Well, I kind of read Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose accidentally. How do you read a book accidentally, you ask? I wasn’t supposed to read it. I’m still deep in the middle of reading as a judge for various contests and scoring the entries. I need to get all of those books—you know, the ones I’m not allowed to write about here—read before strict deadlines. But then I watched the miniseries Band of Brothers a few weeks back, realized I could get the book second hand on Amazon for a penny, and, well, the rest is history.
And you might think I mean that literally. Band of Brothers is a history book, after all. It’s non-fiction, the story of Easy Company of the 506th regiment of the 101st airborne and their exploits in WWII. It follows the men from the day they signed up and went through basic training through Normandy and Holland and the Battle of the Bulge, on to Germany and beyond the end of the war to where their lives all were in 1990 when Ambrose originally wrote the book. So it’s a history book, right?
No, folks, this is a love story! It is perhaps the greatest love story I’ve read in a long, long time. The bonds that were formed between the men of Easy Company go far beyond the closeness of romance or what we think of as love in fiction. As Ambrose so eloquently explains, the connection that forms between soldiers in combat is something that can hardly be described to people who have never experienced it. It goes beyond just friendship, beyond the feeling of being brothers. It is deeper and more meaningful and soul-felt than the connection between lovers. This is love in its purest sense.
The thing is, even though Band of Brothers is a non-fiction account of three very specific years in our history, it actually unfolds like an epic novel. You have a glimpse of what normal is to start, then a call to action, then preparation for the hero’s journey followed by the journey itself. You have great triumphs and heartbreaking set-backs. The story contains suffering and unimaginable loss. Some of the best characters get killed off. Ultimately, though, our heroes triumph, not only in the war, but for almost all of them, in life after the war too.
As a novelist, there were so many things in this account of Easy Company that I can learn from to improve my craft. If nothing else, Ambrose has shown that amazing stories and epic events can and have happened to ordinary, real-life men. He shows that brilliance can be crafted from well-chosen sentences and that the words of the characters themselves (letters and diary entries by the men) can paint as vivid a picture as any narration.
But mostly, as when I watch the HBO series, I come away from this book with a profound sense of respect and awe for these men who gave so much to this country. I’m not at all patriotic, I’ll admit, but I do believe in GOOD and doing what’s right. These men exemplify everything that I esteem. And honestly, even though he served in the Pacific as a Sea-Bee, these men remind me of my beloved Granddad (who passed away far too soon when I was only 8). Reading about these guys brought home the sense of dignity and righteousness (the good kind) that I always felt when I was around my Granddad.
I would have loved to have met Dick Winters, who passed away I think two years ago January, and Bill Guarnere, who died just this past February and was the reason I started watching the series again. In fact, according to Wikipedia, there are only 18 Easy Company men still with us, all old men now. But, holding to the religious beliefs I have, I imagine that the guys are all slowly coming back together again in the Hereafter…and throwing one heck of a party each time another one joins up on the other side.
Read this book! You will not regret it!
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