Memorial Day Reflection: Band of Brothers

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One of the first times I stayed at Andrew Peterson’s house, he insisted I watch Band Of Brothers and made me take his DVD box set of the HBO miniseries home with me, assuring me “It’ll change your life.” He was right.

World War II veterans are currently dying at a rate of more than a thousand a day, and it was in the interest of honoring and remembering their extraordinary courage and sacrifice that this series came to life. Even if you’re not a fan of war films, there’s much to love about Band of Brothers – just ask my wife, Taya, who refuses to watch these kinds of films but loves it as much as I do. I think that’s because the series is less about the war than it is the personal stories of individual people and the deep bonds of friendship that carried them through one of the darkest times of the 20th century. Band of Brothers is more than just a film, it’s an experience and an invitation to be witness to the kind of community, brotherhood, and love I think we all long for, but rarely know.

You can get more in depth information on wikipedia, but in short the series focuses on the exploits of Easy Company whose men were among the first paratroopers in military history. They dropped behind enemy lines on D-Day to help take Normandy, fought the Battle of the Bulge, and engaged several other high profile missions including the taking of Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest”.

The most rewarding aspect of the series is the depiction of the relationships between the characters and the lengths they go to to watch out for each other. When given an opportunity to leave the front line, many of the soldiers would insist on staying – even in the face of imminent danger and suffering – in order to be there for their fellow soldiers. There are some characters that you come to know a little better than others, but the real star of the series is the brotherhood that these young men shared and still share to this day. Before each episode you see snippets of interviews of the soldiers as old men, and their deep love for each other is still apparent as many of them are still choked up as they share their experiences.

With a running time of nearly 12 hours over the course of 10 episodes, there is time to develop these characters and bring them to life. The film maker’s canvas is colored subtly and blessedly absent are the broad strokes of red white and blue nationalism. Instead we’re treated to unexpected and nuanced colors, even as we witness some of the callous cruelty of our own troops while dignity is given to our enemy. It’s been said that one of the spoils of war is the right to record the history, and the film makers have done so empathetically. While the film’s rendering of World War II is uncompromising in it’s depiction of the evils of Hitler’s Germany, it also lends an occasional humane eye to some of the young German men who were caught up in a war that was theirs to fight by virtue of living in the wrong place at the wrong time. A moving speech by a General in the German army towards the end is one of the more memorable moments in the series. This filmic empathy is mirrored in many of the interviews with the real life soldiers now as they look back on the war. “Under different circumstances, I might have been friends with some of those young men” says one veteran.

Speaking of veterans, another reason I love this series is because I’ve been blessed to become an acquaintance of one of its more prominent heroes: Buck Compton. Buck’s character looms large in the episodes he’s in, and we learn that his exploits during the war are only the beginnings of an extraordinary life as he went on to be the lead prosecuting attorney in the trial of Sirhan Sirhan. Though he’s been depicted in at least three different films (at different stages of his life), he’s a humble and gracious man and I’m grateful to know him.

I was inevitably moved to tears in every episode of Band Of Brothers, as much for the story on the screen as how the story revealed a poverty in my own life of the deep kinds of friendships that the series pays tribute to – friendships that I have failed to cultivate (because I’m on the road all the time? Because I’m afraid to let others get too deep inside my life?). In spite of the hardship these men endured, I still couldn’t help but feel they were somehow blessed to need each other the way they did. I could be in danger of romanticizing their adversity, I know, but in the interviews with the actual characters that we are treated to at the end of the series these men bear witness to the fact that they have an unusually deep friendship with one another that lives on to this day. It makes me want to work harder to forge deeper friendships and to be a better friend myself.

I think of Andrew Peterson’s song “Tools”