An Inspiring Read

01/08/2009
Prior to finishing undergrad, I could probably count on one hand the number of books that I had read simply for the fun of it. Since college, you won’t find me without a book in my hand. I read what I like, and I am always looking forward to the next book that I am going to read. It is still a foreign concept to me, as I went from about fifth grade till the end of college having almost an animosity towards reading, especially for pleasure.

Since college, I have learned that I can pursue my passion of history without having to worry about other things I should be doing with my time. I have devoted my reading exclusively to non-fiction. Just because I have decided to read, doesn’t mean I actually enjoy the act of eyeing words on a page; if I want to be entertained with fiction, I’ll watch it on the screen. So, I have ready books about Lewis and Clark, the American Revolution, the Civil War, a Lithuanian immigrant who survived the holocaust and went on to become a high ranking general in the U.S. Army, the world’s worst dog, among other books. In the past year and half or so since undergrad, I have more than eclipsed my book total for the previous 10 plus years of my life, and I feel that I have bettered myself in the process.

My favorite topic is reading about warfare, specifically World War II. An author named Stephen Ambrose has opened my eyes to a generation that gave everything to give me the life that I have now. From the beaches of Normandy, to the Battle of the Bulge, to the surrender of the German army, Ambrose has devoted his life to bringing these stories to the written page in a way that makes the non-historian cling to every word. That brings me to what has so far been the most moving story he has brought to the attention of the world. It is a book he wrote called Band of Brothers.

Band of Brothers is the story of Easy Company, 506th parachute infantry regiment, 101st Airborne division. The book follows the company’s origin just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, covers their training in several facilities in the United States, and their time in England prior to the invasion of Europe. It details the companies experience on D-Day, their participation in Operation Market Garden—the Allies’ failed attempt to break through into Holland and capture several key bridges on the Holland-German border—their heroic defense of Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge, and their “assault” on Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s chalet in the Bavarian Alps.

The book is an intimate look on one of the finest rifle companies the world has ever seen. You get to know the men of the company as if you knew them personally. You feel like you are there with them as they are training in the darkness, in the mud, in the cold, in the heat. You feel like you want to be a part of what they are doing. You feel a sense of pride for your country, even though each man makes it clear that it isn’t so much love of country that makes him do what he does, but rather the love and admiration for the guy next to him. It is the bond that these men have developed that drives each man to do his duty. Some have said that this bond goes deeper than that of a husband and wife. When you share a foxhole with another man, there is nothing that can compare to that. When you face death, and your only hope and inspiration is that the guy next to you will do anything for you, only then do you have the will to dig deeper and hold on. Stephen Ambrose tells this story as if he was there with them, and those whom he writes about have testified to the truths—not just the facts—behind his words.

This story was put to the screen by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg in a 10 episode HBO series. I cannot even recall how many times I have watched the series in order. It is as captivating as the book and brings to life the stories which Ambrose so eloquently spoke of. The intimacy you feel reading the book goes to a whole new level as you get to watch of these men live out their lives in each episode. The story itself probably has equals, but the fact that this one was told makes it special. The series claimed to spare no expense to create the most accurate portrayal possible, and most critiques agree that they got it right. The series spares nothing to tell the story. It is gory, it is devastating, it is sad, it is scary. Most of all, it is good.

The name behind the story comes from Shakespeare. Henry V was a king of England. In a battle with France in which his army was outnumbered and outclassed, he attempted to rally his troops with a speech that could give you chills, even though the film 1989 portrays the speech in almost a jovial presentation. In the speech, which has become known as King Henry’s eve of Saint Crispin’s day speech, he expresses this plea:

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother;

It is in the same spirit that these men fought side-by-side. It is this brotherhood that brought the men of Easy Company together. It was this bond that tied each the men so close together that they were able to fight on in the worst of conditions. It was this sentiment, the dire need to trust someone when it seemed like the world was literally coming down on them that they were able to look Hitler in the eye and come away victorious.

General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, said of the men who fought on D-Day, they did not do it “to conquer any territory, not for any ambitions of our own. But to make sure that Hitler could not destroy Freedom in the world…But they did it so that the world could be free. It just shows what free men will do rather than be slaves.”1 While he said this while standing on the beaches of Normandy in 1964, this statement applies to all the men who served not only in Europe, but North Africa, the South Pacific, and anywhere where freedom was at stake at any time.

I have read the book, Band of Brothers. I have seen the series numerous times. I have read the memoirs of Major Dick Winters, one of the main characters in the story. In other words, I have studied what I have come to appreciate as a good war story. But my interest isn’t so much in the specific story. It is the appreciation for a generation that has done more than I could ever dream for myself, while giving up so much of themselves. It is for the guy who died in a foxhole, not knowing that his sacrifice would mean that someday I would be able to sit up late on a Thursday night and reflect on just how lucky I am to live the life that I am living.

I have heard that there is no greater honor for an author than to have people read his works. I feel the same goes for those who have gone beyond themselves to serve a greater cause. My tribute, then, to those who given their all is learn their story. Along with living my life the best way I know how, I have made it a point to learn the stories of the men who have made everything else possible.

At the end of the movie Saving Private Ryan, the elderly Private James Ryan remembers what his captain told him the day he died on the bridge. As he lay dying, Captain John Miller whispers into Ryan’s ear, “Earn this.” As Ryan flashes forward to the present, he breaks down, looks at his wife and pleads, “Tell me I’m a good man.” His wife doesn’t hesitate as she responds “You are.” I hope we all are. I hope I am.


1 Stephen Ambrose, D-Day (Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc 1994), p. 582
2887.gifAlex - I don't need to get steady I know just how I feel
01/08/2009 @ 10:36:37 PM
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I've never watched all 10 episodes in a row, but I think I've seen most of them.

Strangely enough, I think I probably prefer watching my non-fiction on TV and reading my fiction. Words aren't bound by the latest in special effects.

From the first time I saw Saving Private Ryan when my dad took me to see it in the theater to when I even just read this here, I always get choked up at that part.
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jeremy.jpgJeremy - I hate our freedoms
01/09/2009 @ 12:29:23 AM
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As he lay dying, Captain John Miller whispers into Ryan’s ear, “Earn this.” As Ryan flashes forward to the present, he breaks down, looks at his wife and pleads, “Tell me I’m a good man.” His wife doesn’t hesitate as she responds “You are.”

Spoiler Alert!

Actually, if I may be captain bring down again, I wouldn't call what the wife does "not hesitating." She's completely baffled by the question, then he repeats/rewords it, then she stares at the grave and lets a good 5 seconds tick by before she responds.
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jeremy.jpgJeremy - 1.21 Gigawatts!?!?
01/09/2009 @ 12:36:02 AM
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Also, to contribute to the theme, I could probably count the books I've read "for pleasure" on one hand. I read Jurassic Park a long long time ago, after which I read a few more Michael Crichton books. I bought/read this book for a trip to Florida, and these two to go to Vegas. I'm not a big fan of Flim-Flam so far, so I'm not sure I'm going to finish it. I haven't even opened the cover on Sagan.

I think though, for the most part, I genuinely enjoyed reading pretty much everything we were assigned to read, at some point, in our schooling, which really did cover quite a few of the classics.

I'll have to read "The Demon-Haunted World" once Sarah starts tax season, and download Band of Brothers for then as well.
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Jeremy screwed with this 2 times, last at 01/09/2009 12:37:51 am
scott.jpgScott - Get Up! Get outta here! Gone!
01/09/2009 @ 07:19:31 AM
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Jeremy Wrote - Today @ 01:29:23 AM
As he lay dying, Captain John Miller whispers into Ryan’s ear, “Earn this.” As Ryan flashes forward to the present, he breaks down, looks at his wife and pleads, “Tell me I’m a good man.” His wife doesn’t hesitate as she responds “You are.” Spoiler Alert! Actually, if I may be captain bring down again, I wouldn't call what the wife does "not hesitating." She's completely baffled by the question, then he repeats/rewords it, then she stares at the grave and lets a good 5 seconds tick by before she responds.


Well, dramatic pause and hesitation are two different things. I think she thinks about the questions only to contemplate why the man she married would need to ask such a question.
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jeremy.jpgJeremy - 8968 Posts
01/09/2009 @ 09:51:12 AM
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hesitation - the act of pausing uncertainly
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scott.jpgScott - Get Up! Get outta here! Gone!
01/09/2009 @ 09:54:57 AM
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yeah, I guess. But it wasn't a doubting hesitation. I could have used a better choice of words, but the idea is still there. She knew her husband was a good man all along.
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fry6beeu9.jpgJeremy - Pie Racist
01/09/2009 @ 10:20:49 AM
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Yeah, though to be fair, she would have to be an awful awful human being to say anything else in that situation.

"Well, let's see, there was that time in 1965 when you left the toilet seat up and I fell in, you were a little too harsh on the kids when they were little, you yelled at me in front of my friends and family at my cousin Sally's wedding in 1975...all in all though I'd say you're an above average human being. Why do you ask?"
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scott.jpgScott - Resident Tech Support
01/09/2009 @ 10:32:10 AM
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right.
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vignette.bmpCarlos44ec - 2078 Posts
01/09/2009 @ 12:24:01 PM
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Watch band of brothers- and watch the episodes in relatively close proximity. Then, I defy you to see the final episode and not get all teary eyed. I still do, and I've seen the episodes back to back to... a few times.
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