Record year for military suicides, new wingman policy due to rape

This has got to stop.

It’s amazing to me that we’ve only been monitoring military suicide rates since 2001, so who knows how many of our service men and women have taken their own lives? Further disturbing news has just been made, however: this year will mark the most suicides in the military since those records have been kept at all. The rate is horrifying: faster than one person per day.

And on top of that, while the numbers of homeless vets have declined in recent years, the fact remains that we have 68,000 homeless vets, with thousands of them suffering from at least one chronic health condition. How have we allowed this to happen to the service people that most Americans claim to love so dearly?

And, of course, while everyone is up Pretraus’s butt right now (eye roll), nobody seems very concerned about the fact that women in the military have an astronomically high chance of getting raped not by enemy combatants, but by their own instructors and fellow servicemen. In 2010, there were about 19,000 instances of military rape alone.

In fact, the Air Force has a new “wingman” policy requiring all trainees at one facility after it was discovered that 48 trainees had been sexually assaulted by instructors. If you’re raped in the military, of course, your chances of getting justice are extremely unlikely.

That’s right, folks; sign up for the military because there are awesome benefits to be had—school, training, travel, medical care! And don’t forget the suicide, rape and homelessness. We talk a lot about how our education system is so screwed up—and I’ll agree wholeheartedly, especially on the political end—but it sure looks like we’re running our military like Lord of the Flies as well. These statistics of violence do not even include the injuries and fatalities sustained while on active duty in the first place!

There is something wrong here, and from the people I know who serve, I also know that once home from service, even if you’re not suffering from a loss of limb or life, you’re likely to suffer from PTSD if you served in a war zone—and the help available to you is utter crap. I am positive we have walking time bombs among us who are ready to explode at any moment that our very government trained in the first place—and when they do, they will be blamed, and end up in jail if suicide doesn’t come first.

It’s time to start diverting those millions of dollars the Pentagon just can’t seem to account for every year into helping our service people who suffer and die for us! How about we give them an audit, America?

The Steel Wave by Jeff Shaara

Volume II of Shaara's trilogy about WWII in Europe

Off the coast of Normandy, within the cramped confines of a Royal Navy midget sub, a three man commando team makes its final preparations before their mission is away.

The midget then surfaces, the team slipping over the side one by one. They swim to their objective: a beach. Gathering together, their leader quietly says to them "Time to go to work, gents. Welcome to Omaha Beach." Their mission: Gather rock and soil samples to see whether or not the beach can sustain movement of tanks, trucks, etc.

Armed only with knives, they set about their task in the pitch black darkness. That is how the first chapter in Jeff Shaara's historical novel The Steel Wave begins.

The Steel Wave is the second book in a trilogy about World War Two in Europe which came after The Rising Tide and before No Less Than Victory. While the characters in this instance are fictitious everymen, they are authentically crafted from the historical records of such pre-D-Day forays.

The bulk of the characters, however, apart from some fictional Grenadiers of the German 352nd Division, are historical.

The main focus is on Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, a paratrooper Sergeant, Jesse Adams, of the 82nd Airborne, Private Tom Thorne of the 29th Infantry division, and last but not least, General George S. Patton Jr. Other figures such as Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, General James Gavin, and many others make appearances via their interactions with the three generals and Sergeant Adams.

Shaara takes time before plunging the reader into the past by including a note for the reader at the beginning describing what the novel is (a dramatic work depicting the events surrounding D-day and the Normandy campaign) and what it is not (a blow-by-blow textbook documenting of them), then continues his orientation with a list of historical sources, and an introduction describing the world situation and the events leading up to the formulation for the plans for Operation Overlord.

Shaara's talent for bringing historical figures to life is nothing short of miraculous. Ike, Rommel, and Patton have been the subject of many books and films; but only Shaara's novel, in my opinion, delves the deepest into their characters, bringing them to life with uncanny accuracy and humanity.

Even George C. Scott's memorable portrayal of Patton is given a run for its money by Shaara's literary dramatic take on the man. One in which he is able to utilize in full all the available historical resources about Patton such as the general's diaries, assets unavailable to the screen writers for Patton. Who had to make do with only two books as their research material: Omar Bradley’s A Soldier’s Story, and Ladislas Farago’s Patton: Ordeal and Triumph.

What is more, Shaara's depiction of Patton's alleged faux pas involving failing to mention the Russians during a speech at Knutsford, England, in the months leading up to the invasion is far more accurate than the version done for the famous George C. Scott biopic: it turns out Patton did mention the Russians but not all the members of the press present took it down!

Shaara does not neglect the grunts-eye view of combat, either, a view largely seen via the eyes of Jesse Adams. (Who, along with Ike, Patton, and Rommel, appeared in The Steel Wave). Tom Thorne's appearance is brief, but compelling, cast into the maelstrom at Omaha Beach at H-hour on D-Day with a devastating twist at the end of his tale.

Shaara goes on past D-day to cover the whole Normandy campaign, closing with the tragic suicide of Erwin Rommel in September of 1944 after he was falsely accused of plotting against Hitler's life and given the choice of either prison, or suicide.

Shaara's prose is crisp and to the point, containing no cloying amount of details which might confuse readers not inclined towards history; and it is prose which carries the reader into the past to relieve one of the greatest dramas that ever unfolded upon the world's stage.

Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara

The prequel to "The Killer Angels"

In this novel, Jeff Shaara entered the world of famous authors in a debut work that is a tour de force of literature that also deftly sets the stage for his father Michael’s timeless classic The Killer Angels, which featured a cross-section of historical participants at the battle of Gettysburg as the lead characters, two of whom –Robert E. Lee and Joshua L. Chamberlain- return in Gods, in which they are joined by Union general Winfield Scott Hancock and the legendary Confederate general Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.

Also making appearances in the novel are historical personalities like Jefferson Davis, Winfield Scott, John Brown, James Longstreet, Albert Sidney Johnston, George McClellan, and Ambrose Burnside, as well as separate chapters featuring generals William Barksdale, Oliver Otis Howard, and Jeb Stuart at crucial points in the tale such as the battle of Chancellorsville in the case of Howard and Stuart.

The novel covers from November of 1858 to June 29th, 1863, covering a sweeping panorama of events that include John Brown's raid, secession of the southern states, First and Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and the death of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, interspersed with quieter, introspective, day-to-day life moments.

Shaara's vivid battle scenes include keen studies of courage under fire such as that which Joshua Chamberlain displays as he endures the horrors of assaulting the fateful Sunken Road before Mayre's Heights at Fredericksburg, then huddling on the field afterward hiding behind dead bodies calling out for his brother to see if he is safe, at last receiving a reply of "Lawrence!" from Tom on another end of the bloody field.

Dominant among the four main characters is Jackson. Ably depicted by Shaara as not only a fiery, determined general but also a kind, loving, pious, honorable man devoted to his wife, Anna. When I read Jeff's moving depiction of his death from pneumonia after surviving losing his right arm to friendly fire at Chancellorsville, dying after saying the immortal words "Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.", I could not help but be deeply moved. Southern or not, Jackson is still an American and a man whose life was cut tragically short. Even though his death, in an ironic twist of fate, helped ensure America would be reunited with his superb generalship no longer available to the Confederacy.

Since this is Jeff’s first “take” on the Civil War, there are a few minor glitches. For example, the Irish Brigade is depicted as having all their green flags with them at Fredericksburg; actually, only one regiment had one at that point in time prior to the arrival of new banners for each regiment to replace worn out ones. Jeff also depicts General George McClellan as being relived while at a reception in with his officers in a house; in real-life “Little Mac” was alone in his tent penning a letter to his wife Ellen when he got the word he was out of a job as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Finally, Jeff goofs by having Robert E. Lee say “It is well that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it.” While watching the legendary Confederate gunner John Pelham firing two cannons at the Union troops massed on the right flank at Fredericksburg; as correctly depicted in the movie version, Lee said those words as a result of the butchery before the very same stone wall on the left flank that Win Hancock’s division and the 20th Maine suffer so badly before as they fail to cross it smashed to earth by hails of lead and cannon shot.

All that kind of nit-picky jazz aside, though, it is still a marvelous read.

If you have seen the excellent (and unfairly maligned) movie version of Gods And Generals, don't forget to read the novel too!


Custer: The controversial life of George Armstrong Custer by Jeffry Wert

A balanced biography of the legendary pony soldier.

George Armstrong Custer! How many books have been written about this most controversial historical figure? Mountains of them, most dealing with either his last battle or his entire career on the Great Plains as opposed to his whole life or sterling Civil War generalship which in the opinion of this writer ranks him among the likes of Jeb Stuart, Joe Wheeler, James H. Wilson and Custer's patron Phil Sheridan as one of the best of the very best horse soldiers of the blue and the gray.

Ever since the news broke of his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Custer's public image has gone from hero, to villain, to just a tarnished image lingering on the national memory revered by some, reviled by some, treated indifferently by most, for by now as Jeffry Wert points out in his biography, Custer now seems to be a symbol drained of all substance.

In the pages of this biography, you can discover Custer the human being as opposed to Custer the empty symbol. Wert deftly chronicles Custer's life from birth to death in an engaging writing style that is engrossing and engaging but at the same time not cloying or stilted, backed up by solid research complete with footnotes and a list of sources.

Wert brings to the forefront facts that are either buried in the back chapters of other Custer tomes or not mentioned at all.  Such as that his first love was not Elizabeth Bacon but Mollie Holland, a girl from Monroe, Michigan whom he romanced during his West Point cadet days. 

And speaking of West Point, it turns out Custer got to be the last of the class of 1861 not so much due to his carefree attitude towards academia and military discipline but due to the fact that two southern cadets below him in the class resigned to return home after their states seceded, making Custer the "class goat" by default.

Indeed, his only truly serious infraction of West Point rules was failing to break up a fight between two cadets towards the end of Custer's final year of school which led to a court-martial and delay in going to join his unit at the front.  Nevertheless, Custer was released in time to take part in the battle of First Bull Run as a newly minted Second Lieutenant of the U.S. Army.

After reading of Custer's meteoric rise to a major general of volunteers by wars end, beloved by the men of his first command, the Michigan Cavalry brigade, and the second, the Third Cavalry division, one cannot help by be impressed by how good a general he was.  A general who was a far cry from the "glory hunter" who simply charged the enemy each time and did not care for the losses as Custer's critics have long argued. 

Wert also thoroughly covers Custer's time in Texas with his final cavalry command as a general which was marked by unrest in the volunteer cavalry units from the western armies that he lead there which were itching to return home rather than watch the Mexican border for signs of the forces of French-backed emperor Maximilian as well as Custer's command of the fabled Seventh Cavalry on the Great Plains.

On a personal level, Wert delves into Custer's passionate marriage to Elizabeth Bacon Custer, debunking along the way allegations that Custer had relations with his Negro cook during the war and even argues convincingly that it was more likely George's unmarried younger brother Tom who was the lover of the Cheyenne woman named Mo-Na-Se-Tah after the battle of the Washita in 1866.

As far as the final act of Custer's life, Wert advances the theory that Custer's main objective during his last battle was the capture of the women and children located in the far end of the camp at Little Big Horn.  A capture Custer knew would force the surrender of the Indian warriors.

However, the Everywhere Spirit, whom the Cheyenne had warned Custer would kill him if he came after them again, manifested in the warriors led by Crazy Horse and Gall, awaited him at Last Stand Hill instead,   Leaving behind a mystery and a legacy that continues to linger in memory even today.

Wert engages in no hagiography, but he is fair and even handed in his conclusions about G.A.C.  A fact that in my opinion makes his biography required reading for all who are interested in the life and times of “the boy general.”

Mutiny on the Bounty, by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall

The classic 1932 novel about the famed mutiny.

First published in 1932, Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall's novel was a huge critical and commercial success that has seen no less than two film adaptations.  The 1935 version starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable the most famous, and the 1962 adaptation starring Marlon Brando the most infamous due to cost overruns and the unpredictable antics of its star.  

The novel is narrated by the fictional Roger Byam, an admirer of the famous explorer Captain James Cook.  Byam is thrilled to meet a naval lieutenant named William Bligh, who once sailed with Cook, during Bligh's visit to the Byam estate for dinner with Roger and his mother.

After dinner, Bligh offers Byam the chance of a lifetime: to join ship as a midshipman aboard a Royal Navy vessel Bligh will be commanding that is scheduled to sail for Tahiti to collect breadfruit plants there and take them to be introduced into the West Indies.   Byam eagerly accepts.

Then, at the behest of family friend and philanthropist Sir Joseph Banks, who is funding the expedition, Byam is also assigned to compile during the ships stay in Tahiti a dictionary of grammar spoken by the natives who live there.  A task Banks knows Byam would be well-suited for.

The big days soon arrives.  Byam bids his beloved mother (his only living parent) farewell,  reports to Bligh's ship, and as soon as the fickle winds allow the ship to depart, sets off to see with his own eyes the lands Cook saw, to help bring a new crop into England's Caribbean colonies, and to bring back to England knowledge of the Tahitian language.

True, the food aboard ship is less than what he is used to back at home, and the quarters are somewhat cramped, but Byam soon learns to adapt to them.

There is an even bigger catch, though, one which bodes ill-well for all aboard her: the ship is none other than His Majesty's Armed Vessel Bounty.

Byam will soon experience a lot more adventure than he'd bargained for when rebellion suddenly occurs one day out of the blue on the homeward leg of the voyage, instigated by Bligh’s second-in-command, Fletcher Christian.  From there Byam will embark on an odyssey of adventure and romance that will end with him barely escaping the hangman’s noose when the Royal Navy comes in search of those who dared seize one of its ships.


To the Gates of Richmond by Stephen W. Sears

The best study of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign

150 years ago two armies -one Union, one Confederate- squared off with each other outside the capitol of the Confederate States of America in Richmond, Virginia. This chapter in the saga of the American Civil War was known the Peninsula Campaign because operations took place on the Virginia Peninsula which stretches between Fort Monroe and Richmond bordered by the James River on its southwest side and the York River on its northeastern side; with Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay at its base.

The objective was the capture of Richmond.  However, as Sears vividly narrates, it was a campaign that would fail to achieve that object due in large part to the hyper-cautious approach taken by Major General George B. McClellan, commander the fabled Army of the Potomac.

Ironically enough, when the campaign first began in March of 1862 McClellan faced the equally cautious Confederate commander Joseph E. Johnston. Only the bold bluff by Confederate General John B. "Prince John" Magruder at Yorktown, Virginia that he had more men than he did in reality compelled McClellan to lay siege to the line of defenses Magruder had built along the Warwick river from Yorktown to the James. Buying time for Johnston to be prodded by both President Jefferson Davis and his military adviser Robert E. Lee to send reinforcements down to hold McClellan there for as long as possible so nearby Norfolk and its naval base could remain open to support operations of the ironclad Virginia.

McClellan fumbled the ball when Johnston finally slipped away from the Warwick line early in May of 1862, only clashing with hiom in an indecisive rearguard action at Williamsburg. Finally, on May 31st, Johnston attacked "Little Mac" McClellan at the confused and equally indecisive battle of Seven Pines which saw two signal events: Johnston's wounding and the post-battle appointment by Davis of General Lee to command the Army of Northern Virginia.

After that, things would change in a hurry for Confederate fortunes. While McClellan began the Seven Days battles with a cautious probe of the Richmond defense at Oak Grove on June 25th, 1862, Lee attacked McClellan again and again starting at Mechanicsville the next day. Lee did not let up until after the battle of Malvern Hill on July 1st. While the Confederates only won one of these fights (the June 27th clash at Gaines Mill), McClellan's nerve was shattered by the attacks launched by what he always assumed were vastly superior forces. With the inevitable result being he retreated, and retreated. He would later boldly claim in an address to his army after he had taken it to Harrison's Landing on the James after giving Lee a sharp repulse at Malvern Hill that it had been merely a "change of base." This fancy literary footwork caused the Southerners no end of merriment when they read it.

Sears narrates the entire sweep of the campaign from conception to failure with a crisp prose that seamlessly weaves into it the words of those who were there, from generals to privates, and private citizens to presidents. In fact, his text is so good it is hard to tell you are reading a history book! Nevertheless, his bibliography is extensive and his footnotes well detailed.

My only complaint is how whenever he describes a certain battlefield like, say, Seven Pines, the maps related to those clashes of arms are not hard on the heels of the description. Making it somewhat hard to follow just who was going where and what the deployments were. I also do not agree with his verdict that James Longstreet was responsible for the Confederate mix-up at Seven Pines; but that is a matter of opinion, and so it is not a flaw in the book.

Overall, I cannot recommend this book enough. It is a must read for Civil War buffs, especially those who want to deepen their understanding of the events that took place on the Virginia Peninsula 150 years ago.



Book Look: Willie & Joe: Back Home

A look at the collection of Bill Mauldin's "Back Home" cartoons


We have all seen the photo in his dress blues smooching a nurse in white as everyone in New York City’s Time’s Square parties hardy upon the news that the war with Japan –and World War 2 as a whole-was now over.

Contrast this image with the Bill Mauldin cartoon reproduced in this book where two bearded, hollow-eyed combat veterans (plus a clean-shaven one with equally hollow eyes) just back home on a pier listen to a civilian gush about the pleasures of V-J Day and how they should have been there for it.  The look in the combat men’s eyes speak volumes about the point argued by Todd DePastino in his introduction to this book: none of the American military personnel out partying on V-J such as the sailor in the famous photo had ever been overseas, much less been in combat; and that the few combat men home did not go out and join the party due to survivor’s guilt.

While Pastino perhaps cuts things a bit too fine here here (I know of a combat-hardened fighter pilot who flew with the famed “Pappy” Boyington who recalls in the book Once They Were Eagles that he had a pleasant VJ Day) it still is a valid argument when one contemplates the Bill Mauldin cartoon mentioned above that he drew which contrasts the vast gulf between feelings felt by those at home and those that had been to hell and back (it can be found on page 42.)

Interestingly enough, while this collection’s title touts “Willie and Joe” in it, Bill’s fabled cartoon dogfaces now back in civilian life with the debut of Bill’s “Back Home” comic strip on July 31st, 1945 (in which Willie and Joe can’t get a lift from an officer whose car is listed as belonging to “Fort Flux.”)  only regularly appeared for a short time until they all but faded out of the strip when Bill switched more and more to an editorial stance which lashed out at the likes of the Ku Kux Klan (for which I think Bill ought to be given a posthumous award: I hate the KKK!), corrupt politicians, the stuffy inflexibility and excesses of the American Legion, civil rights, and “Red” scares that dominated immediate postwar life, among other things.  As De Pastino notes in his introduction, this led to “Back Home” being dropped by hundreds of papers until Bill’s contract was finally up in April of 1948.   I myself applaud him for his hard-line stance against such postwar hypocrisy and admire the man more than ever because of it.

There is much, much more in this book, so much it would take forever to list it out, so instead I’d heartily recommend it to one and all curious to know the full story behind when Willie and Joe came home.

Book Look: Event 1000

A taste of David Lavallee's undersea pulse-pounder

David Lavallee points out in the author’s note at the start of his novel that the US Navy calls its rehersal for undersea rescue operations “Exercise 1000”; should a real rescue mission occur, the designation will change to “Event 1000.”  Thus explaining where the title of the book comes from.

Lavallee walked the walk and talked the talk as both a US Navy submariner and a deep sea diver, giving each and every page of this submarine yarn a crackling authenticity that is unimpeachable.

The plot: one evening in May the USS Lancerfish, part of the newest fleet of attack boats in the United States Navy, surfaces 100 miles southeast of the Ambrose Lightship off New York City and proceeds to head in to New York, New York on the surface.

The officers and crew are businesslike but relaxed, knowing they are almost home.

Little do they know that a fateful encounter with an outbound surface freighter will kill twenty-two of a crew of eighty-three, with death stalking the remaining survivors from illness, accidents, and suicide as delays and difficulties with the rescue result in the crew of the Lancerfish being trapped for weeks on the bottom with the air turning ever stale and the food supplies dwindling to canned goods even as the boat’s reactor keeps on trucking keeping life support systems functioning.

Alas, but the McCann Rescue Chamber (that which saved the survivors of the USS Squalus in 1939 andstill the primary means of undersea rescue in 1971; the year the novel was first published) is plagued with difficulties resulting from the whims of the undersea currents on the downhaul cable attached to the sunken Lancerfish, balky winches, and other frustrating glitches that results in a proposal for the new DSRV manned submersible rescue vehicle being used instead … but it isn’t quite ready for deployment yet although an advocate for it – a navy captain named Shepherd- is convinced it will work when it arrives.  

But the rescue force commander –Commodore Holmes- isn’t keen on waiting any longer than he has to.  More and more, his thoughts turn to a deep sea diving bell that has been offered on a nearby Soviet research vessel named the Nikolai Trunov named the Bentos V.   The Soviets have graciously offered it for the Americans use, but Cold War politics and pride makes the United States turn down the offer. 

Will Holmes toe the line, or do the sensible thing and ask the Russians for help as the clock ticks on the dwindling band of survivors hundreds of feet below?

If you get a chance to, read this pulse-pounder of a novel to find out.  It’s a page turner!

Book Look: Willie And Joe: The WWII Years

The definitive collection of Bill Mauldin's wartime cartoons

Every time I mention his cartoons to WWII vets, he gets nothing but praise, yet Bill Mauldin did not get off to an easy start as a cartoonist, nor did he always draw just for the fabled Stars and Stripes newspaper.

Edited and with an informative introduction giving a capsule history of his life by biographer Todd DePastino, Willie and Joe: The WWII years gives readers the whole enchilada of Bill’s cartoons ranging from the first ones he ever got published (mostly Indian-related wit for Arizona Highways) to the last one to appear in Stars and Stripes before Bill returned to civilian life.

Born amidst hardscrabble conditions in a remote area of New Mexico scarcely touched by the Great Depression, Bill Mauldin decided early on to be a cartoonist as his career.  Despite studying under several local cartoonists during his youth, however, as well as some schooling in the fine arts, the only publication that would take his craft was Arizona Highways ... until he enlisted and the 45th Division News was formed.   The rest, as this book shows, was history.

The thing that surprised me the most in this book is that the Willie and Joe I knew from Bill’s classic book Up Front* did not come onto the scene until Bill swung aboard Stars and Stripes.  He did have a character named “Joe” for his “Star Spangled Banter” comic strip for the 45th Division News but he was a big-nosed Choctaw whose last name was “Bearfoot” and at first talked cartoon Indian dialect in which he always uses his first name in the third person singular thanks to Bill at first being in –ironically enough- a rear echelon unit –the 120th Quartermasters Regiment- when first became a member of the 45th in the summer of 1940; but when Bill tired of the corruption and bad discipline of the 120th and volunteered for the “foot sloggers” of the 180th Infantry regiment, he discovered in his company a Choctaw named Rayson Billey who soon taught him the fine arts of soldiering and how to refine his cartoons.   Soon Joe Bearfoot took on a lot of Rayson.    Sadly, by the time Bill joined Stars and Stripes (at first simultaneously continuing his “Star Spangled Banter” for the 45th before dropping it) the 45th had gotten so cut-up by the fighting in Italy most of its Native American soldiers were either dead or wounded (Bill got a bad scare when he heard a false rumor Rayson Billey had been killed but then found out after the war he had made it) the Willie and Joe we know today took the place of the likes of Joe Bearfoot and his buddies who dominated Bill’s prewar and stateside training drawings.

There is much more in the book cartoon-wise, including in the back original drawings whose original publication date is unknown.   And there are footnotes for select cartoons that appear in the main body of the book that explain to the general reader what they are all about.

If you are a Bill Mauldin fan, don’t miss a chance to get a copy of this book!

Book Look: Band Of Brothers

A look at Stephen Ambrose's timeless work on a WWII parachute infantry company

To the best of my memory, one of the two old vets seated at a table inside the big hangar at Executive Aviation at Flying Could Regional Airport looked down at the book he was about to autograph and said “Oh, the old edition,” surprised to see a copy that did not feature a group of actors in WWII uniforms and gear standing below the books title, which prompted me to reply back:  “Yeah.  I got mine before the miniseries came out.”

What miniseries, you ask?  Why, “Band of Brothers”, of course; perhaps the most famous World War Two-related book and miniseries ever.  

The event in question I was at was Air Expo 2006, the vets men who had served tours of duty in Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne division.

Penned by the late Stephen Ambrose, Brothers follows the tale of Easy company from its stateside training (and woes under the super-strict Lieutenant- then captain- Herbert Sobel) to England in preparation for D-Day, a time which saw Sobel displaced in favor of Lieutenant Tom Meehan … who lost his life when his plane was shot down, leaving popular Lieutenant Richard Winters in command.

Post-Normandy, now-Captain Winters led Easy Company throughout the ill-fated Operation Market Garden to the stalemate in Holland that followed, where a succession of commanders followed after Winters was promoted up to battalion but kept an extra-special eye on Easy company.  An eye which noted that when Easy was being badly lead by its latest CO, “Foxhole” Norman Dike, during the battle of Foy, Belgium during the counteroffensive after the battle of the Bulge was won by, compelled Winters replace the hapless lieutenant right there on the battlefield with the one, the only Ronald Speirs.  A man so brave that, while leading Easy during the assault on Foy, he ran through the German lines to make contact with a neighboring company … and then ran back through the Germans to his new command!

Speirs was destined to lead Easy from Foy all the way to the end of the war, which saw them assist in the capture of the town of Berchestgaden, in the Bavarian Alps, home of Hitler’s “Eagles Nest” retreat.  Which saw Winters friend Captain Lewis Nixon discover paradise on earth on V-E day when he got the pick of Adolf Hitler’s wine cellar!

Along the way we meet many interesting soldiers such as opinionated aspiring writer-turned paratrooper for the duration David Webster, sergeant turned officer C. Carwood Lipton, the inventive Forrest Guth (who did not make the miniseries, alas),  Don Malarkey (whose life was anything but what his last name said!), and many more, such as Lynn “Buck” Compton, a platoon leader who did not cram his officer’s rank down his boys throats but, instead, did not mind playing cards with them and being real friendly, no matter that it landed him in hot water with his superiors.

In closing, the book is so good, I think you will rush to see the miniseries soon after turning the last page!

(Incidentally, that’s my copy of the book pictured here.  Ah how I must have read it a million times … and counting.)