I would love to make a living out of traveling and then writing about it. By re-creating some of my old trips of my youth I am able to travel my inner thoughts and emotions, shallow as they are, lol!
Traversing Europe this summer was the trip of a lifetime. I want to go again- it’s the siren call of the open road of being a gypsy.
This trip was positive proof that the journey “is” the destination. I hope to give you a personal memoir about discovering a new love for history, something I thought I lost.
It’s the chronicle of being on the trail of a handful of brave Americans in one of the biggest and most awful events in human history. I’ll talk about the people who created it and the places it passes through.
Whether you plan to make a trip like this one yourself or only enjoy reading about it, I hope I can tell you how much fun I had. I will share what I learned about myself, the men of Easy Company and World War II.
Beyond Band of Brothers
In the fall of 2015, my friend, Ron Mays called me. He was taking a tour of the battlefields of Easy Company from “Band of Brothers” the following July.
I loved the book ““Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.” I’ve read it several times since high school. The book is the reason I became a historian.
It was an incredible story of heroism and sacrifice of brothers-in-arms who fought and died in World War II. The book and mini-series came to symbolize the bravery of the greatest generation.
I told Ron yes without even thinking about it.
World War II
Almost everyone has seen the “Band of Brothers” miniseries. It focuses on the actions of one outstanding light infantry company during World War II.
The war was so big, with so many characters and outstanding heroes that you can get lost in strategy and personalities.
Easy Company’s story is about individual soldiers. During World War II, it fought in Western Europe.
What brings Easy Company’s actions to light is the individual stories of the men of the unit. Easy Company’s legendary exploits was the narrative vehicle to explore the larger story of the American Army in Western Europe in WWII.
Now we would cross an ocean and continent to follow in the footsteps of these brave men. The story of the men of Easy Company allowed the tour group to live the history of the places where they men went into action.
It revealed what makes their story meaningful to us today.
We saw the European Theater of Operation (ETO) of World War II, through the eyes of Easy Company. From their jump into Normandy, France on the eve of D-Day, to their defense of the besieged Bastogne, Belgium to their capture of Hitler’s Eagle Nest in Germany.
We saw it and walked it all with expert military historians- one them an eyewitness to the Battle of the Bugle.
Along the way we saw some of the most breathtaking terrain in Europe- majestic mountains of the Alps in southern Germany, sparkling lakes in Belgium, and the rolling hills of France.
A trip this size takes a lot of planning. If you’re going to go, it’s best to take a person you get along with. I got along with Ron really well. Thank God, because we ended up spending a lot of time together.
He can be described with three words: integrity, humor, and kindness. He always acts the same in public as he does in private. He never does anything he would ever be ashamed of.
Ron’s tall, with blond hair going gray. He has a lean build. He is an avid cyclist.
Ron is an easy man to like and respect. A retired Navy Chaplain, he is never preachy about religion. He lives his values. What he says is what he does.
He is the sort of man who blushes when he hears a dirty word, but he is the last man to correct someone who says it. He is used to the salty language of Marines.
He once said, “The old adage, ‘There are no atheists in foxholes’ remains true today for anyone going into harm’s way. If folks want to pray, I’m there. If they want to talk, I’m there. My job is provide counsel and solace. An ear for those in-need.”
Ron loved being a Chaplain. Out of his twenty-two year career he had served on several Navy ships and a handful of shore installations including a tour with the Marines.
Ron is a natural and easy listener. He is willing to re-think his position on any issue. Ron’s quiet courage shows up in his personal integrity. He’s always fair, even with people he doesn’t agree with.
Ron’s most annoying trait is that he’s an excellent writer. I would give my right arm to write like him. He’d already published a book on WWII. His book is called “Our Service, Our Stories – Indiana Veterans Recall Their World War II Experiences.”
Here is the link: https://www.amazon.com/Our-Service-Stories-Veterans-Experiences/dp/1604148659
Talking to Ron
I’ve had a few “close calls” in my life. A few moments when I knew I was only a breath or few inches away from death. Almost all soldiers have these stories.
My own relationship with God is personal. It’s not something I talked about easily.
Ron was okay with that. Over time we talked about those things.
No matter what the subjects was from life, death, marriage and history he listened and gave great advice. He is a good man to have around when you need a sensitive and sincere ear and are about to get married.
Ron is a great man. He is the kind of man and friend I want to be.
Ron was the pastor who married Muna and me. We were honored to have him be a part of the biggest day of our lives.
Walking in Easy Company’s Footsteps
Ron hauled my out-of-shape, middle-aged butt all over the battlefields we visited.
I was awed by the history I encountered. I did my best to plunge into the whys and hows the war happened.
The Story of “Band of Brothers”
Stephen Ambrose tells the story of how he wrote “Band of Brothers” in his last book “To America.”
In the fall of 1988, the veterans of E Company had a reunion in New Orleans. Ambrose and his assistant went to their hotel to interview them about their D-Day experiences.
Dick Winters read the transcript of the interview and wanted to get a couple of things straight. He arrived at Ambrose with Walter Gordon, Carwood Lipton and Forrest Guth- all men who would be in “Band of Brothers.”
They spent all afternoon looking at maps and talking. Ambrose invited them dinner at his house. Ambrose’s wife made roast beef dinner.
Over dinner Winters suggested a book about the history of Easy Company. Ambrose was looking for a new subject. He wanted his next book to be about men in combat focusing on junior officers and enlisted men.
He wanted to write another book about D-Day as the fiftieth anniversary drew closer. He thought a standalone book about a unit of group of rugged paratroopers who leapt into battle in the middle of the night was just the answer.
The one thing that Ambrose really liked was the closeness of the men that lasted over the fifty years since the war. The men of Easy, knew each other’s children and grandchildren. What happened in their lives over the next half century.
Two years later the company had another reunion in Orlando, Florida. He videotaped eight hours of group interviews. He spent days at a time interviewing the men one at a time.
In July, he spent a couple of weeks interviewing Winters and a group of men from the East Coast. He flew to Carwood Lipton’s home in North Carolina where Bill Guarnere joined them.
He spent a weekend with Don Malarkey and other West Coast members of Easy. He interviewed nearly all living members of the company.
In November 1990, he toured Easy’s battle sites in Normandy and Belgium. The next summer he traveled through Europe with Winters, Lipton and Malarkey.
After he was done writing the manuscript he gave it to the men of Easy Company to look at. He got corrections and suggestions. The book was a smash hit.
A decade later Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg bought the rights to the book. They made a ten-part miniseries for HBO of Easy Company’s story.
The rest is history- pun intended, lol!.
Now Ron and I were going to see the places Easy Company fought.