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Band of Brothers

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The story of E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne experiences in World War II makes for interesting reading. Band of Brothers starts in July of 1942 with the formation of the unit and continues through November 1945 when it was deactivated and finishes with accounts of the postwar careers of some of the soldiers. Mainly concerned with the combat experiences of the men who made up the unit, it also details the training and the personal responses to the intensity of combat. The book has the feel of a biography, but the biography of a group of men rather than just a single one.

Even though Steven Ambrose was a history professor, he writes accessible books. Having seen several of interviews of him, I find it hard not to hear his gruff and gravely voice when reading his works. If his greatest strength was his ability to tell the personal stories of people who made history, his greatest weakness is his lack of providing the larger context. This is not a history of any of the campaigns the 101st fought; it is the grunt eye view of the battles. The book is woefully short of maps and those that are present are small and not very helpful.

Ambrose interviewed the soldiers who made up Easy company in the early 1990s and weaved those interviews into the narrative of the book. He points out that often the men gave contradictory accounts and he had to synthesize what he felt to be the most likely version; sometimes he points out where those accounts differ.

Since I’ve never been in combat, I can’t say how well Ambrose captures the experience. But he seems to do a good job. There are plenty of interesting nuggets: The men who parachuted into Normandy and stormed an artillery battery that was raining down death and destruction on Utah beach were going into combat for the first time and took risks that as veterans they would never do again; the men of Easy Company liked the Brits, didn’t like the French whom they found to be ungrateful, lazy, and dirty, loved the Dutch whom they found to be brave, resourceful, and grateful, and felt closest to the Germans who seemed to the G.I’s to be “just like us.”

You don’t have to be a history buff or a military enthusiast to enjoy the book, but it certainly helps.

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