Saturday, June 3, 2023

Kicking around Band of Brothers

We broke out the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers over Memorial Day week.  We allowed our youngest (now going on 14) to watch it for the first time.  We typically kept our kids from watching intense shows, expletive laden shows, overly violent shows, or similar until they hit an appropriate age.  And we don't watch movies with explicit sex scenes, no matter what the age. When they ask to see something like The Terminator or even Platoon (there are, after all, varying degrees of expletives) we tell them once they're old enough, they're free to watch them - on their own.  

But Band of Brothers is a triumph of television that should not be denied him.  It's quite frankly one of the best miniseries ever produced.  It's also one of the best war films put on screen.  Yes, it's Hollywood.  And you have to account for that.  After seeing a prescreening, Major Richard Winters expressed disappointment in the series.  He told Tom Hanks that he was hoping for more authenticity and accuracy.  He said at one point they had the men standing around with their helmets off!  No way a soldier with even a brain cell would do that in that setting!   Hanks responded that he knows, but this is Hollywood, not reality.  They had the helmets off so the audience could see the different characters.  Just like they left the 101st insignia on during the Bastogne segments, even though historically Eisenhower had ordered them removed so the Germans wouldn't know they were up against an elite unit.  You have to account for the audience.  Instead, Hanks told him most Hollywood productions teeter around 12% accuracy.  Band of Brothers was shooting for about 17% accuracy, which would make it legendary as one of the most accurate productions ever made. 

With that in mind, it succeeds gloriously.  Coming in the wake of Saving Private Ryan, the movie that brought World War II out of mothball and gave it the full, modern Hollywood treatment, BoB was based on Stephen Ambrose's book of the same name.  It wasn't really a history book per se, but mostly a collection of memoirs, anecdotes, stories and recollections of the men from Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division.  On the whole, with your usual embellishments and dramatic license, the series attempted to stay as close to the stories as possible, and did so admirably. 

Like the 1962 movie The Longest Day, a casting call went out in Hollywood and around the world for any male actor under about the age of 30.  A string of young actors just starting out, but later achieving stardom in their own right, was brough into the series.  Ron Livingston from Office Space (Cpt. Lewis Nixon) and David Schwimmer of the TV Show Friends (Cpt. Sobel) were the biggest names.  Other names like Damien Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Tom Hardy, and James McAvoy would eventually come into their own.

The casting was famously based on appearance.  Rather than acting skills, the casting director tried to find actors who looked similar to the veterans in question.  And in a brilliant twist that has seldom seen its like before or since, the series included interviews with the actual veterans themselves.  Before (or after) the credits, different Easy Company vets are interviewed about the theme of the respective episode.  Their names are avoided, so the audience won't know who did or, sadly, who didn't make it. 

As an aside, I must say that when we watched the interviews with the vets for the first time, we immediately and correctly identified Richard Winters.  Without being told who is who, you know he's Winters.  Even as an elderly man, he had that 'it' factor, that something about him that said 'here is a leader of men, you can tell.'  

Dale Dye was brought in to do his famous Dye Boot Camp for Actors that changed the way war movies are made.  For his 1986 Vietnam war semi-biopic Platoon, Oliver Stone said he was tired of seeing movies where the actors clearly had no clue about being a solider, much less being in combat.  He looked up Vietnam War veteran and Marine Correspondent Dale Dye, who had been trying to improve productions in that area.  The two worked together and ended up putting the cast of Platoon through a couple weeks of a basic training crash course.  Dye drilled them like they were army recruits so they would demonstrate a more realistic performance as combat soldiers.   

Dye brought the same to BoB (as he did Saving Private Ryan), but by now more refined and well honed.  He also turned in a fine performance as Colonel Sink, CO of the 506th PIR.  Stone once recalled how, during filming of Platoon, they needed a company commander.  He asked Dye if he could do the job.  Veteran though he was, Dye nonetheless buckled and said he could handle anything - but not being on film!  Stone pushed back and said just be yourself.  You're you, in war with two squabbling sergeants.  Just do what you would do.  Dye did the job and did it admirably (and, FWIW, provided what I think is the single greatest 'commentary' for a movie DVD I've ever seen).  Since then I'd say Dye has warmed up to the camera quite well. 

When Band of Brothers first aired, it was on the eve of the 9/11 attacks.  The timing couldn't have been better for the series.  Many Americans were already taken by Saving Private Ryan,  since it showed a whole new generation that WW2 was a real war, every bit as horrible as Vietnam.  Then came that momentary burst of patriotism, in which BoB rode the waves to endless accolades, awards, and financial success.  

Of course that, like so many things, is ancient history.  By now all of the men who served in Easy Company have passed.  The country that so adored the production in 2001 has turned its back on almost everything they fought for.  Many young people today (you can find their reviews) revile the series as proof of America as the racist Nazi state it was, owing to the lack of minorities (the various soldiers of Polish or Italian or other descent not counting, since now anyone born west of the Urals is merely 'white').  

A follow up series, a sort of Band of Brothers in the Pacific, failed to resonate.  Politically correct pressure on not showing Japan for what it was, trying to equate the US to the Japanese Empire, as well as being based on fictional storylines rather than actual events, all caused the series to fall short.

But for the briefest of moments, after almost two decades of being overlooked, the WWII generation came back into their own.  For a brief time, they were celebrities again.  For a time that war and those who fought it were remembered and applauded.  Yes, already the press was beginning to insist we remember the segregation, the racism, the evils of America rather than look starry eyed at this series.  Nonetheless, most people watched in awe and realized that, somewhere along the line, we lost something good from what that generation brought to the table. 

Frank John Hughes, who played "Wild" Bill Guarnere, once talked about a day when the vets arrived on set.  Hanks said he wanted the vets in question to have some input in the series, and to make their presence known.  Hughes said they were notified the vets would be arriving, and were waiting for them.  When they arrived, Bill Guarnere got out of the vehicle, and hobbled forward, his leg missing from that artillery shell during the Ardennes Offensive.  Hughes said that hit him like a ton of bricks.  To see Guarnere walking forward as if it was nothing, missing a leg, and greeting him like an old friend, took his breath away.  In fact Hughes, like many of the actors, became lifelong friends of the veterans, especially those they played in the series.  Some of the actors have become advocates for veterans and the military since then. 

Again, different time and different world.  Nonetheless, we watched the series for the first time in years.  As my sons have said, it's a bit rough watching, knowing the country they sacrificed for is on its way out.  Still, it's a good reminder.  It's also a good watch.  So good that I decided to list my favorite episodes from worst to best.  Mind you, by worst I mean worst in the sense of the worst Mozart symphony.  A relative measure to be sure.  The worst episode here flies miles above most Hollywood production today, if not ever.  Nonetheless, as with any series, some are better than others.  The following is my list leading to the best of them all, which is a way of saying one of the best war productions ever filmed.  

Like most of my lists, it is entirely subjective, which means most likely correct. So from least to best: 

#10. Episode 4 - Replacements

James McAvoy as replacement Pvt. James Miller (KIA)

The weakest of the episodes in my opinion. I think because it tried to do too many things.  The title of the episode suggests it's about those replacements coming into the unit throughout the war and trying to fit in.  Most of the pre-episode veterans' interviews discuss their experience with this.  It is told by both vets who were brash, starry eyed replacements and the veterans who, as one says, got to the point where they didn't want to get close to the replacements because they didn't want to see them killed.  James McAvoy, as Pvt. Miller, is the token 'here's what we mean' character for the episode.  Nonetheless, the episode spends only a portion of its time focused on this angle.  It also tries to give a sweeping bird's eye view of the 101st's part in the failed Market-Garden campaign, one of the great Allied blunders in WW2 (though my son disputes that assessment).  And then, to add to the list, it decides to make one of the veterans - "Bull" Randleman - a focal point, giving about a quarter of the story to his exploits when caught behind enemy lines.  As some critics pointed out, Winters was clear that Randleman was hands down the best soldier in the company.  Nonetheless, that doesn't necessarily mean that, on his own, he would be the most interesting.  Plus the fighting in the episode, while based loosely on their exploits in and around the town of  Nuenen, comes off as a bit generic.  That is, the pieces are all there, but unlike other battles filmed in the series, you get the impression it's not a step-by-step retelling.  At the end of the day, this suffers from wanting to do too much with too little time.  Had it been over two episodes it might have been better.  Nothing horrible, just not enough and too much at the same time. 

#9. Episode 1 - Currahee

David Schwimmer as Lt. Sobel dresses down Pvt Malarkey (Scott Grimes)

This is the introduction episode.  If you've seen one 'boot camp' segment in a  movie, you've seen them all.  Many of the vignettes come from stories told by the veterans, such as the bumbling of their CO during maneuvers, the practical joke involving an English cattle farm, the court-martial of Dick Winters, and the CO's trick of serving spaghetti for lunch only to break in and send everyone out on a vomit inducing run.  You have dozens of characters thrown at you, and it requires multiple viewings before you sort them out.  You are introduced to Dick Winters (played by Damien Lewis), who Hanks and Spielberg agreed would be the one much needed focal character of the series.  Winters is a significant character in Ambrose's book, though hardly the only focus, or even the main focus.  Having read the book after watching series, in fact, I was taken by how Winters was often merely one source of many.  In the television series, however, he was chosen because, as a leader, the emphasis would make sense to the audience. Plus, as Tom Hanks said, they knew nobody in Easy Company would object to Winters getting the attention, as he was much loved and admired by his men.  Ambrose agreed, saying that to the men of Company E, Winters was like unto a god.  You also meet their commanding officer during basic training, Herbert Sobel.  The Sobel family objected to the portrayal of him, but the vets all held firm that in this case the portrayal was fair.  Winters himself said that Sobel was the worst type of commander, a petty and vindictive fellow who seemed to get his kicks bullying the recruits.  While he was good with basic physical training, he proved poor with tactics.  Hence his real life transfer before the D-Day invasion.  The only good point about him, per the veterans, was that almost every man in some way owed their survival to Sobel (played against type by Friends alumnus David Schwimmer).  After all, he put them through hell and, what's more, got them to go above and beyond if for no other reason than to 'stick it to Sobel'.  The episode wraps up on the eve of the airborne assault on Normandy, the night before the amphibious landings.  

In one of the more telling scenes, right before they board their planes to fly into action, one of the men - Pvt. Guarnerr - accidently discovers his brother was killed in action in Italy.  According to those around him who remembered the story, his reaction was pretty much as portrayed in the show.  He said he hated it for his mom, but then said it's time to go and get the job done.  Perhaps that old Victorian stoicism wasn't always pure Christian morality, but I can't help but think we lost something in that level of grit, and have gone way far in the opposite direction these days. 

#8. Episode 10 - Points

Pvt. John Janovich (KIA) fraternizes with the enemy after the end of hostilities

This is the wrap-up episode.  It is only after this episode ends that you are shown the names of the actual veterans who were interviewed through the series.  Not all of them.  Mostly just the veterans whose characters were shown in the majority of episodes.  The episode itself merely strings together a series of stories and events into a vague 'winding things down' plotline.  The instance in which a drunken American soldier shoots one of the men in the Company, and how that drunken soldiers is 'dealt with' is the high point.  Otherwise it's seeing this person transferred here, that person going home there, and generally mopping things up.  Though one constant is the fear the men have of being transferred to the Pacific; a fear that loomed large in those final months.  Another theme is how, even after hostilities cease, accidents did happen, as the soldier who was shot demonstrated, or another dying in a car accident.  At the end, the war is over and we're treated to a sort of 'where are they now' narration from Lewis as Winters. Perhaps the high point of the episode was a decision that would not happen today.  To give the obligatory 'this is what the whole series is about' speech, focusing on the 'Band of Brothers' ideal, Spielberg chose to use a German general (played by German actor Wolf Kahler, most famous to Americans as Colonel Dietrich in Raiders of the Lost Ark).  The American characters watch as he addresses his defeated troops, and speaks of all that they should take with them from this bond they have developed as combat veterans.  Again, wouldn't happen today, choosing a German in WW2 to make that point.  But in 2001, finding ways to come together and reconcile was still a thing.  

As a side note, Ambrose observed that a great number of the E Company vets, in the years following the war, took up jobs in one of two general categories.  They either turned to professions that dealt with serving or helping people, or they got jobs in agriculture, architecture, construction, or similar. That is, jobs that built and grew things, or helped others.  As if, without saying it or planning it, they instinctively sought out livings that would offset their youth that was spent among unimaginable death and destruction.  Sometimes I think our obsession with mental health has people being pushed along when, if we just stand back, we might see people will find ways to overcome.  

#7. Episode 9 - Why We Fight 

"Are you criminals?  Nein! Nein. Nein ... Juden."

The most somber of the episodes, it is the 'Holocaust' episode.  This is the most artistic, symbolic episode, and also the one that ignored the vets' requests not to have a gratuitous sex scene.  If I may unpack that a bit.  When Hanks went to Spielberg about doing BoB, he said he wanted the vets to have at least some input.  Early on, he asked what they would like to see in a series that they didn't see in Saving Private Ryan.  There were three things according to Hanks: 1) Please don't act like nobody smoked in 1944.  Whatever the modern sensitives, not showing cigarettes as the gold standard of trade that they were is grossly inaccurate. 2) Please no gratuitous sex scenes.  They'd like to watch this with the grandkids.  Finally 3), could they cut down on the cussing.  Hanks recalled responding with some skepticism, assuring them that people cussed back then.  To which, according to Hanks, they responded that 'yes they cussed - but not like that!' (referring to the endless barrage of vulgarities and pornographic expletives in Saving Private Ryan).  Winters would say in his memoirs that the cussing was most common at basic training, when the young men were away from home for the first time.  But then, said Winters, they grew up.  Sure there was cussing, but it wasn't the dominant form of communications that modern movies suggest. Winters himself said he didn't cuss, not because of some religious objection - though he was religious and, despite being only alluded to in the series, spent most Sundays in church.  He avoided cussing because he knew if he did cuss to drive home a point, it caught the men's attention (sort of like Patton - if they all swore like in SPR, then Patton's famous speeches would have been closer to Mary Poppins).  Nonetheless, this is the episode where it had to fulfill the HBO sex scene obligation.  

The overall episode cuts several corners and, quite frankly, moves events around to have E. Company arrive at a Nazi death camp in a way that fit with the theme and symbolism.  Much of it is therefore 'generic' or fictionalized, with much less taken verbatim from the sources.  Winters' best friend Nixon  (played well by Ron Livingston), who was with battalion (and briefly regimental) intelligence, is the key figure here.  He is shown as a broken man with family problems, drinking problems, a recent demotion, and a low appraisal of himself.  This depression is kicked off by a real event in which Nixon was in a parachute drop with another unit, being one of a couple who survived when the plane was hit.  At one point he stumbles into an opulent home looking for alcohol, only to be confronted by a contemptuous woman, the wife of a deceased German general, who stares him down.  Later, as the citizens are ordered to clear out the bodies from the horror of the death camp, Nixon walks along and sees the same woman dragging the dead out of a mass burial pit.  This time she looks up with shame at Nixon.  Symbolic stuff.  In a purposefully ironic twist, the interviews with the real vets focus on how those vets realized most German soldiers were just kids, doing their jobs.  The evil wasn't them. In fact, as one vet says, in other circumstances they might have been good friends. Wow.  Not the mentality today. Told in flashback, the episode is bookended by the soldiers of E Company listening to some Germans playing in an impromptu string quartet amidst the bombed out rubble of their town.  At the end, Nixon lets the men know that Hitler is dead from suicide.  Pvt. Webster responds that Hitler should have killed himself three years ago.  And in one of the most poignantly gut wrenching lines of the series, Nixon merely shrugs and says 'Yeah, he should have.  But he didn't', then turns and walks away. Such a pithy statement with so many ramifications.  

As a side note, the ongoing joke about Nixon and his obsession with the scotch whisky Vat 69 was true.  Based on the other vets, Nixon was a clever scrounger, and no matter where they were, he always seemed  magically able to produce his favorite drink when needed.  It would be years before he beat his alcohol problem.

#6. Episode 7 - Breaking Point

"Buck" Compton (Neil McDonough) falls apart.  Some in Easy Co. said it was merely trench foot

The second of the two episodes dedicated to the siege of Bastogne.  The focus in this episode is men being pushed to the brink because of the horrors of war.  You also cash in your dramatic chips in that several of the main characters we have followed meet their ends here.  Either they are permanently wounded, or killed.   Sgt. Carwood Lipton, played brilliantly by Donnie Walberg, is the focal point, and he also provides the narration.  The narration is based on Lipton's  own memoirs, with license.  He's the man of the hour and the one who keeps things held together.  That's because as soldiers die and artillery barrages fill the woods and some men are pushed to the brink, the constant question is 'Where is Dike?' That's Lt. Dike, E. Company's replacement CO.  This is one of the more controversial parts of the series.  In the book, when mentioned, it's clear that Dike and the men of E. Company did not hit it off.  Lipton in particular was rather scathing in his assessment of Dike as 'an empty suit.'  But in real life, Dike was a capable soldier who had already earned two bronze stars, in addition to other citations, for bravery and leadership.  When the company attacked the town of Foy, it shows Dike having a complete breakdown and being replaced by Lt. Speirs.  Some, however, say he was hit during the attack and stopped only because of that.  There was no such breakdown.  Most men of E. Company, however, say he fell apart under pressure.  In any event, his decision to halt the attack - agreed upon by all witnesses - was a disaster and almost cost the battle.  The episode gives the impression that Dike died in the battle.  Instead, he continued to serve until the end of hostilities, and served in Korea with distinction, eventually making Lt. Colonel.  Why the difference in perspectives?  That's history for you.  It could just be he had a particular style, one that the tight (and at times full of themselves) men of the 101st did not warm to.  

It's also worth noting from a production standpoint that the scenes from this episode were filmed first.  As a result, to be brutally honest, some of the performances weren't quite honed yet.  Some of the actors were still 'getting into their characters.'  Plus, several of the actors were British, including Damien Lewis as Winters.  And it shows.  In a few scenes they are still working out their American accents, and their line delivery is a bit stilted.  It doesn't last long, and in other scenes in the episode it's much smoother.  Nonetheless, there is a certain 'learning curve' that you can detect, especially upon subsequent viewings.  One of my sons said, however, you might be able to excuse the line delivery since it was supposed to be Bastogne, in freezing weather, and anyone would sound a bit off in that case. 

#5. Episode 8 - The Last Patrol

Compare Sgt. Malarkey to his earlier picture - the price of war

The follow up to the Bastogne episodes, this shows the futility of war, the general waste and, sometimes, shallow reasons for decision making.  In short, the men are being asked to go on patrol and seize German prisoners for questioning.  The problem - per the series - is that this is being done so that Col. Sink, their regimental commander (Dale Dye), can brag to his buddies.  A cost too big to pay for bragging.  You're introduced to a Lt. Jones (play by Hanks' son Colin Hanks), and reintroduced to Pvt. Webber (Eion Bailey).  Webber was a Harvard man.  Per the memories of those in Easy Company, he was a fine soldier.  He did anything you asked of him - but no more.  He was said to be a bit aloof and often distant owing to his Harvard pedigree.  Years later he was lost in a boating accident.  His own memoirs, however, were plumbed heavily by Ambrose for his book.  In this episode, he returns from being wounded in Holland, only to get the cold shoulder from the others.  Why?  He was with them from the beginning, jumped on D-Day and fought in Market Garden.  Ah, but he wasn't at Bastogne, and that's the star on the belly versus no star on the belly distinction.  Only by the end of the episode, after he goes on patrol (Easy Company's last combat mission of the war), does he earn his way back into their good graces.  Altogether a tight episode, enough action, but more focus on characters, and their changes over the course of the war.  As a note, the character of Pvt. Cobb was, per Winters, given a bad spin.  In the series he's the token 'jerk', the one who insults, puts down, and generally spouts off obnoxious dribble, while being nowhere as good as he thinks he is.  Winters admitted that, when he drank, Cobb could be a bit abrasive.  But overall, Winters corrected the idea that he was always like that.   He also added that,  again in Winters' opinion, he was one of the better soldiers in the outfit.   

I must admit I also personally liked the episode because it showed what my dad used to say about being in the army.  Especially what did and didn't get you in good graces of your peers.  At one point Webster goes to Lt. Spiers and objects to being put on the patrol as a translator.  After all, Joseph Liebgott is on the patrol and Liebgott knows German.  Plus there was only supposed to be fifteen, and Webster makes sixteen on the patrol. Why do they need Webster?  Without missing a beat, Lt. Spiers looks a Liebgott and asks if Liebgott would like to sit this one out.  At which point Liebgott winks at Webster and says thanks.  Not what Webster meant.  I remember my dad saying that in the army there was little patience for those who tried to get out of things by hoisting them on others. 

#4. Episode 5 - Crossroads

Their chemistry (as Winters and Nixon)  was wonderful as best friends who experienced the war differently

Another 'it really happened' episode based upon a celebrated encounter between an outnumbered Winters and his men versus a much larger German force.  This one also focuses on Dick Winters and, as can be expected, was his least favorite episode.  He called it silly.  He also strongly objected to the scene that has him gun down an unarmed sentry possessing a cherubic face.  His report stated clearly that the engagement was with an older, armed veteran.  Winters said he never would have gunned down an unarmed man like that.  Plus the episode has Winters experiencing a form of PTSD while on 48 hour leave in Paris.  Winters stated you didn't have PTSD on 48 hour leave.  That wasn't enough time.  You had to be away from combat for a longer time before the visions and the unwanted memories start up.  The actual engagement, in which Winters and a handful of his company destroy two SS infantry companies, is pretty much shown as it happened.  The combat scenes in the series are at their best when they simply take what happened and show it.  Despite Winters' own misgivings, it is a well written episode, and one that zeroes in on more than just 'soldier in a combat setting.'  The story actually sets up Winters as the brilliant tactical leader who is promoted, and then inundated with the boredom of administrative leadership.  The episode opens, in fact, with Winters getting chewed out for not having his reports done on time.  The combat at the crossroads is told in flashback as Winters struggles to put things down on paper.  In other words, great men are not always great at everything.  This is driven home later when, according to real events, the new commander of E Company is accidently shot by a nervous US sentry.  When 'Doc' Roe the medic shows up, he asks if the man has been given morphine.  Winters and his friend Lt. Welsh respond that he has, but they can't recall how much.  At that point the medic rips into them for being irresponsible, as Winters can only display an understandable level of self-reproachment from yet another dressing down.  It's after this that Winters goes on his brief 'fish out of water' R&R in Paris, returning just in time before the episode sets up the events that will lead the 101st to their rendezvous with destiny at Bastogne.  

#3. Episode 6 - Bastogne

Awaiting the cry for a medic.  It didn't hurt that actor Shane Taylor as 'Doc' Roe bears an uncanny resemblance to my late uncle.

I have a soft spot for this episode.  My uncle - my dad's brother - was a medic with Patton's 3rd Army.  That's the one that broke through the German lines around Bastogne and relieved the 101st, despite what the men of Easy Company insist.  We had no way of knowing what he experienced since he, like most combat veterans in my family, spent little to no time discussing his experiences.  In this episode, it focuses on one of the company's medics, Eugene 'Doc' Roe.  According to the veterans, the most important men in the company were the chaplains (shockingly not given much screen time) and the medics.  This episode shows the horrible wringer that a combat medic would be put through, as he must wait while men he has gotten to know get shot, hit, and otherwise wounded - sometimes mortally - and only then hope he has the abilities to save them.  Throughout the episode he returns to Bastogne at times to deliver the seriously wounded to a makeshift hospital.  There he meets two young women, one Belgium and one Congolese, who are nurses.  Contrary to what some viewers imagined, the two nurses were historical figures, not fictional.  Whether Roe actually met them in real life or not is unknown, and their interactions purely the result of the writers' imaginations.  But it allows Roe to reflect on his experiences, and to hear an outsider's view of things as well.  The slow unraveling that Roe goes through as the pressures mount and the horrors compound is brilliantly done.  By the end, it shows Winters' leadership ability when he sees Roe possess the famous 'thousand yard stare' of combat, and tells Roe to go back to Bastogne to get some rest.  But there is no rest for the medic as the wounded and dying are all around.  The episode tries to show the bitter cold, the lack of supplies and rations, and the general misery of the experience as best it can.  And, unlike most war productions, chooses a man outside of an armed combat role to illustrate the theme.  It is a bit better, and more focused then the second episode dealing with Bastogne (see #6 above). 

#2. Episode 3 - Carentan.  

British actor Mark Warren as Pvt. Albert Blithe, who did not die in 1948

When this episode first aired, it was preceded by a warning that the following depicted in brutal filmmaking the horrors of modern, industrial war.  And it wasn't kidding.  Though the results of battle are seen in many episodes, it is here where you see the actual carnage as it happens.  Like no other episode, you see the injuries, the horrible wounds, and the fatalities as they happen and how they happen.  For instance, you get to see graphically the dangers of fighting alongside tanks.  The episode focuses on a character who doesn't appear in any significant way in any other episode - Pvt. Blithe.  It opens with him in a state of shock following the initial airdrop into Normandy. Finally he falls back in as we're walked through the days following the Normandy landings.  Eventually the 101st will come upon the important town of Carentan.  It is here that the 101st got its first big baptism by fire.  They were called upon to attack a defended town, and paid for their effort with many casualties as a result.  The episode stays focused on Blithe, with some poetic license meant to trace the arc that develops from Blithe as stunned, overwhelmed novice to Blithe, seasoned veteran following the battle to take Carentan.  He eventually is wounded, and the text after the episode says he died of his wounds in 1948.  In one of many corrections following the series, it was reported by his family that he did no such thing, but lived until the late 60s (though he never did fully recover from his wounds).  

One of the most celebrated scenes in the whole series happens at the end of this episode.  Back in England, one of the men, Sgt. Malarky, goes to a local woman who does many of the soldiers' laundry for them.  It's one of those scenes that has much unstated buckshot to it.  From the woman asking if he would like to join her for 'a cup of tea', to him politely declining, then catching himself in mid-cussword and reverting to his polite manners, to her asking  him at least to help with the laundry that has been left behind - by the men who died over D-Day -  it puts much into little.  It's good writing, as is most of the episode, and could almost be considered the best of the list.  

#1. Episode 2 - Day of Days

Winters prepares to lead his men in the much lauded (and improvised) attack on German artillery on D-Day

The shortest of the episodes, it is the best because it simply says 'this is what happened.'  Of all the episodes it leans most heavily on the accounts of the men with as little embellishment as possible.  Not that it doesn't combine characters or cut corners, but it's done with an eye dropper if it's done at all.  The episode throws you into the fray, literally taking up where the first episode left off.  Suddenly you're in the planes with the troops ready to jump, with the chaos, explosions, death and confusion that resulted.  It's as intense and nail biting as anything in Saving Private Ryan.  You don't have time to take a breath until the next day with sunlight and the coming of the seaborn invasion.  In one embellishment, it sets up the big mystery about whether or not Lt. Speirs (played by Matthew Settle) actually killed several German prisoners.  That was a real thing, and he was under investigation when the officer in charge of the investigation was killed in action, and the case never picked up again.  Contrary to modern imagining, you weren't allowed to just gun down prisoners willy-nilly back then.  The series jumps on this and uses it as an ongoing storyline a bit more than it was in real life.  Again, Hollywood.  Nonetheless, when it comes to Winters and his men taking out the German artillery battery at Brecourt Manor, it is filmed with near documentary style accuracy.  With only a few embellishments and cutting down for time, it walks the audience through how it was done.  It shows their first true encounter with a German position, and how its effected those involved.  A major focal point is how the men fought to avoid being taken away, even when wounded, because they didn't want to let their fellow infantrymen down.  No cry-rooms or snowflakes here.  It also continues the focus on Winters, and walks along with him until the end.  At that stage, the night of D-Day, Lewis quotes Winters' original promise to himself and to God that if he survives the war, he will get a piece of land somewhere, and live the rest of his life in peace. A promise that Winters, in his post-war years, kept. 

RIP Richard Winters (1918-2011) and all the veterans, and thank you.


  1. So you might say you ranked the episodes from "solid" to "exceptionally amazing"

    (As for the rest, I think you know my feelings are similar.)

    1. I like that. Except perhaps saying 'from very good to exceptionally amazing.'

    2. Ah the old "quality to exceptionally amazing" scale. ;)

      Sorry I didn't read your episode ranking yet because I mean to watch this someday.

    3. You haven't seen the series yet? Stop whatever you are doing and watch it right away! I must confess, I'll forever be grateful that I watched this when it first came out, and watched it with the boys before the rise of the crazy. They may lament the direction of things, but they learned early what we could have been.

  2. So, question for the ‘woke’ who think the lack of black faces in that unit proves their accusation of racism:
    Would it have been better if large numbers of young black men also been killed in action?

    1. Like most things nowadays, they probably didn't think that far out. That white soldiers in America overwhelming made up the hundreds of thousands of those killed is a minor consideration. What matters, and the only thing that matters, is that the military was segregated. Remember the 2021 D-Day article by the WaPo. Before celebrate those veterans storming the beaches, we need to consider how close they were to those German Nazis waiting for them. That's the goal here. Convince as many up and coming that there is scant difference between the US and Nazi Germany. Given some recent conversations I've had, it appears to be working.

    2. And, as unable as are vampires to see themselves in any mirror, they miss the fact that they are actually the fascist authoritarians they pretend to oppose.

    3. I find projection is one of the dominant traits of the modern Left. Their whole premise that I should stop being so divisive and admit I'm a fascist is just one of many examples of the mendacity behind perhaps the most self-righteously judgmental, intolerant and close minded movement in ages that loves to speak of inclusion and diversity.


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