A bulldozer had cut a jagged swathe up Mount Currahee, the 3 ½ mile-long incline at Camp Toccoa, Georgia. One company of soldiers--about 140 men--grunted up the trail early one morning in August 1942. They were the men of the now-legendary Easy Company. After almost two years of hard training at Toccoa they parachuted into Normandy on D-Day and into Holland for Operation Market-Garden. They fought their way through Belgium, France and Germany while surviving overwhelming odds in the harshest of battle conditions. Finally they drank a victory toast April 1945 at Hitler’s hideout in the Alps.
Easy Company was immortalized by historian Stephen Ambrose in his book Band of Brothers, a project later turned into an HBO miniseries by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Over the years, millions have been captivated by Easy Company’s saga. The series won 6 Emmy Awards and today is the highest selling TV DVD of all time. Undoubtedly, the Band of Brothers has been one of the most influential military non-fiction chronicles in history.
What makes the Band of Brothers so intriguing? Certainly the stories of action and heroism entertain and inspire. But there’s more. The Band of Brothers shows strength of spirit and character. We’re intrigued by the Band of Brothers because all truth is God’s truth, and truth is an irresistible draw.
Four essential virtues are consistently seen woven through the stories of the Band of Brothers. Think of these virtues as pointers to something more. They’re invitations for us to emulate the One who epitomizes all strength of spirit and character.
Courage is bravery in the face of fear. We’re invited to do the right thing even when it’s hard or scary. When we are courageous, we don’t give up. We try new things. We live with honesty. We admit mistakes. Courage comes from the strength that God gives us. Joshua 1:9 says, “Be strong and courageous.”
Medic Ed Pepping demonstrated courage during a firefight that raged around a small French town in Normandy. When Lt. Col. Billy Turner, 1st Battalion’s commanding officer, stood on top of a tank turret, he was hit in the head by a sniper’s bullet and collapsed. Since Turner was leading a six-tank column, the whole advance halted, exposing the entire column to enemy fire. The tanks needed to get moving again—and quick!
Pepping sprinted over to Turner’s stalled tank and dived headfirst into the turret where Turner had fallen. With the help of the tank’s crew, Pepping pulled the battalion commander out. It was an agonizing moment. Turner was a good man and much revered. Though Turner did not live, Pepping’s courageous actions meant that the tank column could get out of the line of fire, saving the lives of many men. Pepping was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions.
Determination means doing something when it isn’t easy. We focus our energy and efforts on a task and stick with it until finished. We dig in to meet challenges even when they are hard or we’re being tempted or tested. Phil 4:14 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
While jumping into Holland, Sgt. Forrest Guth’s parachute malfunctioned. His main chute opened but not completely. Since the unit had jumped below 500 feet there wasn’t enough time to open reserves. Guth landed with a thud and was knocked out. When he came to, he couldn’t move his legs and back.
Guth was shipped to a hospital in England where they discovered a broken disc in his back. His injury was sufficient to send him home. But Guth was determined. The feeling returned in his legs and back, and, although under a lot of pain, Guth chose to rejoin his unit and continue the fight.
Loyalty means staying true to someone no matter what the cost. It’s being faithful to our family, country, marriage, school, friends and ideals. Loyalty means sticking around when the sticking gets tough. With loyalty, we build relationships that last forever. Prov. 27:10 says, “Do not forsake your friend.”
Cpl. Ed Joint also refused to be discharged after being wounded. During the battle of Foy he was sent flying from a mortar’s blast. Severely wounded in the arm, Joint was taken by stretcher to a field hospital, then later to a hospital in Paris. Joint recounts the story, “A doctor said, `You can go home now soldier, you ain’t going to fight no more.’ But twenty days later I hitchhiked back to Easy Company. What made me want to go back? Folks thought I was nuts. But they were my outfit, my friends. I couldn’t leave them.”
Friendship means engaging with people through good times and bad. We authentically share our lives with others, and they with us. Ecc. 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up.”
Sgt. Clancy Lyall recounts how after a month of being shelled in the frozen Bois Jacques woods during the Battle of Bastogne, he began to hallucinate as a result of being exposed to the constant stress, fear and cold. One day during a lull in the fighting he was convinced he saw a bird standing on the rim of his foxhole. Snow and shelling had long since scared away any woodland creatures. There was no bird. Lyall’s foxhole buddy, Pvt. Mike Massaconi, gave him a hug and brought him back to reality. Lyall says, “It was a real shaky time. If it wasn’t for Mike I would have charged the light brigade. He calmed me down and helped me through.”
Lives in freedom
The men of Easy Company continue to be exemplary because they were willing to lay down their lives for the sake of others. They gave much, so that we might live for what matters.
As Christians we see these virtues as patterning after Jesus Christ’s lifestyle and ministry. God-Incarnate took hell on the cross for us so that we might have life. The ultimate invitation when we read or watch this kind of military non-fiction is to glimpse the virtues that lead us back to the Source of all truth.
Marcus Brotherton is the author of We Who Are Alive and Remain: Untold Stories from the Band of Brothers, available for pre-order through Amazon or in bookstores everywhere May 5, 2009.