Band of Brothers-Company E/506th P.I.R. in WW2
The HBO miniseries based on Stephen Ambrose's unit history of E/506th in WW2, premiered on Sunday evening September 9, 2001 on HBO, and all ten episodes have now aired. Another program followed, consisting of interviews with actual vets of Easy Company, who survived WW2 and are still with us. I rated the series overall at 8.5, with some episodes better than others. I have posted a critique, episode by episode, on page 3 of this portion of the website. I kept my comments as objective as possible, with two main purposes. One purpose will be to point out (for those who are interested), the places where the story or details of the series departed from what actually happened. In most cases, that was done intentionally out of expediency or an effort to make the story more interesting. The other purpose will be to point out minor technical flaws, which could have so easily been avoided that it's a shame they weren't. Nothing quite like this series has ever been done before, to chronicle and dramatize the actions of a small unit from beginning to end. 100% perfection will never be achieved in any such film effort, but again, as in 'Saving Private Ryan' the film makers came so close to perfection, it is lamentable they didn't consult the few additional people who could have made the series almost unimpeachable by veterans and historians.
Update, May 2002: My 4th book: '101st Airborne-The Screaming Eagles at Normandy' is now available directly from the webmaster-see Books page. This hardcover work debuted in April of 2001 and contains totally different material in stories and photos from my 1st book with a similar title. It is filled with facts, and stories which were never told before, and rare photos of 101st troopers IN Normandy which are not available anywhere else. Some 200 of these photos are being shown to the public for the first time since WW2. The author has interviewed over 900 WW2 vets of the 101st Airborne over a 30 year time period and many have shared their personal photos and stories to make this book possible. No other book on the subject has this unique combination of features.
If you enjoyed the miniseries and want to learn more about what the entire 101st Division experienced and accomplished in the great D-Day invasion, you'll devour the contents of this book. You can also order from Amazon.com, from the MBI warehouse at 1-800-458-0454, or find it at most Barnes & Noble, Borders Books, or Books a Million retail stores.
Richard D. Winters-An American Icon
The photo at left was taken in the states in 1943, by Winters' college buddy, Albert A. Krochka, who was also regimental photographer for the 501 PIR. This was supposed to appear in my 4th book, but was deleted by my all-knowing editor. The photo at right shows Winters as a major in 1945, wearing a Type 8 eagle patch on his class 'A' uniform. Winters was the most famous and revered company commander of E/506th in WW2. photos c/o Al Krochka and Bob Talbert.
This squad from 2nd platoon was photographed in 1943 before E Co. sailed to England. Front row l. to r.:Dewitt Lowery, Chuck Grant, Barney Cunningham, Rod Bain, and Joe Toye. Back row: Burr Smith, Warren H.'Skip' Muck, Don Malarkey, Denver'Bull'Randleman, John Serila, John Sheehy, and Tom Burgess-photo courtesy Don Malarkey.
The group shot above was made in the states in late 1942, during the 120 mile march of 2nd Bn from Toccoa to Atlanta, GA. and shows an assortment of Easy 506th paratroopers on a rest break. Identifications where known, follow: 1&2)Unknown cooks, 3)Hank Hanson, 4) Unknown, 5) Cecil Pace, 6) Schuyler, 7) Unknown, 8) Ken Baldwin, 9) Booy, 10) Mike Ranney, 11) Unknown, 12) Ramirez, 13) Shifty Powers, 14) Unknown, 15) Paul Rogers, 16)Buck Taylor, 17) Ed Tipper, 18) C.T. Smith, 19)Red Wright, 20)Clarence Tridle, 21) Rod Strohl, 22) Captain Clarence Hester, 23) Terrance Harris, 24) Carwood Lipton, 25) Forest Guth, 26) Frank Perconte, 27) Dan West, 28) Carl Fenstermaker, 29)Popeye Wynn, 30)Lt Walter Moore, 31) Unknown, 32) Floyd Talbert, 33) Fieguth, 34) Walter Gordon, 35) Unknown, 36) Skinny Sisk, 37) Lavon Reese, 38-39)-Unknown. According to Jake Powers, the group shown is the 3rd platoon-thanks Jake. photo and names courtesy Tracy Gordon Goff.
Emotional Reunion At Utah Beach on 6 June, 2001, two legendary figures met again for the first time since 1945. Historian Jake Powers was aware this moment was coming, and he was on the spot with his camera when Dick Winters (left), and Ronald 'Sparky'Speirs shared their first moments reunited. Knowing the life and death situations they often faced, we can only marvel at what thoughts and emotions must have surged through them at this meeting. Thanks to Jake for sharing this priceless moment with us.
A rare 1943 photo showing Lt Ron Speirs at right, with 2 members of C/506th. Lt Speirs trained with C Co. before being transfered to 2nd Bn.
Here's a shot from the TV miniseries, sent to us via Tracy Gordon Goff, daughter of Walter 'Smokey'Gordon. The suited-up 'stick' looks damned good, and the tough guy third from right, standing, with no helmet on is actor Frank J. Hughes, portraying Bill Guarnere. (via Joe Hobbs.)
A Wonderful Leader Lost Before Battle Was Joined
1st Lt Thomas Meehan was the handsome and intelligent company commander of Easy 506th as they departed England to jump into Normandy on D-Day. He had been briefly assigned to Company 'B' before replacing Sobel as C.O. of E/506th. On the plane before takeoff, Lt Meehan penned a quick note to his wife, then handed it out the door, to a friend who promised it would be delivered. The note read:
In a few hours I'm going to take the best company of men in the world into France. We'll give the bastards hell. Strangely, I'm not particularly scared. But in my heart is a terrific longing to hold you in my arms. I love you Sweetheart-forever. Your Tom
The plane bearing Lt Meehan and his entire stick of jumpers was hit by German ground fire near St Mere Eglise. All
aboard were lost when the plane went-in between Beuzeville au Plain and Haut Fornel. A monument was dedicated on 6 June 2000, at Beuzeville, listing the names of those aboard. Excerpts from a thoughtful letter written by Lt Meehan, plus more biographical information, can be found posted by Barrie on the AWON website (see Links). Courtesy Barrie Meehan Meller and Dan Potter-posted by the webmaster on Tom Meehan's birthday, July 9th(2001).
Above, a photo taken in June 2000, showing the plaque on the Beuzeville monument which lists the victims of the C-47 crash. This is on the road about 5 minutes east of St Mere Eglise, near the Beuzeville church.
Band of Brothers-Normandy, 1944
A group reconstruction of the Normandy era with Frank Perconte (James Madio, bareheaded center standing) and Walter Gordon (Ben Caplan) to his right with arm around Perconte. Cast members from the miniseries, courtesy Joe Hobbs, via Tracy Gordon Goff
Battle at Brecourt
On 6 June, 1944, D-Day, Easy 506th fought one of its most important battles. In a field between le Grand Chemin and the Brecourt Manor house, was a manmade ditch lined with trees. Spaced at intervals along that ditch, were three German artillery pieces, sited on the shoreline of Utah Beach near Exit two, over five miles distant. Another gun was
set off to the west a short distance left of the far end of the treeline shown in this photo, and was facing west (opposite direction of the beach). The photo above was taken in June 2000, looking up the treeline (west of the treeline), facing somewhat to the north. The buildings of le Grand Chemin cannot be seen from this vantage point, although I surmise that most of the fighting took place on this side of the treeline. The big German guns were facing out the opposite side of the treeline, toward the coast. Easy began its attack from the distance, knocking out the first two guns then working south, toward the spot where this photo was made. The enemy artillery crews were protected by a platoon of German infantry, who had set up several MG42 positions. Fighting was close and furious, and proved to be an instructive baptism of fire for the members of Easy Co. who took part.
Lt Sparky Speirs arrived with some of his Dog Company men after the first three guns were taken, and charged the fourth, killing the crew singlehandedly.
About a dozen soldiers were decorated for this crucial action, which no doubt saved many American lives among the seaborne forces landing at Exit #2. Lt
R.D. Winters received the Distinguished Service Cross, and Pfc Loraine was among
the soldiers who received the Silver Star. Loraine's Citation appears below. The wording of the citation may be misleading, as the beach was over five miles distant, not at "close range". This made direct observation by the enemy gunners impossible. The guns were sited on the shoreline, depending on radio
communications from observers closer to the Channel for adjustments. Also bear in mind that the enemy battery probably consisted of 105's rather than 88mm artillery. Above photo courtesy F. Raine Remsberg, Bando f Brothers tour, 2000.
Citation for Silver Star for Private First Class Gerald J.Loraine, Service Company, 506th P.I.R.
(Photo courtesy of Mrs Martha Loraine)
Private First Class Gerald J. Loraine 39104951, Parachute Infantry, United States Army, for gallantry in action. On 6 June, 1944, at le Grand Chemin, France, an enemy battery of four 88mm guns, protected by machine-guns, was firing at short range on the beach, greatly impeding the landing of Allied troops. Private Loraine's battalion attacked the battery position, but was stopped by direct fire. Private Loraine, with a small group of soldiers made an assault directly into the battery positions. Without regard for his personal safety, Private Loraine attacked the enemy with hand grenades and sub machinegun fire. Several times he picked up grenades which had been thrown by the enemy and threw them back into the positions. Private Loraine led his small group in the assault on successive positions until the guns were destroyed and silenced. His outstanding bravery in this action enabled his battalion to advance and gain its objective. His conduct was in accordance with the highest standards of military service. Entered military service from California.-General Orders #9, 23 June, 1944.
Webmaster's note: Gerald Loraine received a second Silver Star Medal for actions in Holland and in postwar years, he claimed to be the first member of the 101st Airborne to win that medal twice-I cannot verify that he was the first to accomplish that, and Fred Bahlau would be a close second.
Brecourt ManorThe photo above was taken by the webmaster in June of 2000, and shows the front entrance to Brecourt Manor. A young French boy named Michel DeValavielle, was shot by American paratroopers in the archway in a case of mistaken identity on D-Day. Michel was evacuated by boat to England for medical attention, survived, and later became the mayor of St Marie du Mont.
Another note from the webmaster-on my last 2 visits to this area (1999 and 2000), I was disappointed to see on the ground between the south end of the treeline and the entrance to Brecourt Manor, a huge pile of that blight of modern civilization: discarded tires! Somehow it seems an out-of-place desecration to this hallowed ground. But life goes on for farmers in France.
For fifty years after D-Day, no errection of new buildings was allowed in the
Cotentin, behind Utah Beach. I can attest that in 1989, on my first visit, things were still pretty primitive. But in just 12 years since that time,
many new houses and business places have sprung-up in the area between the north edge of Carentan, and the village of Ravenoville. It is a shame, but
for example, 'Gillis' Corner' at the edge of DZ 'D' at la Haute Addeville now has two new houses built there, and someday will just be the corner of some residential street. Will future French residents ever realize the American blood that was shed on their block for the liberation of their country? In 2000, I told the residents of the house at Gillis' Corner that Pfc James J. Luce of F/501 was fatally wounded about 50 feet from their front door.
Tab Talbert-The Real and Hollywood Versions
Floyd"Tab"Talbert became a late war 1st Sgt of Easy company. The original 1st Sgt, (Evans) was KIA enroute to the Normandy DZ on the Co. HQ plane of Lt Meehan. Sgt Lipton followed, then received a Battlefield Commission to Lt. Talbert was next and became top kick until the war ended, at which time Captain Speirs offered the job to Don Malarkey. Malarkey didn't really want it, but became acting 1st Sgt for four days. The last 1st Sgt was John Lynch. The photo above left shows Tab Talbert during the Camp Toccoa era, in 1942. He is wearing the M41 field jacket with a 506th 'Para Dice' pocket patch on his left chest. The photo above right shows Matthrew Leitch, the British actor who portrayed Tab in the Band of Brothers miniseries-a pretty good likeness. Bob Talbert, Tab's brother says, Leitch has studied-up on some of Tab's personal mannerisms and did a decent job of conveying those during the filming. photos courtesy Bob Talbert.
Pat Christenson-The Real and Hollywood Versions
Burton P."Pat" Christenson joined the 506th in Toccoa and went all the way to Austria. He was the resident artist of 2nd Battalion, and passed away at the end of 1999. His son Chris supplied us with the above photos-the one at left showing Christenson in 1945, and the one at right showing actor Michael Fassbender, who portrayed Pat in the miniseries, wearing M43's with Tech Sgt stripes. The modern photo was taken in the scenic Swiss Alps, a pretty close match for the Berchtesgaden area. This scenery served as the backdrop for Episode 10. Writing about his dad, Chris Christenson says: "He loved the men of E Company and cherished the friendship."
Above, one of Pat Christenson's wonderful sketches, reconstructing an incident in Holland. "Hans Pumpernikle" (ha!) is obviously a German Fallschirmjager (parachutist). Jack appears to be armed with a big hawg leg, in the form of a WW1 vintage .45 revolver. This hilarious sketch graced the cover of the Five-0-Sink Newsletter in June, 1989.