The Real Story Behind The 'Band Of Brothers' Is Nothing Short Of Inspirational
The key moments of Easy Company's war story was shared in the 2001 HBO TV mini series, Band of Brothers.
As well as telling real-life events, the drama series also went behind the mentality of the men who were involved and why they signed up, as well as exploring their change of attitude during, and even after, the war.
Here's what really happened to the Easy Company, 101st Airborne Division.
In 1942, the U.S. army assembled a volunteer parachute regiment to jump behind enemy lines. Embedded in this unit was a company of men who landed to fight at the forefront of the war in Europe. That company was Easy Company (part of the 206th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division).
The brave men parachuted behind enemy lines in the early hours of D-Day in support of the landings at Utah beach, participated in the liberation of Holland, held the frontline in the Battle of Bulge and were the first to enter Hitler's mountain retreat in Berchtegadan.
Doing so, the company sustained one of the highest casualty rates of WWII.
The American men behind Easy Company came from all walks of life, but many were living in poverty from the Great Depression. For one reason or another, each man signed up to become a paratrooper. For some, signing the dotted line came after reading about the training in the press. Others believed it was their duty.
In July, 1942, at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, Easy Company was formed. Little did they know that they were about to enter the history books several times over as they were months away from dropping into the heart of war.
The men who couldn't keep up with the training were weeded out quickly. Soon, friendships were formed and the strength of the company was secured.
The symbol of their unit was a mountain, called Currahee, which translates in Cherokee to 'quu-wa-hi'; 'We Stand Alone Together'. Each morning, as part of their training, they ran up Currahee. Soon, they started to run up it voluntarily at night, too.
With no prior experience, they learned quickly how to be soldiers fit for war.
The first jump
Having packed their own parachutes, the men in the company lined up nervously and took to the skies to make their first jump.
Once they had made five successful jumps, the symbolic wings were awarded and the men were considered elites. Physically and mentally, after 15 months of hard training, whether they knew it or not, the company were ready to put their training into practise.
The soldiers boarded the transport ship Samaria in New York and headed for England. They arrived 12 days later.
Preparing for D-Day, the soldiers were penned into a camp in England. Nobody could leave nor did anyone know which day they would be jumping behind enemy lines.
The briefing was detailed, although the paratroopers knew it already by heart. Fields and fields of hardware, planes and machinery were about to take to the skies and head for Normandy, France.
June, 6 - D Day
No less than 13,400 American paratroopers spearheaded the allied invasion. They flew over thousands of battle ships and headed towards Cherbourg, With little time to hang around, the paratroopers were given the green light to jump.
They jumped out and the bullets kept on firing. Many landed in the wrong spot, some crashed into trees and fences and a lot of the soldiers lost their weapons during the jump.
Meanwhile, the soldiers who landed on shore from boats were the targets. Guns were pointed at and fired on the beach. More than 425,000 lives were taken during the Battle of Normandy.
Three miles away from Utah Beach, four 105mm cannons fired from a camouflaged German position. The guns were hidden on a farm called Brecourt Manor. It was controlled by a platoon of 50 German soldiers. The orders came in for Easy Company to take the guns with a squad of 12 men.
Showing bravery and unity as a company, the men attacked the trench and took over the weapon, saving countless lives.
33 days later, Easy Company returned back to England with 74 officers and men. They had jumped with 139.
They had three months to recover, regroup and prepare for the next mission. Replacements were assigned.
Holland, September 17, 1944
Sunday afternoon, and a mass drop was pulled off. Surprisingly, enemies firing at them wasn't their only concern. Troopers were also concerned that stray helmets or equipment would hit them on the head.
Just as they got to the bridge they needed to cross, it blew up in front of them.
Once through the minor diversion, the next morning they were warmly received by the Dutch who embraced the parachute troops and referred to them as 'the angels of the skies'. The allied forces pushed the Germans out. After four years of German occupation, Holland was finally liberated.
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Easy Company crossed the Rhine river and continued to fight down 'hell's highway'.
Nine of the Easy Company lost their lives in Holland.
70 days had passed since they started being on the front line. Physically exhausted, the men that were left only had a few days to recover before their next mission.
Bastogne - The Battle of the Bulge
This was documented as the last desperate action of the German army to turn the tide of the war. On December 16, 1944, Hitler launched a massive offensive into the Ardennes woods of Belgium, which caught allied forces by surprise.
They didn't know it yet, but The Battle of the Bulge was to become the largest engagement in the history of the U.S. army. 600,000 American soldiers were about to go into battle.
Marching through the night, snow came in and many who were without warm clothing suffered from frostbite.
"Mother earth is your best friend," Don King, an Easy Company soldier, explained. "We dug plenty of those." It was the only defence they had. Surrounded, the men were vulnerable and a lot of times would dig a hole and have to move to a new location.
The German army fired everything they had at the soldiers - limbs were lost, lives were taken and all were affected by that specific event.
At this point, soldiers lived day-to-day and didn't expect to survive.
The 101st Airbourne Division held Bastogne, but not without suffering from many casualties as a result. Easy Company lost 15 men.
Kaufering concentration camp in Bavaria
Kaufering concentration camp in Bavaria, Germany, was liberated on April 29, 1945. Before then prisoners, mainly Jews, lived in squalid conditions. Those who were not immediately sent to their death were forced to manual labour. They slept little and barely ate, in poorly heated huts that were part-submerged into the soil and covered with earth to disguise the establishment from the air.
The company approached the Kaufering complex after the SS had already evacuated the camps, sending prisoners on death marches in the direction of Dachau, another concentration camp. Those inmates who struggled to keep up were often shot by the guards, who also killed hundreds when they burnt down the barracks leaving those who were sick or too injured to burn to death.
In the TV series, the realisation on the faces of the American soldiers shows the horror of the situation.
Video credit: Band Of Brothers/HBO
The end of the war
The end of the line, Hitler had fallen.
Germany formally surrendered from WWII on May 8, 1945.
On November 30, 1945, the 101st Airborne Division was inactivated from duty.
Easy Company no longer exists, but will always be fondly remembered.
"When I tried to get up all I could see was the broken parts of my legs. I thought my legs were gone; I'm about to die," said one of the survivors when he re-told the events of when the allied forces liberated Holland.
Richard 'Dick' Winters, played by Damian Lewis in the Band Of Brothers series, served as a first lieutenant during the war (later captain). This was his last interview.
140 men formed the original Easy Company in Camp Toccoa, Georgia. 366 men are listed as belonging to Easy Company by the war's end, due to transfers and replacements. 49 men of Easy Company were killed in action.
We must remember those who fought for our freedom, by telling and retelling their stories. They laid their lives on the line. It is the very least we can do.
The Senior officers Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division: Major General Maxwell D. Taylor (101st Airborne Division CO) (August 26, 1901 - April 19, 1987) Brigadier General Anthony C. McAuliffe (101st Airborne Division Artillery Officer, later acting 101st Airborne Division CO) (July 2, 1898 - August 11, 1975)Colonel Robert Frederick "Bob" Sink (506th Regiment CO) (April 3, 1905 - December 13, 1965)Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Strayer (2nd Battalion CO, later 506th Regiment XO) (March 2, 1910 - December 18, 2002) Major Richard D. "Dick" Winters (2nd Battalion XO, later acting 2nd Battalion CO) (January 21, 1918 - January 2, 2011)
Company commanders of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division: Captain Herbert M. Sobel (January 26, 1912 - September 30, 1987) First Lieutenant Thomas Meehan III (July 8, 1921 - June 6, 1944) Major Richard D. "Dick" Winters (January 21, 1918 - January 2, 2011) First Lieutenant Frederick Theodore "Moose" Heyliger (June 23, 1916 - November 3, 2001) First Lieutenant Norman S. Dike (May 19, 1918 - June 23, 1989) Captain Ronald C. Speirs (April 20, 1920 - April 11, 2007)
Junior officers of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division: Captain Lewis Nixon (September 30, 1918 - January 11, 1995) First Lieutenant Lynn D. "Buck" Compton (December 31, 1921 - February 28, 2012) First Lieutenant Jack E. Foley (August 18, 1922 - September 14, 2009)First Lieutenant Thomas A. Peacock (February 18, 1920 - June 27, 1948) First Lieutenant Edward D. "Ed" Shames (b. June 13, 1922) First Lieutenant J. B. Stokes (September 2, 1922 - February 24, 2013) First Lieutenant Harry Welsh (September 27, 1918 - January 21, 1995) Second Lieutenant Robert B. Brewer (1924 - December 5, 1996) Second Lieutenant Carwood Lipton (January 30, 1920 - December 16, 2001).
Non commissioned officers of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division: Technical Sergeant Burton P. "Pat" Christenson (August 24, 1922 - December 30, 1998)Technical Sergeant Donald G. Malarkey (b. July 31, 1921)Technical Sergeant Amos J. "Buck" Taylor (September 28, 1920 - August 24, 2011) Staff Sergeant James H. "Moe" Alley (July 20, 1920 - March 14, 2008) Staff Sergeant Leo D. "Fearless Phosgene" Boyle (October 6, 1913 - December 1997)Staff Sergeant Charles E. "Chuck" Grant (1922 - 1984) Staff Sergeant William J. "Wild Bill" Guarnere (April 28, 1923 - March 8, 2014) (served as a platoon leader as Staff Sergeant, before demotion) Staff Sergeant Herman "Hack" Hanson (January 3, 1918 - May 15, 1971) Staff Sergeant Terrence C. "Salty" Harris (1920 - June 18, 1944) Staff Sergeant Albert "Al" Mampre (b. May 25, 1922) Staff Sergeant John W. "Johnny" Martin (May 12, 1922 - January 26, 2005)Staff Sergeant Earl E. "One-Lung" McClung (April 27, 1923 - November 27, 2013) Staff Sergeant Darrell C. "Shifty" Powers (March 13, 1923 - June 17, 2009) Staff Sergeant Robert J. "Bob" Rader (October 9, 1923 - April 7, 1997) Staff Sergeant Denver "Bull" Randleman (November 20, 1920 - June 26, 2003) Staff Sergeant Myron N. "Mike" Ranney (November 11, 1922 - September 22, 1988)Staff Sergeant Roderick G. "Rod" Strohl (b. June 24, 1922) Staff Sergeant Floyd M. "Tab" Talbert (August 26, 1923 - October 10, 1982) (served as First Sergeant for a time, requested demotion) Staff Sergeant Joseph J. "Joe" Toye (March 14, 1919 - September 3, 1995) Sergeant Gordon F. "Gordy" Carson (July 30, 1924 - November 13, 1998) Sergeant William F. "Bill" Kiehn (1921 - February 10, 1945) Sergeant Clarence O. "Clancy" Lyall (October 14, 1925 - March 19, 2012) Sergeant Warren H. "Skip" Muck (January 31, 1922 - January 10, 1945) Sergeant Paul C. "Hayseed" Rogers (July 12, 1918 - March 16, 2015) Sergeant Wayne A. "Skinny" Sisk (March 4, 1922 - July 13, 1999) Sergeant Robert Burr Smith (May 2, 1924 - January 7, 1983) Sergeant Edward "Ed" Tipper (b. August 3, 1921) Sergeant Robert E. "Popeye" Wynn (July 10, 1921 - March 18, 2000) Technician Fourth Grade George Luz (June 17, 1921 - October 15, 1998) Technician Fourth Grade Frank J. Perconte (March 10, 1917 - October 24, 2013) Technician Fourth Grade Eugene G. Roe (October 17, 1921 - December 30, 1998)Corporal Walter S. "Smokey" Gordon (April 15, 1920 - April 19, 1997) Corporal Forrest L. "Goody" Guth (February 6, 1921 - August 8, 2009) Corporal Donald B. Hoobler (June 28, 1922 - January 3, 1945) Corporal Dewitt "Alabama" Lowrey (April 22, 1922 - July 8, 2015) Technician Fifth Grade Roderick G. "Rod" Bain (May 13, 1922 - February 5, 2014) Technician Fifth Grade Joseph D. "Joe" Liebgott (May 17, 1915 - June 28, 1992) Technician Fifth Grade John "Jack" McGrath (December 12, 1919 - April 24, 2012).
Enlisted men of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division:
Private First Class Edward J. "Babe" Heffron (May 16, 1923 - December 1, 2013) Private First Class Eugene E. Jackson (July 29, 1922 - February 15, 1945) Private First Class Joseph A. "Joe" Lesniewski (August 29, 1920 - May 23, 2012) Private First Class Alex M. Penkala, Jr. (August 30, 1924 - January 10, 1945) Private First Class Edwin E. "Ed" Pepping (b. July 4, 1922) Private First Class David K. Webster (June 2, 1922 - September 9, 1961) Private Albert Blithe (June 25, 1923 - December 17, 1967) Private Roy W. Cobb (June 18, 1914 - January 1990).
Featured image credit: Band Of Brothers/HBO
Topics: World War Two