I recently finished “A Band of Brothers”, a dramatic mini-series about the history of Easy Company, a company within the newly created airborne division of the Army that fought in World War II. While watching it I was riveted, and though I have finished it I continue to be haunted. Perhaps a part of my reaction comes from the fact that my Dad was a World War II veteran, who survived the invasion of Normandy. Growing up I knew about this facet of my Dad’s life, but for me it was just that, a facet, as he was reticent to share his experience. As a result, I was never really aware of what my Dad faced in the war, and how fortunate I was to have come into being.
I think the first time I had any sense of this reality was when I saw “Saving Private Ryan”, which begins with an incredibly graphic portrayal of the Normandy Invasion. “A Band of Brothers” is no less intense at times, but being a mini-series it draws you in more deeply by giving you more time to connect with the various characters. The last disc of this series has a documentary that interviews the surviving members of Easy Company, as well as their family members. One young lady expressed a similar detachment from the reality that her father faced, realizing through her own viewing of the series just how brutal the circumstances were that her father faced.
When my father passed away last February I was given the opportunity to reflect upon his life while writing his eulogy. In doing this I realized that in sharp contrast to myself, my Dad was not a complainer. I never once heard him complain about anything in his life. Rather his attitude was that you just gotta do the thing that is placed before you. In watching “A Band of Brothers” that is exactly the attitude that I got from these men. They faced bitter cold without adequate clothing or shelter, an enemy that often outnumbered them, multiple injuries, the daily possibility of death, and the daily loss of friends. In spite of this, however, these men didn’t consider themselves heroes, and they didn’t complain about their circumstances. They just did what was placed before them.
In contrast to that, one of the things that particularly haunts me is how easy it is for me to complain even while living in comfortable circumstances, and perhaps because of it. I am also haunted by the fact that I have never been called or ever really had to lay down my life for a cause greater than myself. As a result I feel somehow impoverished. In saying this I am not necessarily saying that I wished I had joined the military and faced enemies in combat, as I do not think that this is the only way to live sacrificially for others. Rather, I am confessing my complicity in the materialistic, and self-indulgent ideals that are currently pervasive in my culture, ideals that weaken my capacity to appreciate and show gratitude for the abundance that I have been given. Also I am expressing a longing for nobility, a nobility that I think the men of my Dad’s generation had a chance to develop and demonstrate and that I myself have yet to find.