They didn’t set out to be heroes. They simply set out to enlist in the armed forces and serve their country after Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941.
They were the paratroopers of Easy Company, a part of the 101st Army Airborne, and the task that history gave to them was nothing less than astonishing. It was June, 1944. These good men had been in training first at Camp Toccoa in Georgia. Later they crossed the Atlantic Ocean, which was patrolled by Nazi submarines on the lookout for American ships to torpedo, and continued their training in England, all in preparation for the Invasion of Normandy.
These men weren’t part of the force that landed by ship in the early hours of June 6, 1944, however. This was the group that went into Nazi Occupied France first. They were strapped into parachutes and dropped into France after jumping out of little propeller planes.
The lucky ones landed in fields. The less-than-lucky got tangled in trees and had to cut themselves loose, and that turned out to be the least of their troubles. If you think your job duties are rough, take a look a theirs: dropped in the dark of night into rural France, where most had never been, they didn’t know the language, had only seen the terrain on models or maps, had to assemble in their units once they hit the totally unfamiliar ground – and most were not dropped in the right place to begin with. To make matters even more harrowing, the entire area was under the control of gun-wielding Nazis. Once assembled, the paratrooper’s job was to take France back from the German forces who were occupying it.
What makes their story amazing, when you look back on it, is that they were so limited in terms of the technology they possessed. They had radios that only worked within a five-mile radius. That’s it. Just five miles. If they went outside the line the equipment no longer worked and they could not communicate. They identified one another, on the ground and in the dark, by the use of English toy crickets. One of our soldiers would encounter another on that darkest of nights and click the cricket. Answering clicks meant they’d encountered another of the Allies and were in the proximity of someone on their side. Not the enemy. Not someone they’d have to defend their life against, but a friend.
There was a whole lot riding on the clicks of those crickets.
Well, we all know the rest of the story: Easy Company pulled it off. They landed, assembled, clicked their crickets, found their units, invaded France, fought back the Nazis, and along with so many other divisions and troops, ultimately freed Europe. They lived up to the motto of Easy Company that they had adapted back at Camp Toccoa: “Currahee!” It was a Native American term for the mountain that rose above the camp that meant “We stand alone.” Easy Company adapted it to “We stand alone – together.” They sure did. They stood alone against one of the worst enemies in history together. It wasn’t until decades later, after Stephen Ambrose wrote his book, Band of Brothers, about the bond between these incredible men, and Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg made the book into a miniseries for HBO TV, that the rest of us found out their exploits and learned their names. Now we know their names, and they’re household words: Lieutenant Sobel, who trained them into a tough, competent force; Colonel Sink; Major Dick Winters; and the rest of “our boys:” Toye, Malarkey, Guarnere and Heffron, Guth, Liebgott, Lipton, Nixon, Welsh – the list goes on. The world knows who they are – now. But what’s most impressive is that these gentlemen went into the fray not to become famous or get immortalized on film, but to do their job as assigned. It just happened to involve freeing a beleaguered continent.
To any and all old soldiers who may be out there who members of Easy Company, you are simply the best! Currahee!