Saturday, April 30, 2011
A Short Clip from “Band of Brothers”
The Stephen Spielberg-Tom Hanks miniseries production of Band of Brothers impressed me as one of the best depictions ever of American fighting men in WWII. The men of Company E of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division had an amazing experience during WWII. They jumped into Normandy during D-Day, June 6 1944, jumped into combat again September that year at Eindhoven in Holland, and then were called upon in December to defend Baston in the Battle of the Bulge. After all that, they caught an incredible break at the end of the war: on VE Day, May 8 1945, they had just occupied Hitler’s HQ “The Eagle’s Nest” in Bertha’s Garden in Bavaria, where they helped themselves to the contents of Herman Goering’s liquor cabinet.
It was a wonderful film about some extraordinarily fine men, and there was one small bit which I wonder if most viewers missed: At one point, when the 101st has entered Germany, one of the paratroopers spies a very attractive young German farm girl and calls out to her, “Hey Fraulien! I got nylon stockings!” She runs off, and he takes off in hot pursuit. He returns and his buddy asks, “How’d you do?” He replies, crestfallen, “Ah, she slapped me cross the face.” No doubt he soon was looking for a young lady with more of a dedication to fashion.
The reason that vignette stays with me is that if there were ever a large group of young American men who could have misbehaved spectacularly with very little fear of consequences, it was when the US army entered Germany in 1945. Those young men had guns and the police were either dead, in captivity or in hiding. True, some US soldiers did commit terrible crimes, and some of them suffered court martials, and in some cases were even executed. And of course, that sort of crime is frequently unreported. However, anyone with any sense of proportion would be well advised to read Cornelius Ryan’s book The Last Battle for a description of how Red Army soldiers behaved as they entered Eastern Germany around the same time. At Vienna, the Red Army insisted on erecting a statue of a red army soldier in that city’s main square. The locals, to this day, refer to it as “the statue of the unknown rapist.” In another part of Germany, the French Moroccan troops were so notorious that German civilians coined the term “to Moroccanate,” a synonym for gang rape. Anyone who wants a better idea of how French Muslim troops behaved might want to observe Sophia Lauren’s Oscar-winning performance in “Two Women.”
One more small tribute to the men of Easy Company: for the benefit of lifelong civilians, if you want to know what kind of men become paratroopers, consider this: a paratrooper is a man who **volunteers** to make a living repeatedly jumping out of perfectly well-functioning aircraft at heights hundreds of feet off the ground to expedite their arrival at a firefight where they can expect to be outnumbered, outgunned, and surrounded.