.
- The General concluded on a hopeful note, wishing his men long, happy and peaceful lives.
- This cinematic empathy is mirrored in many of the interviews with the real life soldiers as they look back on the war. “Under different circumstances, I might have been friends with some of those young men” says one veteran.
My heart break as we are now witnessing World War II veterans currently dying at a rate of more than a thousand a day. And it is because of Band of Brothers, Wild Bill Guarnere and Dick Winters in particular that I remain committed to never letting even one of them be forgotten. I can honestly say that this TV event changed my life forever and has led me on the path I currently follow.
I was predictably moved to tears in every episode of Band Of Brothers, as much for the story on the screen as how the story revealed a deficiency in my own life of the deep kinds of friendships that the series pays tribute to – friendships that I fear I have failed to encourage ( Because I’m afraid to let others get too deep inside my head). In spite of the hardship these men endured, I still couldn’t help but feel they were somehow blessed to need each other the way they did. I could be in danger of romanticizing their adversity, I know, but in the interviews with the actual characters I bear witness as these men reveal that they have an unusually deep friendship with one another that lives on to this day. It makes me want to work harder to forge deeper friendships and to be a better friend myself.
I don’t mean to be overdramatic, or in any way diminish the sacrifices of the soldiers of Easy Company by equating their battles with my own, but the truth remains that each of us has our own battles to fight – the fight to be faithful and true in our own adversity, the fight to tell the truth and not lose heart, the fight to not fall back into complacency or be ruled by our fear and insecurity, The fight to remain hopeful, and maybe most importantly the fight to not give in to cynicism and hurt, letting our hearts harden when in fact God has given us hearts that were meant to feel, to break, and to love – especially when it hurts to do so. Band of Brothers reminds me that we are not meant to fight alone, and that we are all brothers and sisters who fight together, and in whose weakness and brokenness God’s strength is perfected.
So as you can see, Band of Brothers is more than just a film for me; it is more than a Memorial Day tradition- it’s an experience and an invitation to be witness to the kind of community, brotherhood, and love I think we all long for, but rarely know!
I leave you with this final thought as I pack it in From the Trenches: “Currahee” "We stand alone together"