Stephen E. Ambrose, |
Band of Brothers:
E Company, 506th Regiment,
to Hitler's Eagle's Nest
(Pocket Star, 2002)
Band of Brothers is the story of the first parachute infantry unit in the U.S. Army. It was an experimental unit and the first where the men would complete all their training together, from basic training through combat. The failure rate during basic was extreme: 500 officers volunteered and 148 completed training; 5,300 enlisted volunteered and 1,800 completed training. The casualty rate during war was much worse. The unit sustained 150 percent casualties, with most men being wounded multiple times. Of the 140 enlisted and seven officers, 48 were killed. The remainder were wounded.
Ambrose interviewed the survivors and utilized soldiers' journals and letters to recreate the events of this unit in war from a personal level. There are 16 pages of photos from the war, most provided by the Army Signal Corps and soldiers' sketches. But in a concluding statement, Ambrose points out that the book was "very much a group effort." He gave the manuscript to the members of Easy Company and allowed them to make corrections. It is their story.
This book is so moving! From their first jump, these men were fighting against every type of odds known to soldiers. The airplanes came under extremely heavy fire. They were being damaged and the troops were told to jump early. They jumped at speeds in excess of 150 MPH. Their gear was ripped away by the wind and many landed with only a jump knife. Falling equipment was pounding down onto them, causing injuries. They were scattered all over the countryside for several miles. Still, they headed toward their objective, gathering stragglers along the way. With only a dozen men, they overran a German artillery platoon of 50 men and destroyed the four big guns that would have slaughtered thousands at Utah Beach. The company's survivors found each other in the nearby town and reformed.
Easy Company was always the first to go into combat. They got the worst missions, even though there were eight other companies in the battalion. At Bastogne, they were pinned down on a ridge. The Germans knew they were there and frequently shelled them. All supply lines to Bastogne were cut off. Heavy fog hampered air drops and the supplies usually went behind the German lines instead of to American troops. Easy was running out of everything. They had no plasma or bandages and little morphine. They were running out of food. They had no winter clothes.
The newspapers nicknamed them the "Bastards of Bastogne." This was when the true nature of these men really showed. The wounded were refusing to take morphine. They demanded it be saved for their buddies "that might be hurt worse." When the wounded were transported, the men would ask that their buddies be moved first. Troops with trenchfoot refused to leave the line, risking gangrene and amputation to remain in the fight. Throughout the war, Easy had a reputation for two things: getting shot in the rear and going AWOL from the hospital to return to the front line.
Cpl. Walter Gordon was shot in the back and paralyzed at Bastogne. He survived. In December 1991, he saw a story in a local newspaper about how the mayor of Eindhoven, Holland, had refused to meet General Schwarzhopf. He wrote a letter to that mayor. Most of the letter is included in the last chapter of this book. It must be read! If you do not buy the book for any other reason, it is worth the price to read this single passage!
I read this book with a very critical mindset. I am an Eagle from the 101st. All troops arriving at Fort Campbell have to become acquainted with the unit history. What these men did in World War II has been a measuring stick ever since. Their actions set the standards for the 101st. Although I tried to find a reason not to like the book, I could not. Within the first few pages, I was hooked. It pulled me right into the lives of the men and kept me there. This book should be included in high school history classes so students fully realize what sacrifices have been made by our fighting forces in the name of freedom, both of Americans and the world. It is an awesome book.