I have now seen X-Men: Days of Future Past four times (I am a balanced and stable human being, don’t judge me) and each time I love it a little bit more (“Whip-laaaaaaaash”) and each time I see the preview for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes yet again and each time the preview begins, I say, “Joe Toye!”
Joe Toye is an Easy Company soldier portrayed by Kirk Acevedo in Band of Brothers and even though Acevedo is only an actor who has obviously gone on to do other projects, he–like so many of the other actors in the series–will always remain indelibly linked to the Easy Company man he portrayed so well.
Before X-Men took over my life, I was in the midst of another viewing of Band of Brothers, which I have struggled to write about before because it is so darn perfect. The opening credits are perfect. The acting is perfect. The writing is perfect. The music is perfect. The story is perfect–and true (…well, mostly). The series tells the true story of a group of American paratroopers in World War II as they jump behind enemy lines in Normandy on D-Day and progress through the war in Europe.
“The paratroops were life itself, life and death and the thrill of conquering yourself by jumping from an airplane.”
— David Kenyon Webster
Part One: “Currahee”
“I will not follow that man into combat.”
— Sgt. Guarnere
The men are preparing for their first combat jump into Normandy, only to be told it has been cancelled due to the weather. They withdraw inside tents to watch Mr. Lucky starring Cary Grant and outside, Lieutenants Winters (Damian Lewis) and Nixon (Ron Livingston) speak of the weather and happy hour and Chicago, the hometown of their former commanding officer, a strict disciplinarian for whom the men had nothing but contempt, Captain Herbert M. Sobel (David Schwimmer).
Two years earlier, the men suffer punishment for the slightest infractions and endure vigorous physical training, which includes running three miles up and three miles down a mountain (more like a hill, actually) known as Currahee (meaning “stand alone,” the source of the regiment’s motto) under this man’s command. Following an intense session of physical training, Sobel berates a private.
“Why are you here, Private Gordon?” he shouts.
“I want to be in the Airborne, sir,” Private Gordon replies.
“I don’t believe you,” Sobel declares. His tone and face are expressionless as he repeats his question, “Why are you here, Private Gordon?”
“I want to be in the Airborne, sir!” Private Gordon repeats, this time louder and with more force.
“You have fifteen minutes to the top and back, and I will be watching you,” Sobel instructs him calmly. Gordon does not move, and Sobel tauntingly asks, “What are you waiting for?”
We do not see this conversation from the perspective of Gordon or Sobel but three faceless comrades watching the scene from a distance. Next, as Private Gordon makes his way up Currahee, we see these same men joining Gordon—presumably not because they have been similarly punished by Sobel but because they are there to support Gordon as a comrade, friend, and brother.
Sobel’s enforcement of the Army’s rules and regulations is ridiculous. He raids the men’s sleeping quarters and discovers countless items that he considers contraband. He holds up a magazine with an image of a scantily clad woman. Pornography, obviously. Contraband! A red tie. Non-regulation clothing, of course. Contraband! One man had 200 prophylactic kits in his footlocker – how in the name of God was he gonna have the strength to fight the war? And why, Sobel wonders holding a stack of enveloped letters, does Private Tipper have so much time for so much personal correspondence?
This query proves too much for Lieutenant Winters, who interrupts Sobel to ask, “Captain, are personal letters to be considered contraband?”
Inhaling the scent from one of Tipper’s letters, Sobel answers, “These men aren’t paratroopers yet, Lieutenant. They have no personal property.”
Sobel discards the letters and then holds up what is clearly a can of Libby’s peaches, yet he still asks the officers present, “What is this?” Nobody answers. “Anybody?” He asks, shaking the can, as if it is so obvious what it is (which it is).
“Uh, it’s a can of peaches, sir,” Lieutenant Nixon offers.
Although Sobel remains characteristically emotionless, this answer obviously delights him as it presents an opportunity for humiliation and punishment. “Lieutenant Nixon thinks this is a can of peaches. That is incorrect, Lieutenant. Your weekend pass is cancelled. This is United States Army Property, which was taken without authorization from my mess facility, and I will not tolerate thievery in my unit.”
Sobel is unequivocally hated by the men, some even going so far as to threaten to kill him in combat before the Germans or Japanese have a chance. Sobel may exercise authority over these men but they do not respect him. Their respect is reserved for another leader, Lieutenant Winters. Winters is a smart and natural leader. Sobel is an excellent disciplinarian but a poor combat leader who gets them “killed” and “lost” in field exercises (which is one of the funniest scenes in the series, headed as always by George Luz, bless him). When the tension between Sobel and Winters reaches such a point that Winters is removed from the men of Easy Company, the noncommissioned officers (NCOs) of Easy Company decide to turn in their stripes and risk their lives because their trust and faith in Sobel as a combat leader is so tenuous. Sobel is eventually re-assigned and Winters is re-instated, and by the end of the episode, the men, bound together by their training and loyalty to and faith in one another, are aboard C-47s, destined for Normandy.
Part Two: “Day of Days”
“That night I thanked God for seeing me through that day of days and prayed that I would make it through D plus one. And if somehow I managed to get home again, I promised God and myself that I would find a quiet piece of land someplace and spend the rest of my life in peace.”
— Lieutenant Winters
Planes flying too low and too fast. Heavy flak. Men are dropped all over the place, scattered far from their designated drop zones. It is the perfect atmosphere for chaos and failure but the exact opposite happens, a testament to the strength of their training, skills, and character. Lieutenant Winters leads a group of men to take out a group of German guns shooting down on Utah Beach, undoubtedly influencing the success of the D-Day.
At one point, the men pass a group of German POWs. Malarkey (Scott Grimes) jovially greets the men, “Top of the morning to ya, fellas. Enjoying the war?” He then moves closer to one of the men and asks, perhaps in an attempt to imitate General Eisenhower who talked to thousands of enlisted men during inspections prior to D-Day and invariably asked each man he spoke to the same question Malarkey asks this POW, “Where are you from, son?”
Malarkey starts to turn and walk away when the POW startles him by answering, “Eugene, Oregon.”
Malarkey is from the nearby town of Astoria (locale of The Goonies) and is shocked and dumbfounded as to why someone from a town so near to him would be in a Kraut uniform.
“Volksdeutsche,” the POW explains. “My family answered the call. All true Aryans should return to the Fatherland. Joined up in ‘41.”
In the course of their brief conversation, Malarkey discovers that he and this German POW grew up near to one another, ended up working the same job twenty miles apart, and finally ended up in Normandy fighting the war on opposite sides. It is an eerie illustration of one of the saddest aspects of war – of how two men, boys rather, with so much in common would, under different, normal circumstances, have the potential to be such good friends but instead, amidst war, they are trained to kill and despise one another.
Malarkey bids goodbye and passes Lieutenant Speirs, who approaches the group of POWs and offers them cigarettes, which they gratefully accept. He even lights the cigarettes for them. The camera focuses on Malarkey making his way back to re-join the men, but he is stopped by the sound of gunshots. He turns around, stunned at the sight he sees that we do not – a sight we do not have to see because his expression tells us all we need to know.
Part Three: “Carentan”
“You know why you hid in that ditch? We were all scared. You hid because you think there’s still hope. But Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept that you’re already dead and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function. Without mercy. Without compassion. Without remorse. All war depends upon it.”
– Lieutenant Speirs, Motivational Speaker since 1944
The men are in Carentan, France, on D-Day plus 6, where they are engaged in intense and costly fighting. Two soldiers enter a house in order to clear it, and having deemed the building safe, one of the soldiers runs back through the house when a mortar shell unexpectedly explodes. The camera then turns, putting you in his position. He hears the muffled voices of his buddies calling his name, “Tipper! Tip! Answer me, Tipper!” His eyesight is blurry. His step is unsteady. He reaches his friends, and even though you cannot yet see his injuries, you can see the alarm and concern on their faces as they stare, open-mouthed, at the sight of their friend. One friend, Joe, tells him, “You’re looking good, Tip. You’re looking real good. Come here, buddy, you gotta sit down.” And then the camera turns, revealing the extent of Tipper’s injuries. Blood is pouring from his face. His left eye is bloody and swollen shut, and his legs are mangled and likely broken. But Joe sits there with him, and cradles his head as Tipper’s blood spills onto him, and he tells him, “You hang in there, buddy. We’re gonna get you fixed up.”
What I love most about this scene is the fact that if you haven’t read Band of Brothers, if you don’t know these men and their stories, then you would believe, based on this scene, that Ed Tipper never made it to a medic station or if he did, he surely died from the wounds he received from clearing that building. But he didn’t. Joe and the other soldiers there had such great love for their friend that they were determined to get him the help he needed – and they did. They carried Tipper to an aid station, and because of their love and determination, he is still alive today.
By the end of the episode, the men are back in England. Malarkey and More ride in a motorcycle and sidecar, narrowly missing a collision with a truck, leading Malarkey to exclaim, “It’s good to be alive!” Later, though, with the orders that the men will be leaving England soon, Malarkey goes to pick up his laundry from a local woman. Having paid her and refused a cup of tea, he goes to leave when she unexpectedly asks him, “Lieutenant Meehan is one of yours, isn’t he? I hope he hasn’t forgotten his laundry.” Malarkey hesitates, unsure how to respond. Lieutenant Meehan was the commanding officer of Easy Company whose plane crashed in flames on D-Day. “I’ll take it,” he says, holding out his hand for her to take the money owed. She asks for more help, reading off name after name.
Malarkey, scenes earlier so ecstatic and exhilarated to be alive, is frozen, unable to move, only able to extend his hand helplessly with his money to pay the woman and stare absently into the distance, reflecting on how many men have been lost since the men jumped into Normandy.
Also: One of the major themes of Band of Brothers is that Lieutenant Winters is awesome. In this episode, he nonchalantly heals the blind because he actually is The Messiah.
Part Four: “Replacements”
WINTERS: I don’t like retreating.
NIXON: First time for everything.
Following the costly fighting in Carentan, replacements have infiltrated the company. One of these replacements is Private James Miller.
Yup. James McAvoy.
(And because everything is actually about X-Men in my life right now: Magneto is in Band of Brothers, too, which I never realized before, partly because I had zero idea who he was the previous times I watched it, partly because he’s not a prominent character, and partly because he’s not throwing his hands up looking constipated while controlling metal all the time. It’s a lot harder to recognize him when he’s not doing that.)
Replacements like Miller are not instantly welcomed into the fabric of the company. They are green and inexperienced, but their opportunity to gain experience arises quickly, as Winters explains their next mission: Operation Market Garden.
“In terms of airborne divisions involved, this one’s even bigger than Normandy.”
(Bigger than your pockets, sir?)
The men are headed to liberate Holland, where opposition is supposed to be light — the Germans are reportedly all old men and young kids — and if the operation is successful, the war will be over by Christmas. While preparing for their jump, a dark cloud appears. It’s Captain Sobel. Everybody pretty much poops their pants. But it’s okay. He’s just a supply officer.
The jump into Holland is near perfect — the weather is beautiful, the men are dropped in the correct places, and there is no German opposition. They are welcomed and loved by the people of Holland. Privates Webster, Hoobler, and Van Klinken wander at night, in hopes of securing nicer sleeping quarters. A man steps out of his cellar, his air raid shelter, and is startled by the sight of the soldiers and their raised guns. He raises his hands to show them he is defenseless. With their discoveries that he is a helpless local man and they are friendly American soldiers, the men engage in conversation about whether the Germans are really gone and how long the Americans intend to stay in Holland. The men have little information to offer.
“Yeah, they don’t tell us very much,” Webster says sardonically.
“Or feed us very much,” Hoobler injects hopefully. The man goes back into his home and returns with jars of food for the men. They trade cigarettes and food, and a small boy then emerges from the cellar and sits down. Webster is softened by the sight of the boy and hands him a chocolate bar from his rations. He crouches down to his level and smiles as he watches the boy takes his first bite of chocolate – ever.
“He’s never tasted chocolate before,” his father tells the soldiers. Oh, to be so innocent (and thin!). The little boy breaks into a smile, prompting Webster to smile in return. “It’s good, isn’t it?”
Yes. It’s the best. It’s what I live for.
Part Five: “Crossroads”
RICE: Panzer divisions are gonna cut the road south. Looks like you guys are gonna be surrounded.
WINTERS: We’re paratroopers, Lieutenant. We’re supposed to be surrounded.
Winters reflects on Operation Pegasus and is haunted by his memory of shooting a young SS soldier. (This is an example of dramatization because Winters said he never thought about shooting this kid as much as depicted in the series.)
Later, during a respite, the men are watching a film. This time it’s The Seven Sinners, starring John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich. George Luz (Rick Gomez), being George Luz, irritates the others by imitating Wayne. “Look at me, I’m John Wayne. The costume department set me up with these great Navy whites…”
“Luz, shut up!”
Jump to 2:05 for the scene (although all the other scenes are great and funny and worth watching, too.)
LUZ: Lip, favorite part. Got a penny? Got a…penny? Got a…penny?
I. Love. George. Luz.
The film is interrupted (“You can’t do that to The Duke!” exclaims George Luz, heh heh) by the announcement that the 1st and 6th SS Panzer Divisions have broken through in the Ardennes, overrunning portions of the 128th and 4th infantry divisions and necessitating Easy’s return to the front line of action–without proper winter clothing or adequate rations or ammo, hence the appearance of Jimmy Fallon, the most bizarre moment of the series.
He’s all, “You guys want some ammo?” Uh, yeah.
“Where the Hell are we?”
“We ain’t in Hell, it’s too damn cold.”
Nope. Ya’ll in Bastogne.
Part Six: “Bastogne”
“He was there when he was needed, and how he got ‘there’ you often wondered. He never received recognition for his bravery, his heroic servicing of the wounded. I recommended him for a Silver Star after a devastating fight when his exploits were typically outstanding. Maybe I didn’t use the proper words and phrases, perhaps Lieutenant Dike didn’t approve, or somewhere along the line it was cast aside. I don’t know. I never knew except that if any man who struggled in the snow and the cold, in the many attacks through the open and through the woods, ever deserved such a medal, it was our medic, Gene Roe.”
– Lieutenant Foley
It’s freezing. The men lack winter clothing. They have little or no ammo. They have no aid station and limited medical supplies, as Doc Roe (Shane Taylor), the central character of this episode, scrounges for bandages, morphine, plasma, even scissors.
A group of men embark on a combat patrol. Doc Roe follows the group but is ordered to stay behind. He sits against a tree, staring into the distance, listening for every sign of what is happening to the men. He hears gunshots and frantic, anguished cries.
One man, Private Julian, is badly wounded. Ed “Babe” Heffron reaches across to him, telling him to stop moving so the Germans will stop shooting and promising him they will get him out of there. The men have to fall back, however, and Julian is left behind to die, his hand outstretched, puddles of his dark red blood sponging the white snow. The experience haunts Heffron, who had promised Julian he would gather his things to send back home to his mother if anything happened to him. Surely no one knows better than Doc Roe the frustration of not being to help a comrade and watching him die.
Roe befriends a French nurse, Rene, in Bastogne. She helps take care of the wounded who cannot be evacuated in a building. Roe is there one day, picking up some supplies, when a seriously injured man is brought in. He helps Rene to try to locate an artery to stop the profuse bleeding. The man dies. Roe throws the bloody rag he had been using to try to stop the bleeding down in frustration.
“You’re a good nurse,” Roe tells Rene.
“No, I never want to treat another wounded man again,” she says, removing her blue bandana. “I’d rather work in a butcher’s shop.”
“But your touch calms people,” Roe insists. “That’s a gift from God.”
Throughout the episode, Roe repeatedly calls Heffron by his surname. At one point, Heffron asks Roe why he calls him Heffron. “You know my name, use it,” Heffron tells Roe.
“It’s Edward, right?” asks Roe.
“Edward? Are you serious?” Heffron says. “Only the Goddamn Nuns call me Edward.”
The final scene shows Heffron and Roe sharing a foxhole. These two men are on the edge, fatigued, weighed down by the deaths they’ve witnessed and been unable to prevent. But in this moment, in this foxhole, they pull each back from that edge.
“Everything okay? Babe?” asks Roe. Heffron is non-responsive. Roe notices an injury on Heffron’s hand and reaches to fix it up. Heffron absent-mindedly holds out his hand for Roe.
“Hey, Gene, you called me Babe,” he says, suddenly snapping to life.
“I did? When?”
“Yeah. Just now.”
“Babe,” Roe repeats in his deep Cajun accent. “I guess I did.”
Heffron laughs and imitates Roe’s accent, “Babe.”
“Heffron, watch the Goddamn line,” Roe snaps good-naturedly, wrapping Heffron’s hand using Rene’s blue bandana.
This (and the following episode) is my favorite episode of the series. I love the shift of focus to the medic, a figure easily relegated to the background. There are the biggest hearts in my eyes for Doc Roe.
Part Seven: “The Breaking Point”
Battling near Foy, Belgium, the men suffer numerous casualties, both physically and mentally as men near “the breaking point.” Central to this episode is the incompetence of their C.O. Lieutenant Norman Dike, labeled Foxhole Norman by the men. (“Uh, 1st Sgt. Lipton, you organize things here and I’m gonna go…for help?”) When he is at the head of an attack on the town of Foy, the results are disastrous. The men are sitting ducks and repeatedly ask Dike what they should do, to which he desperately responds, “I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know!” Men are unnecessarily killed and injured because of his inability to make sound decisions. Martin calls to a Private Webb to fall back because he is too exposed. When Webb does not respond, Martin shakes to move him to action. Webb’s lifeless body falls limply.
Winters, now battalion commander, begins to make his way to take charge of the situation himself, only to be pulled back by Colonel Sink who reminds Winters of his position and that he is no longer in charge of these men. Frustrated and angry because of Dike’s incompetence and his bond with these men, Winters orders Lieutenant Speirs (aka Legend) of Dog Company to relieve Dike and take control of the situation. Speirs runs toward the men, grabs Dike by the neck, and calmly says, “I’m taking over.” Thank God, huh?
The men need to connect with I Company before they slip away, jeopardizing the success of the operation. Speirs (Matthew Settle) asks Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) if they have any sight of I Company or radio connection. No sight, no radio. “Wait here,” Speirs tells Lipton, as he sprints amidst the cascade of tanks and artillery. Earlier in the episode, Lipton, the narrator of the episode, said that Speirs was already a legend because of the stories about him shooting one of his own sergeants and lining up 20 (or more, depending on who was relating the story) German POWs after giving them a smoke and a light. This is where that legend solidifies.
“At first, the Germans didn’t shoot at him. I think they couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing. But that wasn’t the really astounding thing. The astounding thing was that after he hooked up with ‘I’ company…he came back.”
The first time I watched Band of Brothers, I found Speirs scary and intimidating, his actions sometimes shadowed in doubt as to whether they were appropriate or right. I would now consider him one of my favorite characters. He is a fearless leader who protects and, in this case, saves the lives of the men. He is, quite simply, a L E G E N D.
Part Eight: “The Last Patrol”
“I wondered if people back home would ever know what it cost the soldiers to win this war. In America, things were already beginning to look like peacetime. The standard of living was on the rise, race tracks and night clubs were booming. You couldn’t get a hotel room in Miami Beach it was so crowded. How could anyone ever know of the price paid by soldiers in terror, agony, and bloodshed if they’d never been to places like Normandy, Bastogne, or Haguenau?”
— Private David Webster
Band of Brothers, as a whole, does a good job of portraying what these men endured and accomplished in the course of the war accurately. Dramatization naturally occurs. Literary license is often taken to help tell the story. As a result, there are occasional inaccuracies. Some are major, such as the series perpetuating the falsehood that Private Blithe died because of the wounds he received during a patrol in Carentan, while some are minor, such as Private David Webster (Eion Bailey), the narrator and central character of “The Last Patrol,” being portrayed as having been part of the patrol depicted in this episode. He was not actually part of the patrol, but he did witness the patrol, as he manned a machine-gun on the bank of the river during the patrol.
Webster, injured in Holland as depicted in Episode 5 (“‘They got me!’ You believe that? You believe I said that?”), returns to Easy Company at the start of this episode. He discovers that many of the men he once knew as part of the company are dead or seriously injured and he finds that the men that remain are changed, scarred from their tenure in Bastogne and Foy. Their resentment toward Webster is palpable. They do not extend their hands to help Webster into a jeep and even direct him to another platoon. They make sneering remarks about Webster’s lack of need for a hot shower. They single him out for information about the upcoming patrol.
Because of Webster’s actions during the patrol, by the end of the episode, the men help him into the jeep, symbolizing how they have welcomed him back among them. By making Webster a central character in this episode, the writers are able to show how changed and scarred the men are from their action in the Ardennes Forest. It isn’t 100% accurate, there is dramatization, there is literary license taken, but it is effective.
As a side note, Webster, too, is one of my favorite characters, due largely in part to reading his book, Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper’s Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich. Webster studied English Literature at Harvard and chose to volunteer for the paratroops rather than use his family’s wealth and connections to secure a cushy job far from the front lines. He detested much about the army but would not have traded his experiences because of it for anything. After the war, he was able to sell some articles about his war experiences but could never find a publisher for his memoir until Stephen Ambrose, impressed by Webster’s writings and convinced of their historical value, urged his widow to submit them again in 1994, which she did, resulting in its publication. Webster was a keen and insightful observer of the war, an excellent writer who was able to vividly describe the scenes of war he witnessed and make you feel as if you are right there with him. There are few writers I am truly envious of. Webster is one of them.
Part Nine: Why We Fight
LIEBGOTT: So what did you study?
LIEBGOTT: Get out of here. You serious? I love to read.
WEBSTER: Do you?
LIEBGOTT: Yeah. Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon mostly.
Webster’s expression: priceless.
This is probably one of the most powerful episodes of the series. The men are now in Germany, riding on jeeps amidst endless lines of surrendered German troops. The men are tired of fighting, ready for the war to end so they can go home and get back to their lives. They consider the war all but over and wonder why they are there still fighting. Webster, tired and angry, stands up and begins a tirade directed at the surrendered marching troops, “Hey you! That’s right, you stupid Kraut bastards! That’s right! Say hello to Ford! Look at you. You have horses. What were you thinking?”
“That’s enough, Webster. Give it a rest.”
Webster sits down and speaks more calmly, “Dragging our asses halfway around the world. Interrupting our lives. For what?” He stands up again. “You ignorant, servile scum! What are we doing here?”
The answer to Webster’s question unexpectedly arrives later when during a patrol the men discover a concentration camp. It is heartbreaking and powerful as emaciated men lean on another to greet the soldiers, one even startling a private with a kiss of appreciation and joy. Winters orders food and water to be distributed among these starved men. As they begin to hand out the bread taken forcibly from a local Baker, Colonel Sink arrives with a doctor who informs Winters that they must stop feeding these men because they are so starved and will eat themselves to death; they need them centralized so they can supervise their medical treatment. Winters orders Liebgott to relate these orders to the members of the camp. Liebgott does so and having delivered his message, sits and breaks down into tears.
“The memory of starved, dazed men, who dropped their eyes and heads when we looked at them through the chain-link fence, in the same manner that a beaten, mistreated dog would cringe, leaves feelings that cannot be described and will never be forgotten. The impact of seeing those people behind that fence left me saying, only to myself, ‘Now I know why I am here!'”
– Major Winters
Amidst this powerful episode is Lieutenant Nixon’s breakdown. His wife is divorcing him (and taking HIS dog). He’s been demoted. He survived a combat jump when others were killed, and he’s never even fired his weapon in combat. And he’s staying in the only dry house in Germany and he NEEDS his Vat 69. I love this guy.
It also bears note that this episode contains an explicit and, in my opinion, unnecessary sex scene. It lasts under a minute, but it is so unexpected and unwarranted that I fail to understand why the producers felt compelled to include it except for the purpose of being shocking and provocative. Winters expressed his disappointment and disgust at this (and the amount of language, which he stated was the exception not the norm) being included in the series that could otherwise be enjoyed without concern by entire families and in classrooms. As unnecessary as this scene is, I do love the fact that Lieutenant Speirs enters the room, witnesses the activity, and is absolutely unaffected by it. He just wants to know where his stuff is. (“This war’s not about fighting anymore. It’s about who gets what.”) Love this guy, too. Are you sensing a pattern here?
Part Ten: “Points”
“Men, it’s been a long war. It’s been a tough war. You have fought bravely, proudly for your country. You are a special group. You have found in one another a bond that exists only in combat among brothers who have shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments, have seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You deserve long and happy lives in peace.”
With the suicide of Hitler and the surrender of Germany, the war in Europe is over, but the war in the Pacific is still raging and thus is the fate of the men who do not have enough “points” (awarded based on medals and wounds received) to be sent home. Before they receive details about their deployment to the Pacific, senseless deaths, caused by too many weapons, too much alcohol, and too much spare time, continue to occur.
One night, three men are riding in a jeep when they spot two jeeps on opposite sides of the road and a dead man on the ground. Sgt. Grant steps out of the jeep to find out what has happened. The Private tells him the dead British soldier wouldn’t give him any gas, so he shot him, and when Grant asks the Private for his weapon, the drunken Private shoots Grant.
Told by the Army doctor that Grant’s situation is hopeless and requires a brain surgeon, Speirs drags a German brain surgeon out of his home to perform the operation (which he does successfully, saving Grant’s life), while the other men begin their own search for the Private who shot Grant.
Speirs returns to find the Private tied to a chair, his face bloody from being beaten. “Where’s the weapon?” he demands.
“What weapon?” the Private sasses as he chokes on his own blood. (Apparently nobody told this guy the story about Speirs shooting all those POWs…)
Speirs slaps him across the face with his own weapon. “When you talk to an officer, you say ‘sir.'”
The other men tensely watch Speirs, who then aims his gun to fire at the Private. Many of the men, who had also been eager for revenge on this Private who unnecessarily jeopardized the life of their friend, turn away or close their eyes, unable to watch.
But Speirs doesn’t pull the trigger. Instead he wipes the blood, smeared on his hand from striking the man, on the man’s jacket, turns away, and instructs the men to have the MPs take care of him. Speirs, hardened and heartless soldier he may have been at times, has also seen too much bloodshed.
The men have survived Captain Sobel. They were part of D-Day, Operation Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. They entered Germany, saw the horrors executed on Jews and other unwanted persons, and reached Hitler’s Eagle Nest. And with Major Winters’ announcement that President Truman has received the unconditional surrender of Japan, the war, regardless of points, is over for every man. It is D-Day plus 434.
The men play a game of baseball, with Major Winters revealing the post-war lives of some (not all) of the men we have come to know and love over the course of the series. Warning: You WILL get a huge lump in your throat and you will be overwhelmed with love and gratitude for these men. You will also feel compelled to start the series all over again and read every book you can about their experiences and then start the series all over again and then read some more books about them. It is a vicious and wonderful cycle.
“Do you remember the letter that Mike Ranney wrote me? Do you remember how he ended it? ‘I cherish the memory of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, Grandpa, were you a hero in the war? Grandpa said, No, but I served in a company of heroes.'”
– Dick Winters