We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France


2LT Roy Gates turns 90
26 July 2011, 20:15
Filed under: 101st, Band of Brothers, Officers, Veterans, WWII | Tags: , ,

2LT Roy Gates must have gotten around a lot as a young man, even before he helped defeat the Germans in World War II. He was born in New York, enlisted in the Army in Texas and is now retired in Florida. Here’s wishing a happy birthday to Lieutenant Gates, who just turned 90.

Hat tip to Mooch, who leads the Easy Company reenactors.



Why am I writing about the Bizory monument?
11 April 2011, 18:48
Filed under: Band of Brothers, Bizory monument, Veterans

On occasion, when I email or interview someone about the Bizory monument and Mark Patterson’s vandalism of it, they ask me why I’m bringing it up. Some of them simply want to forget about it. Some of them don’t want to harm Mark’s reputation. Some comment on how terrible it was, but state that they just want to put it behind them. Everyone finds the issue at least somewhat uncomfortable.

At his request, I interviewed Mark in March. Mark pointed out to me that a number of veterans and others have been upset by the monument’s limited scope (only memorializing Easy Company), feeling that it serves as a slap in the face to those who actually fought in that spot. It’s not that they dislike the veterans of families of Easy Company, they just feel that all the attention is focused on them because of the book and HBO series.

The typical protest has been the arrangement of small stones indicating the other units that actually fought there (like the 501st). Some folks have stated that they do that every time they visit it. I’m told that one 501st veteran even arranged stones to refer to Easy Company as “Sleazy Easy”. Obviously, we have a serious problem with the current monumentation.

Mark contends that it would have been a simple matter to include those units on the Bizory monument or to have included D/506 on the Brecourt monument (the Brecourt  monument memorializes some Easy Company men who did not fight at Brecourt and ignores D Company which did). While I don’t think they should be obligated to do so, it would have been wise. Notably, the Richard Winters Leadership Project, which will unveil a statue of the Easy Company commander in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont on the 2012 anniversary of D-Day, is more inclusive, stating that it is Dedicated to all U.S. Army junior officers who led the way on June 6, 1944.

Since the damage to the monument is still there (not as evident as a year ago, but visible nonetheless), pretending it never happened isn’t going to work. People know something happened and that Mark was responsible, so if there is no record of it, but only a whispering campaign, his reputation will be in the trash anyway. So anyone who thinks ignoring it will make it go away is wrong.

I get at least one search hit every day for information on this vandalism, though Mark tells me that he and a friend are the one hitting Google on a daily basis (some days I get several searches, other days, I get none).

I’m going to continue writing about this as I learn more, because I think the best way to prevent these things from happening in the future is for people to know what happened and get some insight into the reasons. I think articles should be written for historical journals and magazines about this and about the problems with these monuments. Otherwise, the next frustrated person might go vandalize another monument.

As a historian, I feel that the best course is always more information, not less.



New photo of Bizory damage
2 April 2011, 09:35
Filed under: Band of Brothers, Bizory monument | Tags: , ,

Well, I was able to get my good friend Brian to drive over from Luxembourg to Bizory this week and take new photos. The bad news is that the damage is still there and no likely to go away on its own.

I’d seen the photo that showed the monument in July of last year (the damage had been done in May) and been told that it worn away by September. Sadly, nearly a year after the monument was damaged, the vandalism is still apparent.

Here it is from July of 2010:

Image of Vandalism (unit numbers scratched in using a stone)

And now, the current photo:

Stone-scratched unit numbers as damage to Bizory monument

The lighting is a little different, so that may have something to do with the visibility of the markings, but they are still evident. One person told me that, if you know where to look you can find them, but if not, you wouldn’t notice. When Brian first got to the monument, he couldn’t figure out where the damage was, but when he re-read my email and went back, was able to find it and provide the photo.



Goodbye, Major

As this posts, the memorial service for Major Winters is starting in Hershey, Pennsylvania. While the accolades that have been bestowed upon him reflect things we should have noticed in many more officers during World War II and many conflicts since, I think it fitting and proper that we commemorate the service and the example of Dick Winters. He was a skilled and caring leader of men. There were others like him, but he’s the one we know the best.

There is a good slideshow of photos in tribute to the Major. You can also check a report on the ceremony held in late January for Major Winters in Carentan.

There is movement to erect a monument in Normandy, using his likeness and

identified as 1st Lt. Richard Winters, E-Company, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne, but will also be representative of ALL U.S. Army junior officers of all the divisions who were responsible for leading soldiers into combat in Normandy on June 6, 1944 and will showcase all the division names and corps of those who fought in Normandy in the very early stages of D-Day. The monument will prominently feature the words Leadership 6-6-1944 and a quote from Major Winters below his likeness which will read: “Wars do not make men great, but they do bring out the greatness in good men.” The monument will also have the words inscribed: Dedicated to all U.S. Army junior officers who led the way on June 6, 1944.

I do support this, because it is dedicated to all those junior officers, without whom failure of the whole enterprise would have been certain.



Weekend Wanderings: Mid March 2011
13 March 2011, 10:30
Filed under: 101st, Band of Brothers, Weekend Wanderings

  • There’s a great article on Louis Flores (HQ/2/506 and E/2/506) in La Prensa San Diego by his nephew. I always smile when I watch Battleground and see Ricardo Montalban dancing in the snow at Bastogne. Louis Flores and thousands of other Hispanic Americans answered the call to service then, just as they do today.


Bryson’s website up!

For all those of you who’ve been searching and hitting my blog looking for Allan Bryson’s tours, there’s good news. Allan’s website is up now! I heartily recommend Allan’s tours, as well as those by the other two Battlebus alumni that I’ve had tours with Dale Booth and Paul Woodadge.

In regards to evaluations, I’d say that Dale is probably the best speaker of the three, having spent some time in sales management for Ford Motor Company. He was also Paul’s first hire, so has long experience giving tours and covers all sectors well. He also trained some of the other Battlebus guides (whom I don’t know) in how to give tours. Allan may have more depth of knowledge on the American airborne and has been working on a book on it with Paul. As to Paul, he’s probably more knowledgeable than anyone you’ll meet. He’s been giving tours the longest and provided the structure for Battlebus and the set of tours each of them gives.

I expect that in five years, each of them will have evolved their style and selection of tours, but currently they are similar. Paul has come up with a schedule he’ll use – offering the two-day American Experience Tour every Monday & Tuesday, then the Band of Brothers Tour on Wednesdays – so that it should ease the hassle of scheduling, while still allowing him to offer British and Canadian tours as well as other specific, private tours, on a more limited basis. Paul and Myriam already had extensive experience with more free-form scheduling, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Dale and Allan find some schedule that suits their rythms as well.

Melissa and I will likely be back in Normandy again in September. I think all three are terrific guides, but Dale is Melissa’s favorite, so our guests will have a tour with Dale as the guide. I might also spend a day or half a day with Paul, since he’s written a good monograph on the fight at La Fiere and can give a day-long of just that site.



Losing Easy Company

As I watch Band of Brothers again and again, I am often surprised when, in Episode 1, Captain Sobel is reassigned from command of Easy Company to commanding training at Chilton Foliat and, despite the enmity that has been created for Sobel, I feel sorry for him.

I think David Schwimmer does a masterful job of portraying Herbert Sobel. From what I’ve heard from Paul Woodadge, who did some manual labor type work in costuming and sets, Schwimmer was excellent choice and properly prepared by the directors.

The first part of the preparation was the pre-filming training camp. While the main cast went through training together, building camaraderie, Schwimmer was not part of the training. Actors were instructed to only ever refer to each other by their character’s names (including Neal McDonough going into an emergency room insisting his name was Buck Compton when he suffered a minor injury). From reading about Frank John Hughes and Robin Laing’s experiences as actors, I know that actors playing replacements, like Laing who played Babe Heffron, arrived later in the training, so that they would not have the same tight connection as the other actors. So, Schwimmer showed up for the filming, having no emotional bond with the other actors, and with those actors knowing that their characters, in many cases, despised Sobel.

Schwimmer was the only well-known actor in the cast, which had to add to the feelings on both sides – Schwimmer knowing he was a skilled and accomplished actor amongst journeymen and unknowns, the others having the feeling of men yearning for the chances Schwimmer has had.

Paul tells me that Schwimmer was nick-named “Bubble Wrap” by the crew. You see, those paratrooper uniforms have all those pockets, normally filled with ammunition, grenades, rations or whatever a paratrooper might need. Apparently, Schwimmer’s agent suggested to him that it would be a ‘bad thing’ to actually put ammunition, grenades, rations or whatever paratroopers actually carried in those pockets. So, the story goes that he suggested to Schwimmer that he simply fill those pockets with bubble wrap, so it looked like he was carrying something. Again, this couldn’t have endeared him to the rest of the actors, even if it was only a rumor. They’d be sweating up a hill, carrying a rifle and full pack, while there would be eminent actor David Schwimmer wearing his natty 506th leather jacket, with bubble wrap in his pockets, looking calm and comfortable.

Now, admittedly, some of this is based on what I think I remember being told, but it all sounds brilliant for preparing the entire cast for how Sobel should be viewed. I don’t know how much of this Schwimmer would have been party to, and how much would have just been deft handling by the directors, but I think it translates very well to the screen.

So, why do I end up feeling sorry for Sobel in Episode 2? Chris Hook relates it well. “He tried as hard as he could  to make it as an Airborne officer, but try as he might, he just could not do it. He should be respected for his effort.” He produced a fantastically well-prepared company, that did exemplary things in combat. I think Dale Booth was the one who pointed out to me, most likely every company commander was intensely disliked during training. Their job wasn’t to earn the love of their men, but to prepare them for the fight of their lives.

Serving as a Company Commander is the highlight of a career for Army and Marine officers. It is the highest command at which a commander still has a very direct connection to his men. XbradTC found an article in the New York Times that talks about the weight of command and he blogged about it. I don’t think there’s anything in the civilian world that parallels it – the responsibility for men and equipment, the closeness to those men and the youth of the company commander. Executive responsibility is unique. Working at nearly the same level, but not being the executive – not being the company commander – is not at all the same.

Now, I often relate my experience as a Scoutmaster to some military experiences, but it’s only because that’s as close as I’ve come to the military. That is, not close at all. However, I have seen and felt the difference between being the Scoutmaster and holding any of the other jobs in a Boy Scout Troop. There’s nothing in Scouting that is like the responsibility of being Scoutmaster. It is an autonomous position, where you have the solid connection to individual Scouts and, meagre as the comparison is, it is also the highest you can rise and still have that connection. When I think of how much seeing my Scouts succeed meant to me, I can only begin to understand what emotional peaks and valleys a company commander undergoes.

So, how does this relate to my emotional connection, via David Schwimmer, to Herbert Sobel? Well, in Episode 1, Colonel Sink has Sobel sitting in his office, bourbon glass in hand (in a chair that looks a little too big for Schwimmer/Sobel, which was another good choice by the director), and speaks to him in a fatherly voice, it now strikes me. I “lost” my Troop when I chose to retire from being Scoutmaster and it was a hard thing to do. Dale Dye, as Colonel Sink, uses that voice my mother would use when I wasn’t going to get what I wanted, but I would get “something even better”, which wasn’t better, but we needed to pretend it was.

Sink says to him, “Herbert, Division has established a parachute training school at Chilton Foliat. The idea is for non-infantry types who’re vital to the coming invasion, such as doctors and chaplains to take jump training there. Frankly, I can’t think of anyone more qualified to command such a school than you are.”

Sobel is stunned. “Sir?” he asks.

“I’m reassigning you to Chilton Foliat.”

And David Schwimmer, as Herbert Sobel, looks on, in utter confusion and despair, and, after a long pause says, “I’m losing Easy Company?” He didn’t have me at hello, but he had me there.



Revisionist monuments

This summer, I learned that one of the monuments in Belgium was desecrated by someone who scratched on more unit designations, since it was a monument to only one company. Of course, since Band of Brothers brought so much fame to E/506, it has also generated some resentment, since anything for them is more easily funded and more widely known.

It’s not hard to find people who either think that Easy Company was the best unit in the war, or those in the opposite camp, that think it despicable that the rest of the 101st Division or the rest of the Army gets so much less credit than these men. The individual who comitted the desecration falls into the latter camp and used to be the co-moderator of a forum on airborne history.

This individual felt compelled to modify the monument because he didn’t agree with it (he has publicly apologized, for what that’s worth). I’ve run across this attitude before – people who feel compelled to change the monumentation on a battlefield to better suit themselves. I would say that it’s to better explain the battlefield, or commemorate the deeds of the warriors, or to somehow enhance the value of the battlefield, but my impression of these people is that it’s rarely about anything but themselves.

In Gettysburg, the only Corps commander on either side who had no monument was General Longstreet. While it was odd and perhaps unfair, no monument had been made for the General while he was alive or in the early 20th century when the last veterans of the battle attended the last reunions. As such, to me, the lack of a monument to Longstreet was a story of the battlefield itself. Mentioning that he had no monument allowed one to explore why General Lee’s right hand wouldn’t have had a monument, leading to a discussion of reconstruction politics in the south, the relationship between Longstreet and Grant, as well as, perhaps, a discussion of the ‘Lost Cause’ movement. So, to me, the very fact that Longstreet had no monument was an integral part of the battlefield.

General Longstreet's monument in Gettysburg

General Longstreet's monument in Gettysburg

However, a number of people worked very hard to get a monument built to General Longstreet. Unfortunately, they succeeded in putting up what some refer to as the ugliest monument on the battefield, taking away the interesting story about Longstreet not having a monument and replacing it with a story of how a bunch of hobbyists were able to band together and put up a monument to their hero. Longstreet had long been abused by the Lost Cause for a variety of invented reasons, but now, he has a monument on the greatest battlefield of the war. He must feel better! Except, he’s been dead a long time and the monument put him at ground level, on a diminuitive horse and his proportions look neither herioc, nor completely human. The artist also ensured that it would ‘violate’ the typical rules of military monumentation – often, the number of hooves off the ground on the horse is an indication of whether the rider was wounded or died in battle. (see note below on “folk wisdom”) At Gettysburg, all the equestrian monuments follow this guideline (there is no written rule) and it feels to me as though this was done because it was different and because it would stand out. So, we have a bunch of hobbyists working to make a name for themselves by putting up a monument and an artist who makes a silly-looking monument that defies convention, giving the impression he wants the monument to say something about the artist, more than something about Longstreet. So, for me, despite the fact it is nominally a monument to the man, all I can think about is the people who put it up.

In Belgium, Mark Patterson wished to make a statement by scratching unit numbers onto the Easy Company monument in Bizory. While I think we all would agree that every unit that fought there deserves a monument, it happens that because of Band of Brothers, getting money to put up an Easy Company monument is probably simpler than putting up a monument to F/501. That said, scratching the numbers on a monument and letting people know you‘ve done it, and done it more than once, is not about recognition for those other men who fought there. If you wish to honor the others who fought there, gather money, get the veterans out and put up a monument to them. Walking around pretending to be the champion of the unrecognized heroes by desecrating Easy Company’s monument is not about honoring the other units, but entirely about one’s own image. Fortunately, almost everyone I’ve seen write about this finds his actions reprehensible.

Sometimes, when listening or reading someone’s revisionist theories about a battle or a war, I also get the same impression. That it’s not about understanding, but rather about the speaker or author wanting you to notice that they have figured out something noone else has. They wish you to be dazzled by their brilliance, rather than being concerned with whether the theory actually matches with the evidence. Some of these theories are concocted by starting with a theory and then hunting down bits and pieces of evidence, sometimes out of context that support the theory. The worst cases require that you first ignore anything you know about tactics or strategy.

If you want to see the opposite of these actions, check out the work of the Stoy’s (CPT Monika Stoy and COL Tim Stoy). This August, they again took money out of their own pockets to fund the commemoration of Operation Dragoon. This year, the conference ran for 3 days, with several authors giving talks and about 20 veterans attending. The Stoy’s also travel around Europe, working to get monuments to these warriors installed or repaired in small towns throughout France and Germany. Often, their work brings remembrance of a debt owed to these men, and the towns celebrate them. It doesn’t tear someone down to build someone else up, or attempt to draw attention to themselves. It’s about the veterans and about what they did.

Note on “folk wisdom”: Check the comments for a discussion about the hooves on the Longstreet statue. Neither the Gettysburg Battlefield Monument Association nor any other organization has ever wrote any guidelines on the hooves in equestrian monuments. At Gettysburg, the hooves on the monuments do seem to represent the riders fate, but outside of Gettysburg, it is merely coincidental that sometimes this is the case. Check the Snopes article by Barbara Mikkelson for a good explanation of the failure of this “folk wisdom”. Thanks to Craig Swann for prompting the clarification.



Leadership

The other day, I was watching the “Day of Days” episode of Band of Brothers. I was struck yet again how good a job they do of demonstrating leadership.

In my years as a Scoutmaster, I was always looking for ways to make the lessons I’d learned on leadership strike home with the Scouts. Despite the fact that I am a voracious reader, I have never been able to read through any book on leadership other than the ones published by the Boy Scouts. Those spend a lot of time on the organizational roles and not so much time on how to lead. So, though I put copies of those books into Scouts’ hands when they take their Junior Leadership Training classes, I know they won’t learn a lot about how to lead from them. When I teach the classes, the Scouts have trouble absorbing best practices in leadership when it’s theoretical as well as when “role-playing” a leadership situation.

So, when Band of Brothers came out and I watched Lieutenant Dike fail in the attack on Foy, I knew there were some lessons there about leadership. So, I began using that as a visual tool for them to see good and bad leadership techniques. Watching Winters prepare Dike you see a variety of techniques from Winters to try to ensure Dike’s success, from expressing confidence to ensuring he understands and including physical reinforcement as he pats him on the back. Dike flops in a colossal manner and we see Winters torn about what to do. The Scouts are certain to experience nearly every angle of that sequence of events during their career in Scouting (except for the part about getting shot at!) Spiers demonstrates marvelous calm leadership and demonstrates personal commitment to the task. Watching all of that and discussing it turned on far more lightbulbs than I’d ever seen without that video sequence as tool.

I always encourage the Scouts at the end of that video session to start paying attention to the leaders in the war movies they watch. Which of them are effective? What techniques do they use? Will those work for them? Boys may watch war movies twenty times, memorizing lines and being able to tell you who did what at every step of the way, but without this higher focus on leadership, it’s just entertainment to them.

So, the other day, watching Lieutenant Winters and Private Hall, moments after they’ve landed, Band of Brothers instantly demonstrates why Winters really is a leader. They aren’t simply going to tell us the men respected and followed him. They are going to demonstrate Why they do. Hall is very jittery in this scene, worried that he’s lost his radio and that his Lieutenant is going to yell at him. Winters assures him that he’s a rifleman first (guess the Marines have the right idea!), but Hall remains unsettled by the fact that they’re lost. Winters then uses a time-tested military leadership technique – if someone is busy thinking themselves into worry, give them something to do! He also does it in a decidedly friendly way. He asks Hall to watch out for landmarks and, as he goes through the list of potential landmarks, he even injects humor, asking him to look for familiar trees. Right there, he’s won Hall over and when he sticks around for Brecourt Manor, it makes complete sense to us.

I drew the name for this blog from that scene. While in Normandy, our tour guide, Dale Booth told us that the confusion about John D. Hall or John D. Halls misses out on the fact that the soldier was actually a Sargeant, not a private, so my blog changes Winters’ line from “We’re not lost, Private. We’re in Normandy.”




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