overthinking the idiot box

December 19, 2005

History can make for great TV. And if we don't dramatize the past, then we're just...

Doomed to rerun it
Easy Lover
My letters of thanks to the cast and crew of Band of Brothers
by Jenni Powell

Band of Brothers tells the story of Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army. Beginning with their training in Georgia in 1942, the ten-part miniseries follows Easy Company through their World War II journey: as they parachute into France on D-Day, fight in the Battle of the Bulge, and capture Hitler's Eagle's Nest at Berchtesgaden. HBO premiered the first episode on June 6, 2001, the 57th anniversary of D-Day, on the grounds of the Utah Beach Memorial in Normandy, France. Forty-seven of the 51 remaining Easy Company veterans and their families were in attendance.

Dear Stephen E. Ambrose,

Thank you for writing Band of Brothers, the non-fiction novel that is the basis for the miniseries of the same name. Thank you for attending a military reunion in New Orleans in the fall of 1988 and taping interviews with veterans, focusing on the D-Day experience. And thank you for spending the next year conducting interviews with three dozen Easy Company veterans. Of the veterans, you noted, "many are realizing that they don't have much time left in the world, and many, for the first time, are willing to talk about their experiences. As young men just back from fighting, they didn't want to think about the war. But now, they realize their grandchildren are deeply interested in hearing those stories, and if they don't tell them, they'll go to the grave with them."

Thanks to you, Mr. Ambrose, those stories are saved from the grave and you singlehandedly made it possible for these men to live forever. For without your words, moving pictures could not have followed.

"The pen is mightier in the sword" seems perfect right about now.

Dear Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg,

Though Spielberg was interested in adapting Stephen E. Ambrose's Citizen Soldiers, and Hanks was interested in Band of Brothers, thank you for coming together to collaborate on Band of Brothers. I think you made the right choice.
Thank you for having such a life-altering experience on the feature film Saving Private Ryan that you BOTH considered further World War II projects independently of each other. Though Spielberg was interested in adapting Stephen E. Ambrose's Citizen Soldiers, and Hanks was interested in Band of Brothers, thank you for coming together to collaborate on Band of Brothers. I think you made the right choice.

Tom (Can I call you "Tom"?), I thank you for choosing to once again work with HBO, after having done so on the Emmy-winning miniseries From the Earth to the Moon. You stated, "I have a great history with HBO, we've done this kind of thing before. They understand the type of authenticity we're going for and they throw away all the rules. We can say what we want to, the stories can last as long as they need to, and we, as storytellers, think that's very important". Spot on, sir, spot on.

And Stevie (You prefer "Stevie", don't you?), thanks for setting a template with the directing of Saving Private Ryan: the handheld, subjective point of view, which provided a base which kept continuity in a series in which each episode had a different director. From that basic template, you let the writers and directors take it to somewhere totally new, something that became Band of Brothers.

What more can I say? You guys rock.

Dear Capt. Dale Dye, USMC (ret.),

Because historical accuracy and authenticity was of utmost importance, the actors portraying the members of Easy Company were put through a grueling two-week boot camp, where they learned everything from the basics of how to wear a uniform and stand at attention to parachute jump training and weapons handling.

Thank you, Capt. Dye, for kicking the actor's asses. Thank you for being a life-long military film buff and realizing that what passes for combat on film was often, in your own words, "complete nonsense, a dishonor!" Thank you for landing a job on the Oliver Stone production of Platoon, beginning a second career as a Hollywood military advisor.

They couldn't have done it without you!

P.S. I really enjoyed your performance as Col. Sink in the series. I know you kept those boys in line while you were at it.

Dear William Shakespeare,

Bet you didn't expect to get one of these! But you have your part to play in this little drama. Thank you for writing the history play Henry V, and especially the following passage:

This story shall the good man teach his son,
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by
From this day to the ending of the world
Be we in it shall be remembered
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he today that shed his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition.

Without you, they might have called the series "Dudes With Guns", and that just doesn't have the same poetic ring to it.

Dear Ron Livingston,

Thank you for keeping a Video Diary which followed you as you did research for your role as Capt. Lewis Nixon and then followed the 50 person cast portraying Easy Company as they went through actor boot camp. Pass my love on to HBO for coming up with the brilliant idea of handing you a camera and then putting your adventures, split into 12 lovely little vignettes, in the special features section of the DVD set.

But could you do me a favor? Could you ask HBO if the "Message from Jeep" was really necessary? I'm aware that jeeps have been around since before WWII, I'm grateful for the part they played in our fight for truth, justice, and the American Way, but I can't say I appreciated that last shot of modern day jeeps on "Omaha Beach" (you might want to pass along that someone screwed up the CGI on that one...), glimmering in the sunlight. The nauseating bit of consumerism masked in a message of thanks was lost on me...

...But watching you try to navigate a group of "soldiers" to a location in the middle of the night, searching for a small English tea-kettle, now THAT'S pure joy.

Dear Shane Taylor,

Thank you for playing Medic Eugene Roe and giving us the closest thing to a "love story" in the series. In Part Six (Bastogne), Doc Roe meets nurse Renee Lemaire at a first aid station which has been created inside a church. He comes back several times, to beg for extra supplies and bring in wounded soldiers, each time sharing conversations with Renee over chocolate bars which Renee seems to have in ample supply. On one such visit, a critically wounded man is brought in, bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound to the chest. Renee and Roe frantically work on the man together, their hands meeting each other's as they try to clear away the blood, Roe painting and grunting as he tries to pinch off the man's artery to stop the bleeding. Okay, it's kind of morbid for me to think this, but something about the whole affair is positively erotic. Especially as the life leaves the soldier and the two pull away and meet eyes, breathless from the exertion. They don't speak for what seems like an eternity, but you know endless information is being passed back and forth in that locking of eyes. And honestly, it's kinda hot.

Also kinda hot: you Mr. Shane Taylor. Thank you for that as well. And thank you to the man who designed an action figure of your character, which I pray I can some day get my hands on.

Keep those brown eyes safe. I'll be staring into them again someday soon.

Dear Special Effects Crew,

The realism of the battle scenes in Band of Brothers is beyond description. But I'll give it a shot: at the beginning of Part Two (Day of Days), Easy Company, as well at the rest of the 101st Airborne Division, are dropped into Normandy. The scene is picture perfect: I was practically hyperventilating before the episode even began, my body already expectant of the horror I was about to witness. You begin to hear the bombs long before you see them and the red "prepare to jump" light casts an eerie glow to the faces of the men as they wait to be dropped into an unclear fate. By this point in the series, you've formed a bond with these men, grown attached to them, and the realization that they won't all make it sits heavily in your chest.

And this it all before the bombs start hitting the planes...

Thank you special effects supervisor Joss Williams and stunt coordinator Greg Powell (no relation, though I do have an Uncle Greg in Nebraska, but he's a firefighter) for keeping the battle scenes as realistic as possible and at the same time keeping people from getting hurt. Band of Brothers feels "alive" because of you. Thank you for bringing it hard core.

Dear Michael Kamen,

Thank you for writing the original score for Band of Brothers. You were an interesting choice for the job, with past credits like The Iron Giant, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and S & M: Metallica with Michael Kamen Conducting the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

Considering you made it virtually impossible for me to fast forward through the opening credits for the sole reason of getting another listen to the opening theme, I'd say you did your job and then some.
Putting together musical themes that can truly harness the triumphs and tragedies of war is a unique challenge for any composer. Considering you made it virtually impossible for me to fast forward through the opening credits for the sole reason of getting another listen to the opening theme, I'd say you did your job and then some.

I did have to fast forward through it once or twice though, but only because I was under time constraints.

And I felt really bad about it.

I hope you can forgive me.

Dear Soldiers of Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army,

How to you put a "thank you" on your freedom? Because that is what I have to thank you for. You were able to look beyond your small sphere of existence and say, "what is happening is not right. I want to do my part to fix it, not just for myself, but for my entire country." Very few people on this earth have the courage to say that, let alone take appropriate action.

And what an action it was. The parachute regiment did not exist before 1942, and you soldiers of Easy Company volunteered to be a part of it. You suffered some of the highest casualties during the war, going from 139 to 74 men in the first 33 days you were in action. Those of you who stayed with the company until the very end of the war fought for almost three years, starting on D-Day and ending on the disbandment of the company 434 days later.

Those of you who survived formed a bond that few people on this earth will ever have the privilege of experiencing. Those of you who gave your lives have cemented yourselves in history as true heroes and we are blessed to have knowledge of your sacrifices.

I know a simple "thank you" such as this one doesn't truly suffice. But I want you to have it anyway.

Thank you. And may we never forget.

Discuss this article in the SMRT-TV forum, or email the author.

Return to Season 2, Episode 7.