I spent the entire weekend glued to the History Channel watching the HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers”….and I cannot stop thinking about it. Based on the true story of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne….from Normandy (D-Day), through France, Holland, Belguim, and finally pushing through Germany. The beginning of each segment of film (it’s ten parts) surviving members of easy company, now all old men, share their memories and feelings.
I won’t get into WW II facts and trivia here, nor even world history in general, during the 40’s. Not right now anyway.
I will tell you I called my dad half way through the film and talked to him about the war, what it was like to be in Germany, and asked a lot of questions about my late Uncle Prent, who was in an armored division during the war. I asked a lot about mom too, who was a teenager during the war, growing up in Germany, and what it was like for her. I can tell you that I learned a lot about my family, things I didn’t know. Dad knew some guys from the 101st, and shared stories about his interaction with them. (Dad was a combat engineer). Uncle Prent never spoke of his combat experiences, but came back from the war 70 pounds lighter and with quite an ability to drink. But he was a good kindly man. Never mistreated a soul, and I never recall a harsh word coming from that man’s mouth either. My best guess is parts of him were shattered and broken over there….I do know he was involved in the D-Day invasion and saw heavy combat during the “Battle of the Bulge”. Mom saw things as a German girl. Her best friend (who was Jewish) being dragged off and not knowing at first what had happened. The lack of food and water and basic necessities…not being able to speak out because one word against the war machine would put a bullet in your head and result in probable execution of your family. Mom was nearly straffed to death by British planes, and was forced to dig fox holes for the German army. The belief many Americans have: that all Germans believed in and supported Hitler, is simply not true. Dad told me a story too, that mom saw a German soldier hung and killed by his own unit for wanting to surrender. This young man’s body was left to hang and rot in public as a reminder that the Nazi’s felt there was no surrender.
Opa, who was too old to be a regular soldier, was taken away by the army and forced into the civilian labor work force to build roads for the German army….totally against his will….but you go, or you are executed. What do you do when you have a family? Opa (my German grandfather) had ended up well into Russia at the war’s end, and had to walk home…and it took him almost a full year to make the trip. How hard it must have been for him, and for Oma and mom to simply not know if Opa was alive? Imagine having to walk for a year to get home…no money, only the clothes on your back, being able to only speak one language….how on Earth did he survive?
So, regular German people like you and me suffered immensely too.
Anyway, as you can see I digress. I have been thinking on all of this so much. The mini-series has profoundly impacted me. This group of men, bound by such a friendship that it was a unspoken promise that somone had your back. That if you were lost to the enemy, you wouldn’t be forgotten. A demonstration that the strongest and most honorable among us can be tempted to savagry…because of the exquisite pain, suffering and loss brought to bear upon them.
When I was a little girl I used to be embarrassed that my parents were twice as old as all the parents of my friends. I am ashamed of this now. Deeply ashamed. I am one generation away from this time that changed the entire world. I am proud that through my mom and dad, a love was forged from peoples of two countries that held hatred for each other…and they created one of the greatest love stories that I personally know.
I am coming away from this with some observations…I am still mulling some of this over, but here is my “first edition”….
Despite the fact that America is involved in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and “fighting terrorism”….I do not live in an America that is unified as a nation to a common cause. I live in an America that is bankrupt financially and morally, and fractured by self interests and special interests. We don’t know who the bad guys are anymore, and frankly, many of them are our neighbors.
We do not know the first thing about hardship and loss, and living through tough times…as a nation. Mind you, I am not discounting the thousands upon thousands that have lost jobs, have no insurance, no homes to speak of…no, I am not talking about that at all. This is a general observation…that we live in a land where having a lot of things is something the majority enjoys…we comunicate by cell phone, internet…everything must be had NOW….a throw away society…where there is no committment to family, spouses, kids, jobs…..
We have no idea what it means to ration our food, save our scrap metal, grow gardens to survive, make our own clothes, ration our gas….where coffee is a luxury, where white sugar is only put out for company.
I think the husbands and wives of those who have soldiers in Iraq right now are getting a taste of this. The long absenses, the fear, the lonliness. But even today, with e-mail….phone banks…..an incredibly fast air and ground mail service…..contact is quicker and more frequent now. Imagine going through this without e-mail and phones….sending a letter that your loved one might get several weeks or months later…..I think the lonliness experienced by the soldier in WW II was by far more profound.
I’m still chewing on all this, and might actually be able to organize my thoughts a bit better and present a better blog. But, I had to write some on it while it’s still hot in my mind.
I’m very proud that my family was part of the “greatest generation”.