Thursday, December 20th, 2001

… there was no way training could prepare a man for combat. Combat could only be experienced, not played at. Training was critical to getting the men into physical condition, to obey orders, to use their weapons, to work effectively with hand signals and radios, and more. It could not teach men how to lie helpless under a shower of shrapnel in a field crisscrossed by machine-gun fire. They just had to do it, and in doing it they joined a unique group of men who have experienced what the rest of us cannot imagine.

     – Stephen Ambrose, Citizen Soldiers

AFN is showing “Band of Brothers” here on Monday nights. I’ve watched quite a few episodes and have been impressed at the degree to which they can bring us as close to the reality of war as might be possible in drama. It’s very interesting to watch the direction in which producers are taking movies about WWII; even the series World At War wasn’t this gritty. The can-do spirit of the troops still comes through, but where before I watched with wonder at the GIs ingenuity and determination to get things done, I now sit and wonder, “How did they ever do that?”

One scene was typical: A fellow climbed up a tree to get a bead on a team of Germans at an 88, which looked like a great idea until he took the first shot. As he set himself to take the second shot, the tree branches all around him began to explode and fall broken to the ground from return fire … and still the GI lined up and kept shooting! How far down into your bowels to you have to look to find the gumption to keep firing, to keep moving, to press the attack when you can see and hear death and mutilation hammering the scenery all around you? Well, as Ambrose said, you just had to do it, I guess.

… around the world, the sight of a twelve-man squad of teenage boys, armed and in uniform, brought terror to people’s hearts. Whether it was a Red Army squad in Berlin, Leipzig, or Warsaw, or a German squad in Holland, or a Japanese squad in Manila, Seoul, or Beijing, that squad meant rape, pillage, looting, wanton destruction, senseless killing. But there was an exception: a squad of GIs, a sight that brought the biggest smiles you ever saw to people’s lips, and joy to their hearts. Around the world this was true, even in Germany, even – after September 1945 – in Japan. This was because GIs meant candy, cigarettes, C-rations, and freedom. America had sent the best of her young men around the world, not to conquer but to liberate, not to terrorize but to help. This was a great moment in our history.

     – Stephen Ambrose, Citizen Soldiers

Band Of Brothers | 5:42 am CST
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