Review by Mick Manise, November 2008
I saw this book on the shelf in Waterstones and thought what a good book for a comparison between an original eye witness account, a historian's interpretation and Hollywood. I was not disappointed. The story comes in three parts, the book 'Band of Brothers' by the American historian Steven Ambrose, the made for television mini-series of the same name by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg and finally, the book subject of this review.
Major Winters was a volunteer to the US army in August 1941, he joined as a private but was subsequently selected for officer training and became a '90 day wonder' finishing as a second lieutenant. Shortly after he joined, the attack at Pearl Harbour occurred and the US joined World War 2. Lt. Winters volunteered for parachute training and became an officer in Easy company of 506th Parachute infantry regiment, 101st airborne division. The regiment was known as 'The Screaming Eagles' due to their distinctive shoulder patches.
The story follows the fortunes of Easy company from training to deployment in England and subsequently through the European theatre of operations until the end of war in Europe. Easy company were dropped behind German lines on D-day. Their objective, to capture road junctions on causeways leading from Utah beach. The drops were so scattered that a form of chaos ensued. Winter's landed with no weapons and hardly any men, to find that his company Commander was dead, so he assumed command. His leadership of an attack on gun emplacements at Brecourt Manor, with a field of fire over Utah beach, earned him the Distinguished Service Cross and the incident is used to this day in officer training.
The company experienced combat in the battles for;
- Holland as part of operation Market Garden.
- The Ardennes in the battle of the Bulge.
- Germany, liberating the Buchloe concentration camp,
- Austria, capturing the town of Berchtesgaden and finally Hitler's 'Eagles Nest'.
On the evening of D-Day, Winters a religious man, had promised God that if he survived he would buy a farm and live the rest of his life in peace. The final part of the book describes his post war life and how he made good that promise.
Such a bond was formed amongst the survivors that they kept in touch and held re-union meetings. It was at one such meeting that Steven Ambrose met the surviving members of Easy company and took the opportunity to tape record a group discussion of their experiences. Feeling that there were certain omissions/inaccuracies from this record, Winter's persuaded Steven Ambrose to meet again with Easy company survivors to put the record right. This meeting was held at Ambrose's home and from it he decided to write a book based on the memories of these men as a time filler whilst he was writing his book about D-Day.
The subsequent book,'Band of Brothers', was a huge success and was adopted, in the wake of the Oscar winning film 'Saving Private Ryan', by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, for a television mini-series. The mini-series is true to the book and the survivors were greatly involved, advising the actors playing them and visiting location shoots. The book must have been incredibly difficult to produce accurately as it tells the story from the memories and records of numerous persons, (witnesses always see things differently) and I was greatly impressed by the mini-series and its true retelling of the book. Comparing the two I could not identify any of the usual poetic licence employed under the excuse of 'making the story work on the screen'.
What drew me to this book was the comment on the rear cover that the book told the parts of the story left untold by Ambrose. Consequently, although the book is a good read in its own right, I feel it would be better read following the original book or miniseries. This way the spirit of the book, as a record straightener, is enjoyed.
The book gives a good impression of what combat conditions were like for soldiers of this generation and war in general. It deals with the horror, sorrows, camaraderie, humour and joy experienced by these men and left me with an undying gratitude and respect for what they did in the name of freedom. I can only now hope that if faced with a similar challenge in my lifetime I would have risen to it as they did, but, because they did, I didn't have to!
Author Maj. Dick Winters With Col. Cole C. Kingseed.
The Berkeley publishing group.