Haunted by A Band of Brothers

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.

3 Responses to “Haunted by A Band of Brothers”

  1. Steve  

    This is true. It is unfortunate, however, that this WWII generation managed to give us the curse of the baby boomer generation, which will surely be recorded in history as a self-indulgent mess.

  2. Sam Widlund  

    I had the same experience watching “The Grapes of Wrath” for the first time. My grandfather’s family came out to California from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, and the severity of his experiences were never something I really could understand (even after reading the book several times). It happened again when watching “Band of Brothers”. Even though he served in the Pacific with the Navy, the universal theme of the series followed over. He still gets together with the men he served with, still calls many of them regularly, and he’s in his 80’s. I’m always amazed by his life and his ability to overcome. I love the idea of a nobility about it – that’s exactly what I see in him.

  3. Administrator  

    Sam, thanks for your response. The quest for nobility has been a recurring idea for me, one that touches some deep paths in my heart. A word that comes to me in times of prayer is that God has called us to be “Free Lords of creation”. A reality of course that can only be realized in the grace of God. Once I finished writing and posting this blog I was struck by my own confession that “I had never really been called to lay down my life for a greater cause.” Being a Christian, I realize that Christ’s call to follow him is a call to lay down my life, which is the path of nobility. I suppose in some measure I have done this, but honestly I am often daunted by how deeply self oriented I still am. It seems to me that a crisis such as war provides the external circumstances to help stay focused on what is of true value, and not to get distracted by the luxeries of middle class, American existence, distractions that I readily succumb to. In the end, however, I realize that this is a matter more of the heart than of circumstance. But it’s hard not to entertain the notion that I might have been a different and better person if I had faced adversity such as my father did.