"We Stand Alone Together."

“The paratroopers were all volunteer. The elite of the Army. If you're going to combat, you want to fight with the best.” ― William Guarnere

If you know me, you probably realize that I have an infatuation with anything Airborne related during WWII. These kids jumped out of perfectly good planes and landed behind enemy lines while anti-aircraft was shooting at them. That takes some guts, man.



I stayed home and watched the first few episodes of Band of Brothers when my sister went to see Cinderella in theaters. Do I have a problem? Yeah, probably. =) 

Part of what got me interested in the 101st Airborne was meeting Tony Zanzinger who fought with the 501st PIR. It was really cool because I actually had a copy of Band of Brothers with me on that trip, and I got to meet a real paratrooper from the same division! And he gave me a copy of the Christmas card he sent to his mother! Then play the main theme from Band of Brothers and I'm done, guys. DONE. ALL THE FEELS.




All that to say, I recently finished reading Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends which is about two paratroopers who fought with Company E, 506th PIR101st Airborne during WWII. Yup. My kind of book right there, folks.



I've seen other reviews that said, "It was like sitting in the living room and listening to your grandpa tell stories." I have to agree with them. Probably because this sounds like something my grandpa would say:


“We were supposed to count to ten and then the chute would open, but I never counted, never met a guy that did. One guy said: 'I say a Hail Mary, what the hell is counting gonna do?!”  Edward Heffron




The intimate writing style of the book makes you become attached to these guys—William "Wild Bill" Gaurnere and Edward "Babe" Heffron. They grew up only a few blocks away from each other in South Philly, and didn't meet until they were sent overseas.


This book, told back and forth between Babe and Wild Bill, gives a gripping account of training in Camp Toccoa, Bill's first combat jump into Normandy, Babe's first combat jump during Operation Market-Garden, the living hell of Bastogne, the liberation of a concentration camp, and the capture of Hitler's Eagle Nest. It also tells what they did after the war, and about the making of Band of Brothers. I had no idea that the actors couldn't use their real names for an entire year! It had to be, "Hey, Heffron," and "Hey, Bill." They had to go through basic training and sleep in foxholes. That's dedication! Babe wore his rosary and scapular during the entire war so, Robin Laing, the guy who portrayed him in the film, did the same thing. Babe ended up giving Robin his scapular. I thought that was so cool!




"Soldiers of the Regiment! Tonight is the night of nights. Today, as you read this, you are en route to the great adventure for which you have trained for over two years."

"So that's why they gave us ice cream?!" — Wild Bill


“What was strange was when Frank Hughes or the other actors would talk to Robin Laing, and he'd say, 'Hey, Babe,' or 'Hey, Heffron.' It made me stop and look around.” ― Edward Heffron


The company was trained at Camp Toccoa by Captain Sobel. A strong hate for the man quickly formed a bond between them. Easy Company was the only company that stayed together from training to combat. They really were a band of brothers.


“We knew each other's next move, we trusted each other, it went right back to that bond. You'd give up your life for the man beside you. That's when boys became men.” ― William Guarnere



(I don't really like spaghetti, but now I really don't like spaghetti.)

 “Every day for six months, all we wanted was to get those silver parachute wings. You put on your wings and you bloused your boots up. That was it. Everyone knew you were the best of the best. You were different from any other soldier. Those wings made you different, and you never took them off.” 
― William Guarnere


The D-Day chapter really got to me. I just can't fathom what these guys went through. Bill found out that his brother was killed in Italy right before the D-Day jump. That's why the chapter was named Wild Bill's Revenge.



And yet, Bill was ready to do it all over again!

"They took us into the editing room and showed us some footage of our D-day drop. Planes all over the sky, paratroopers coming down in the dark. My first combat jump. I'll never forget it. Adrenaline pumping, going into the unknown. That scene made me want to relive that jump in the worst way. Those dirty sons of beetles.” ― William Guarnere



Another chapter that really affected me was Bastogne. 

When the Germans broke through and created the bulge and surrounded us, they identified the 101st Airborne as the ones surrounded. They though we were goners, I guess, so it was news. The 101st is surrounded! That's not news for a paratrooper.” ― William Guarnere




Reading about the deaths of Muck and Penkala  ... I have no words, just great respect for these men who endured the unimaginable. Bastogne is where Bill lost his leg when he was trying to save his friend, Joe Toye. Also, reading about Babe and Bill going back to the Bois Jacques woods years later ... guys, I just don't have words. With winter settling into NY, (and staying for a good five months) I'm going to think of Bastogne and remember that I have nothing to complain about.

"In Bastogne, your tears would freeze.” ― William Guarnere

“Each soldier has his own personal thoughts about what he experienced there. You think of what happened there, who was where, who got hit, who died where, you look for foxholes. Some of them are graves of our buddies. You barely survived there. No place has the same charge as Bastogne. It looks like it did in 1944. The woods are there, the foxholes are there. The place is eerie.” ― William Guarnere


“When shells were flying over your head, and you didn't know where they would land, you started making promises to the man upstairs. I said, 'God, if you get me out of this place alive, I'll do whatever you want.' I did that probably a million times. 'Get me out of here, Lord, and I'll do this or that.' You make all kinds of promises. We had a guy named Matson, he prayed if he got out he was going to become a priest. He become a priest as soon as the war was over, made up for all us scallywags that didn't keep our promises.” ― William Guarnere


"It was snowing, and Father Maloney gave us a pep talk. 'You're heroes. It's a pleasure to be your spiritual guide, and I'm proud to be part of the 506th.' He used the hood of the jeep as an altar, and we knelt in the snow to get communion.” ― Edward Heffron


“At about two or three in the morning, we boarded the trucks. All we had were our regular fatigue clothes on, we had no combat gear, no winter gear, no winter underwear; they sent us up as we were. No supplies, no ammo.” ― Edward Heffron

I think that chapter had the biggest impact on me.


There are some quotes that just make me want to cry.

“As I walked on our old training field, the strangest thing happened. I could hear plain as day the men counting cadence, double-timing, rifle bolts being pulled back, the guys shouting and kidding each other.” ― Edward Heffron



“When I think about the war, I don't think about the battle, I think about the men. I look at an American flag today, and I see the faces of men I fought with, the ones who lived and the ones who died.” ― William Guarnere


Thankfully, there are many light moments that had me laughing!


"Bill was good to my daughter while I was sick. I was lying in a hospital bed for almost a year, and the doctors didn't expect me to walk again. Bill took care of us. He came to see me every day.— Edward Heffron  (Bill adds: 'You owe me for parking. Sixteen dollars a day for a year! He was on so many drugs, he was nuttier than a fruitcake. Coco loco!”)

"If there was pain, I didn't feel it. That's my nature. If I get a headache, I bang my head against the wall, curse somebody, and it goes away bing-bang-boom! I just ignore it.” ― William Guarnere

“If you ever hear Bill's sayings, he copies them from me. If you offer him something to eat, he says, 'No thanks, I just had a peanut.' Well, he got that from me. It's supposed to be funny, but he says it constantly, so it gets on my nerves. Bill says, 'I'm sorry you ever told me that one.” —Edward Heffron

Although both of these men were incredibly courageous in battle, they don't consider themselves heroes.

“The heroes are the kids who gave 100 percent; they gave their lives. The heroes are the mothers who gave up a son, who carried him for nine months, and raised him to do right, and he does right, and at eighteen, he goes to fight for his country, and he dies doing right. That's a hero.”—Edward Heffron





“I put my hand on Bill's shoulder and told him, yeah the sacrifice was worth it. He said, 'Yeah, I think so, too.'” ― Edward Heffron


I give four out of five stars to this book, and a hearty cheer of "Currahee!" to these brave men who fought for freedom.

(Just a warning: I gave this four stars because there is a lot of swearing in this book, lots of drinking and some inappropriate behavior when they were on leave.)

Have you ever read Brothers In Battle, Best of Friends?

-Emily


P.S. I just needed an excuse to put this picture in. SO CUTE.

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