Over a period of two years, Mark Cowen and his crew travelled to 30 U.S. and ten European cities, to interview the veterans of Easy Co. The stories, told by the veterans themselves, create a history of the Second World War from the point of view of this heroic company of men, made famous in the mini-series Band of Brothers. Written by
I'm very glad they made this documentary about the training and battles of Easy Company, 101st Airborne Division, between 1942, when the division was formed and 1945, when the end of the war found the men at Berchtesgaden, Hitler's peace-time retreat.
There is some newsreel footage but no reenactments; no narration, just the odd printed title to keep us in the right place and time. Most of the footage is taken up with comments by the surviving members of Easy Company, now old but still carrying memories that seem as fresh to them as they do to the viewer. Some of the men choke up but no one breaks down on camera.
I'm glad the film was made because it was necessary to get some of these recollections into the archives right now. All the speakers are aged and won't be with us much longer. I'm glad too because despite their occasional bravado, the justifiable pride and the resultant solidarity, the men aren't foolish enough to talk about glory or defending the world from Naziism. Their commentary shows that for each of them their part in the war was a highly personal business. They were scared and saw their comrades die beside them. The film had to be made to remind us that war, even when it's won, is an evil creation.
Because the point of view is that of the paratroopers themselves, some of the more general details of their engagements are lost. They speak of jumping into the night over Normandy on D Day and having their equipment, including weapons, torn off by the shock of the chute's opening. They don't seem to realize that, though they themselves had been thoroughly trained, the pilots of the C-47s were not.
When the anti-aircraft fire became hot, the airplanes picked up speed and jinked all over the place trying to avoid it, a pointless maneuver. Most of the jumpers landed miles from their drop zones and some landed in Rommel's flooded fields and were drowned before they could disengage their harnesses. The British parachute harness was released with a single click, like a safety belt, while the American version took roughly thirty seconds to escape from. Of course, the only comments we hear come from those whose landings were successful. Almost half of the men were lost during the month spent in Normandy.
Three months of recuperation, training, and replacements, and the next jump was over Holland in Operation Market Garden. The daytime jump was perfect. The operation was a failure due to hasty planning, German resilience, and bad luck.
Next engagement, Bastogne, the village in the center of the Battle of the Bulge. The 101st had been sent to a nearby part of the line for rest after spending seventy days fighting in Holland. The relief didn't last. When the Germans launched their last offensive, the 101st were called in to hold Bastogne, and they did until relieved.
They came home to ordinary lives after undergoing unimaginable stress.
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