The author of two previous works recounting the lives of soldiers from World War II's famed Easy Company, Marcus Brotherton introduces the reader to those veterans whose stories had yet to be told in his latest effort, A Company of Heroes, a compilation of recollections shared by the families of 26 Easy Company veterans.
Having read the memoirs of well-known "E" Company members Major Richard Winters, co-authors Bill Guarnere and Babe Heffron, Donald Malarkey, and Lynn "Buck" Compton, as well as Brotherton's We Who Are Alive and Remain and several other related books, I still had a hunger to know more about who these men are or were. Brotherton has satisfied that need with A Company of Heroes, the title of which stemmed from a letter written by Sergeant Mike Ranney to Major Winters.
A Company of Heroes provides insight into the character of each man, beginning with their lives as boys, developing into young men through the challenges of the Great Depression and leading up to volunteering for the Army's paratroopers. Additional details regarding six of Easy Company's war-fallen are exposed as well, and in some cases, shedding new light on the manner in which they fell.
In 1945-46, when the soldiers returned to their homes and families, they were expected to integrate back into their lives, disregarding the years they spent away doing the unexplainable work of war. They attempted to pick up where they had left off, or begin their lives as adults, having been transformed into men on the field of battle. There were no debriefings or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) screenings. No transition assistance programs. They simply received their mustering-out pay and news of a GI Bill.
Many of the "Brothers" in A Company of Heroes married and started families, but had virtually no outlet in which to deal with the demons of their war service, except to drink. Very few of them discussed their wartime experiences with their family members, and some never reconnected with their Easy Company brothers.
What was most intriguing was a recurring theme of the inadvertent damage dealt to the soldiers' families. Brotherton, intuitively bringing together the stories of these particular men, captured the residual suffering caused by what is now known as PTSD. Many of the veterans' children spoke of fathers who were distant, silent or numbed by years of overindulgence in alcohol.
One incident with Robert Marsh epitomizes the challenges facing many of the men of Easy Company, and of veterans of war in general. Marsh's daughter describes an episode in which the house is utterly destroyed in a drunken rampage as he relived painful memories. In another occurrence, Marsh's wife interrupted an apparent suicide attempt, the act understandable now as headlines routinely report the struggles of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.
While troubles were prevalent amongst the Easy Company veterans, not all of the accounts of their family lives were negative. Herman "Hack" Hanson's daughter felt that her father's success was due to his ability to speak about his experiences. Steve Toye's remembrance of his father (Joe Toye) typifies what most children of WWII veterans recall of their fathers - that these men were tough, loyal and patriotic, full of flaws but did the best with what they had.
One of the most poignant images of the book is a photograph of Robert Marsh's great-granddaughter standing with her hand on his headstone which reads, "Gone But Not Forgotten."
There are many instances in A Company of Heroes where inaccuracies (portrayed in the television series or in Ambrose's book) were corrected or rumors dispelled, such as the story of Lieutenant Ron Spiers shooting and killing one of his own men. Although Major Winters touched on Albert Blithe's life beyond 1948 in his memoir (the year in which the HBO series purports Blithe finally succumbed to his injuries sustained in France), Blithe's son tells of his father's career in the Army long after the war, and his early death at the age of 44.
A Company of Heroes exemplifies the great efforts of WWII veterans'family members being undertaken to capture and record the details and personal experiences for future generations. Fans of the Band of Brothers series will enjoy getting to know these 26 Easy Company members, but this book has even greater value for the children and grandchildren of World War II combat veterans. They will learn that many who share similar life experiences, and their fathers and grandfathers, are heroes.