As a result of Japan bombing Pearl Harbor and the continuous and forceful expansion of German and Japanese boundaries, the United States was thrown into World War II. The United States’ military was forced to mobilize and train civilian troops in order to meet the demands of a multi-fronted war. Stephen Ambrose describes a group of young, white men who are called upon by their country to go into war to fight for democracy. In his book Band of Brothers, he tells the story of Easy Company of the 506th regiment and 101st airborne in the United States Army. Ambrose chronicles their journey through basic training and their arrival in Europe. From there, he goes into the details of their experiences in combat from Normandy on D-Day to Hell’s Highway and the Battle of the Buldge. Ambrose concludes the story and shows the excitement and celebration of the soldiers as they help claim victory over Hitler’s Germany in World War II.
Easy Company travels through Germany and Austria at the end of the war and along with the Allies stake claim to Hitler’s Eagle Nest. Ambrose obtains the details of the division’s journey through WWII by researching primary books and articles of the time and most importantly through personal interviews with the men that lived through the experiences of the war and Easy Company. He learns that the young men are joined together from different backgrounds, but are united under a common goal. It was through organized leaders and officers of the United States Army, which could bring an end to the war. But especially it was a special breed of recruits that”…wanted to make their Army time a positive, learning, and maturing and challenging experience” (Ambrose 14). Ambrose writes that these men were heroes and contained an inner quality, which was above the rest of the soldiers in the war (Ambrose 13-14, 55, 131,194, 229, 236,253, 271).
The recruits came into basic training with the mentality to try and make the best of a very bad situation, that being the war and the possibility of being killed. In order to make the best of their predicament, they set out to learn the most the Army could teach them. Ambrose describes a very detailed account of the training they went through and what was expected of them. The vigorous training that Easy Company went through consisted of learning their role in combat and how to defend themselves. Also, came the knowledge of how to react in certain situations and their particular role and objectives during an actual combat situation. The soldiers were, also, expected to know the roles of all the other soldiers and higher officers in case a disaster struck.
This was a tremendous amount of information to learn in a limited amount of time. Even while in Europe and in the midst of the war, the troops still trained and reviewed their basic training. This was especially important in order to integrate the new arrivals with the veterans. The soldiers encountered some positive situations during the war. For example, when they helped drive the Germans from the towns of Europe and free the citizens there. But most significant was when they arrived in Germany and saw the starved workers in the concentration camps. It caused them to realize why they were in the war in the first place (Ambrose 44, 57-61, 127, 246, 269).
Easy Company’s experiences in the war were a challenge and led to the maturing of the young men into competent soldiers and citizens. Ambrose described the war as a very hardening time both physically and mentally for the soldiers. Physically the soldiers had to sleep in their clothes while withstanding starvation and various types of weather that being rain, snow, cold, and heat. Also, Easy Company did not always have the proper clothes for the situation that they were in. While suffering all of this, they had to be on constant alert of the enemy. Mentally the soldiers had to deal with the constant disasters they went through which included being fired upon, the death of their comrades, and other various mishaps which occurred during the war.
They saw lots of men wounded and killed during their campaigns and came to accept it as a part of the war and many soon learned not to fear death. The war made the soldiers feel helpless in their situation. While living in foxholes and dealing with German snipers, they could do nothing except wait to be relieved or to be shot. There was a sharp contrast between the “nervous” and “wide-eyed” new recruits and the hardened veterans of previous battles (Ambrose 41, 57, 59, 65, 70, 110, 117, 119, 133-34, 144, 171, 185).
In Ambrose’s writings, you could sense that he believed that Easy Company, especially those from the original basic training, were a group of ideal soldiers. Ambrose repeatedly remarks that all of the hard training, discipline, and work the troops went through in their training paid off when they got into the war. At the time, the soldiers may have hated what they were forced to go through, but those tough times may have been what saved their lives and helped win the war for the Allies. Also, their intense training brought the division together into a tight pack of comrades. This comradery led to trust between the soldiers to such an extent that even when hospitalized they would find a way to fight together in fear of being separated. During the course of the war, the veterans of the original basic training session continued to succeed while the newcomers would fail.
Also, the veterans were described as being intelligent and rose to be high-level officers in the Army. This led to Easy Company being assigned to the tough and important duties because it was believed they could accomplish the goals. Easy Company did not have the mental break-downs like other divisions nor did any of the soldiers give themselves any self-inflicted wounds to get out of fighting. Ambrose described this troop as never being on duty while drunk and all such behaviour was done on personal time. Even in the cases where Easy Company failed, Ambrose stated that it was not so much the soldiers’ fault as it was poor planning or bad leadership.
The bad leadership was always replaced by those more qualified from amongst Easy Company. This was the case with the MARKET-GARDEN operation where the division took heavy losses and was outnumbered by the Germans. However, Easy Company was the first entire division to receive a Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation for its achievements (Ambrose 74, 78, 83-84, 89, 96, 113, 122, 141, 157, 190, 194, 207, 250, 282).
The Army has a set hierarchy of authority, which is organized and obeyed by those involved. This organization along with gifted leaders and well-thought plans, also, had a key role in helping end World War II. The leadership began for Easy Company with Captain Herbert Sobel who was responsible for the training and preparing the young soldiers for war. Several times in his book does Ambrose gives credit to Sobel for the training of the division.
David Webster and Captain Speirs were also noted for their leadership of the troops during the war. But most importantly and inspirational to the soldiers was Major Richard Winters. Ambrose writes that Winters was a great leader for Easy Company and very tactical. Finally, another note was that of the overall superiority of American leadership over that of the Germans and was another reason for an Allies’ victory according to Ambrose. In the same way, Ambrose implies that Easy Company was superior to any other division in the war because of the special people that made it up (Ambrose 14, 28-29, 33, 52, 86, 154-55, 213, 224).
In conclusion, Ambrose praises Easy Company for their top quality of fighting in the war. But he also mentions the celebrations and drinking which went on by the men after the battles and finally at the conclusion of the war. I found that such binge drinking to be an odd thing for Ambrose to praise especially during a war. Even though the soldiers were probably just trying to deal with the stresses of the war, it does not say much for the hierarchy and authority of the United States Army to control its soldiers. Even more disturbing was the manner in which looting was dealt with by the soldiers.
This type of action was justified because everyone else was doing it at the time and the Americans saw the Germans as being evil. Not a very good reason to steal from another human being. This hardly shows the positive, mature qualities that Ambrose speaks of when describing Easy Company. However, all and all Easy Company should be viewed as heroes for risking their lives for their country and doing many remarkable things. They stuck together in the toughest parts of the war and through the trust of one another kept each other alive (Ambrose 47, 128, 145, 272, 298).
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