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Revisiting ‘Band of Brothers’ on the anniversary of D-Day

UPDATED: Sun., June 6, 2021

On June 6, 1944, Allied forces launched a counter invasion of northern France, approaching Normandy by sea and, for the first time, by parachute.

Based on Stephen E. Ambrose’s 1992 nonfiction book of the same name, Steven Spielberg’s 2001 HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” is a dramatized account of the exploits and heroism of the U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to Easy Company of 101st Airborne Division during World War II.

It’s the kind of show that makes you want to go back and read the book. And once you’ve read it, you’re going to want to read it again.

“We were in a store, and a guy in that store told us to put our uniforms on,” veteran Joseph Lesniewski says during the first pre-episode interview. “‘What the hell are you talking about?’ and he says, ‘The USA is in a war with Japan.’ We couldn’t believe it.”

Military recruiters scoured the country picking up men in droves.

“It wasn’t like Korea or Vietnam, we (were) attacked,” veteran Paul Rogers says during the same interview. “And maybe we were just dumb country people where I come from, but a lot of us volunteered.”

They were eager to fight. But not everyone was up for joining the fledgling airborne division. Hands would raise for the tank corps, Air Force and Navy, veteran Bill Maynard explains. But when they started asking for airborne volunteers, very few of the men even knew what it was.

“The guy says, ‘Well, you jump out of airplanes, you got all your equipment, and you jump out of airplanes to fight the enemy,’” Maynard says. “Nobody put up their hands.”

But when the recruiter mentioned the pay was double what they would get anywhere else, Maynard’s hand shot up – $100 a month and the ability to fight for his country were all he needed to face jumping out that door.

The first episode recounts the rigorous training the airbornes were expected to complete, especially the men of Easy Company under the infamous Lt. Sobel (David Schwimmer), whose insufferable but effective training schedule mostly involved running Mount Currahee “three miles up, three miles down.”

Luckily for Easy Company, Sobel’s next in command, Lt. – and eventually Major – Richard Winters (Damien Lewis) had the respect of the men and the ability to hold them together even at the worst of times.

The name of the mountain, “Currahee,” which roughly translates to “we stand alone,” summarized what was required of every airborne infantryman parachuting into enemy territory. It would become Easy Company’s rallying cry.

After earning their “jump wings” at Toccoa, Easy Company deployed to the south of England for field exercises, and, of course, to wait for orders to continue on to France.

Over the course of 10 episodes, the series follows Winters from jump training at Camp Toccoa in Georgia to England, France, Belgium and Holland through to the war’s end in Germany, by which time Easy’s legacy as one of if not the finest company in the 101st Airborne had long been secured.

“Band of Brothers” garnered six Emmy Awards, and Tom Hanks and Ambrose served as executive producers alongside Spielberg. It is available on HBO Max.

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