Band of Brothers:
E Company, 506th Regiment,
101st Airborne,
from Normandy To Hitler's Eagle's Nest

directed by various directors
(Playtone, 2001)

Band of Brothers is available as a six-DVD collector's set in a gorgeous silver embossed tin. It is based on the book by Stephen Ambrose and was produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. This is what I am reviewing here.

This is the chronological true story of the concept and development of the parachute infantry. The 506th was the first parachute infantry unit in the world. It was organized at the beginning of World War II. Each part begins with snippets of interviews with survivors that are directly relevant to that part. The final disc includes the interviews, a documentary with WWII footage, photos from a Life article, a documentary titled The Making of Band of Brothers and Ron Livingston's Video Diaries.

Easy Company always seemed to be selected to go first, take point, go on suicide missions or just get the nasty details. The men wondered why. The battalion was composed of companies A through I. E fell dead center of that alphabetical arrangement. But their first company commander was a hardcore individual looking for rank and a name. He demanded the company be the best in the battalion and always volunteered them to go first. Once they were placed in the lead, they remained there.

This unit sustained 150 percent casualties during the war. Some members were wounded as many as four times. They became known for being shot in the buttocks and took much kidding about that reputation. But their courage and heroic deeds were known worldwide.

Part One: Currahee, directed by Phil Alden Robinson

This part follows the development and training of the unit at Camp Toccoa, Ga., in 1942. They completed the basic training and were shipped to Camp Mackall, N.C., for further training. On Sept. 3, 1943, they boarded the Samaria at Brooklyn Naval Shipyard to deploy for Europe. The trip took 12 days. They prepared for eight more months before getting involved in the war.

Part Two: Day of Days, directed by Richard Loncraine

Easy Company finally got to jump into the war. The planes came under fire and were being riddled with rounds. Several were damaged. The men wanted out and the pilots were signaling them to jump, regardless of their location. They were jumping at speeds of 150 MPH or more. The prop wash was ripping gear away from them. Many landed with only their jump knife. The ones on the ground were being pounded with falling gear and had to seek cover. They ended up scattered for several miles with Germans in every direction. They formed into groups as they encountered each other and kept moving in the general direction of their target, Brecourt Manor. Twelve men from Easy engaged an artillery unit with 50 men only three miles from Utah Beach. They captured and destroyed the four 105mm guns, saving thousands of the landing troops. Easy finally joined up with the nucleus of their company.

Part 3: Caretan, directed by Mikael Salomon

Easy Company took Caretan and moved toward high ground. They encountered extreme resistance. The hill was covered with tanks and infantry. Just as they were getting low on ammo, 2nd Armored 1st Cavalry crashed out of the trees in Sherman tanks and made mincemeat of the German troops. But by June 29, Easy Company had lost 65 people.

Part four: Replacements, directed by David Nutter

Replacements arrived and found the original troops to be less than friendly at best and downright hostile at worst. The next mission was to jump into occupied Holland and liberate Eindhoven. It was called "Operation Market-Garden." They were to clear the road for tanks. This road along the Rhine River became known as Hell's Highway.

Intelligence reports said the only German forces in the area were "kids and old men." Easy jumped on Sept. 17. They encountered tanks, roof snipers and well dug-in troops. The unit started a new joke about fighting anything as long as it was not "kids and old men."

The hidden German Panzers and Tigers romped all over the British tanks, who were under orders to not fire until they had visuals on the enemy. The Germans simply remained hidden and engaged in a turkey shoot. Easy had to retreat. Of the 506th, 180 were killed and 560 wounded. Of the entire 101st, 750 were killed and 1,500 wounded.

Part 5: Crossroads, directed by Tom Hanks

The British 1st Airborne had tried to take Market Garden and lost 8,000 men. There were 150 "Red Devils" trapped behind enemy lines. The British asked America to help rescue them. Easy Company went after them during "Operation Pegasus." The company was only at 65 percent strength with most being replacements. They found the Germans with machine gun nests set up at the Crossroads outside Schoonderlogt.

Easy was wiping out the Germans until they retreated. They had already zeroed in artillery on the crossroads. As soon as they retreated from the immediate area, their artillery opened up and riddled Easy. They had 22 wounded and one killed, but the Germans had 50 dead, 100 wounded and seven captured. Easy had remained on the front line for 70 days straight by the end of the Holland activity. Troops were going AWOL from the hospital to return to the front line.

Part 6: Bastogne, directed by David Leland

Bastogne was the fight of controversy for the 101st. The Battle of the Bulge tells the story with General Patton coming to the rescue of an encircled 101st. To this day, the 101st denies that it ever needed to be rescued. The men of Easy Company were nicknamed "The Bastards of Bastogne" by the newspapers.

Easy was on a tree-lined ridge. The Germans knew they were there and had them pinned down. The other battalions were pulling back. Bastogne was cut off from supply lines. Heavy fog hampered air drops and most of the supplies dropped went behind the enemy lines. The men were down to one round each. They had no winter clothes, no aid station, no plasma, no bandages and little food. They were so close to the Germans that the enemy actually wandered through their fractured lines to use the bathroom.

There were so many true heroes at Bastogne. The injured men refused to take morphine because the medic was running out. Men with trenchfoot refused to leave the line, risking gangrene and amputation. Everybody gave up their aid kits to the medic. The conditions for wounded troops became worse when the aid station in Bastogne was bombed.

Part 7: The Breaking Point, directed by David Frankel

Easy was sent to clear the Ardennes Forest near Foy in Belgium. They got a new company XO. He was not a good leader. Most of the leaders were new with no combat experience. The one experienced lieutenant was pulled off the line due to trenchfoot after he freaked out over seeing two of his closest friends blown apart. There were 13 killed in action. They hooked up with I Company and took the town of Foy, capturing 100 Germans. The Last Patrol, directed by Tony To

The guys of Easy were sent across the river to capture prisoners from the German observation post for intelligence. They got two prisoners and lost one man. The next night, they were supposed to go on another patrol, but their first sergeant told them to get a good night's sleep. If anyone asked, they were to say they went on the patrol but found no Germans. The next day, they were pulled off the front line. They had fought in England, France, Holland, Belgium and Germany.

Part 9: Why We Fight, directed by David Frankel

More than 300,000 Germans surrendered. Easy Company was doing patrols for stragglers. They came across a concentration camp where the Germans had killed prisoners until they ran out of ammo. Then they locked the gates and drove away. General Taylor declared martial law and forced every able-bodied person in the area to help bury the dead. Between 1942 and 1945, the Germans killed five million ethnic minorities and six million Jews in concentration and death camps. They were being found all over Germany. The announcement came that Hitler has shot himself, but the war was still not over. Easy prepared to move out for Bavaria.

Part 10: Points, directed by Mikael Salomon

Easy entered Bavaria in early May 1945. They found Hitler's Eagle's Nest virtually deserted. He was lying on the floor with a bullet hole in his head. They were ordered to maintain their position. The Germans surrendered. Herman Gehrig's house contained more than 10,000 bottles of liquors and wines. The troops were told to transport it to their "Happy VE Day" celebration. E Company became an occupation force.

The Army awarded points for various things, like being wounded. If a troop had 85 points, he could take a discharge and go home. Those with fewer than 85 had to remain in service at their current station. Their serial numbers were entered in a lottery. One from each company was released. Several troops were killed in accidents while serving as an occupation force.

This set of discs totals more than 12 hours of playing time. Be warned to not order a pizza before starting watching it. The scenes are gory and horrific. But everything is totally believable. The special effects are fantastic. The characters are even more believable. They are fairly unknown, instead of the famous "regulars" of war movies. I saw an interview with Tom Hanks about it and he said that for the sake of realism, they chose to cast lesser-known actors (at the time of casting). No Bruce Willis or Chuck Norris for him.

In my opinion, there are far too many leading actors to begin listing them and there was not any one that stood out from the rest. Every actor was excellent! I actually felt like I was there with them. I did not catch one technical or tactical error. It was all historically and militarily correct. None of them could run through a sheet of bullets without getting hit or make half-mile grenade tosses. They seemed like the typical company of troops, with typical reactions and emotions that you would encounter in the 101st. By the end of the saga, I felt like I knew them and had served alongside them. I most identified with SSG "Wild Bill" Guarnere, played by Frank John Hughes, but that does not mean that he did a better job of character portrayal than any of the others.

The plot flows smoothly and pulls you right into the lives of the troops. You will find yourself laughing with them, feeling their anguish, and suffering right alongside them. In short, this movie will engage all your emotions and leave you with a whole new outlook on the war. I questioned my sanity for paying $87.95 for this set. But it is well worth the price if you have an interest in history, military tactics or war movies. You will want to watch it over and over.

The interviews with the actual veterans will touch your every emotion. Some speak of the funny times, while others speak of the horrors. They provide a well-rounded look at the lives of the troops then and of the veterans now. As you listen to the effects of this war on these men, you realize that this is not a fictional story, but a real life incident. That drives home the importance of what you have just watched.

In too many cases, a movie does not live up to the quality of the book. Ambrose is one of the leading writers in history, especially military history. I have heard many of his fans express concern that the movie would slaughter his book, but this is one case where the movie actually exceeded the quality of the book. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are to be commended for their excellent production of this story.

Please note that this mini-series is available for much less money on VHS. Still, I love the collector's set simply because I am an Eagle and this is the history of my unit.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 12 July 2003

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