Band of Brothers

“The men of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army, came from different backgrounds, different parts of the country. They were farmers and coal miners, mountain men and son of the Deep South. Some were desperately poor, others from the middle class. One came from Harvard, one from Yale, a couple from UCLA. Only one was from the Old Army, only few came from the National Guard of Reserves. They were citizen soldiers.
They came together in the summer of 1942, by which time the Europeans had been at war for three years. By the late spring of 1944, they had become an elite company of  airborne light infantry. Early on the morning of D-Day, in its first combat action, Easy captured and put out of action a German battery of 105 mm cannon that were looking down on Utah Beach. The company led the way to Carentan, fought in Holland, held the perimeter at Bastogne, held the counteroffensive in the Battle of the Bulge, fought in the Rhineland campaign, and took Hitlers`s Eagle`s Nest at Berchtesgaden. It had taken almost 150 percent casualties. At the peak of its effectiveness, in Holland in October 1944 and in the Ardennes in January 1945, it was a good a rifle company as there was in the world.
The job completed, the company disbanded, the men went home.”

Stephen. E Ambrose Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle Nest, 1992: p. 15, 16

A Bridge Too Far, Bridges in General or the First War Movie I Ever Saw

Black and white. Yes, my memory of A Bridge Too Far is a black and white one. We didn’t have a color TV at the time we watched it. I remember watching with my mother but that might not even be accurate since what she really liked were war romances. But those old ones. She made me watch one with a bridge in it as well. It was about a woman who later tried to cover up that she had to sell her body as a means to survive during the war. Very dramatic. I did absolutely not get the point. If he loved her, so what? Anyhow, since  A Bridge Too Far was very probably the very first war movie I ever saw, I’ve been imprinted with the love for these guarding-a-bridge-or-blow -it-up-so-the-enemy-won’t-get-it and similar bridge moments. There is one like that in many movies. Of course there is one in Saving Private Ryan. Everything else regarding A Bridge Too Far is pretty blurred by now. That’s why I’m going to watch it again soon.

Trenches, Tanks and the odd Sub

Each individual war has generated numerous movies. And every war has its aficionados and this for very good reasons, because every war has its own topics and themes that are very specific for this special war and for this one only. Some of these topics are directly linked to historical facts (there will always only be one D-Day. Gallipoli stands for WWI and there was  no more Gettysburg since the Civil War etc.).  So if you are interested in one or the other of  these events, then, obviously,  you will be more into one or the other movie portraying that war. But there are of course themes beyond the historical details, facts, dates and battles….

The trenches, although still know in WWII, are essentially a theme of WWI. Hence the name “war of the trenches”, of course.  Submarines are linked to WWII. Jungle combat mostly took place during the Vietnam war (and to a lesser extent during WWII in the Pacific). Road blocks and suicide bombings  are typical for the Iraq war. Close range firing is a trait of the Civil War and other pre-technological wars.

I was always fascinated and horrified by the WWI trenches. To imagine that all the soldiers saw for days was just the heaven above them… The naming and characteristics of all those different trenches. Apparently English trenches were rather muddy whereas the French saw to their kitchen areas and the Germans managed to have theirs  equipped like comfortable houses (Paul Fussels book “The Great War and Modern Memory” gives some astounding accounts).

One of my very favourite movies, Merry Christmas (Joyeux Noel) is a fine example of a WWI movie located to a large extent in the trenches. Sure, this movie goes far beyond the depiction of the life in the trenches. I will write about this at a later date.

But what was especially horrifying was the way those young soldiers had to get out of the trenches and run towards extinction on the field in front of them. They ran and fell and died, row after, row after row. Nowhere was this more drastically shown as in Gallipoli.

Mean Old Private Ryan

People did talk about Saving Private Ryan. They talk about it and they will continue to talk about. Occasionally it seems that it is the only war movie that has ever been made. At least the only one the general public is aware of  – until, of course The Hurt Locker got the Oscar – but that is another story and if I believe it deserved it…). It is a fact that even the most war movie illiterate seems to know Saving Private Ryan or has at least heard  of it. One could almost go as far as to talk about a before and after era. Occasionally this can become slightly annoying especially considering that this movie overshadows some very well done other movies that would be talked about, appreciated and mentioned if it wasn’t for mean old Private Ryan.  On top of that it  led to my worst Popcorn moment ever, something that up to that point in time  I wouldn’t even have thought possible and , by the way, was never repeated since. I was on holiday in  some southern English town. Salisbury or Bournemouth. At the beginning of the movie I was actually  sitting in one of the rows in the middle munching Popcorn.  Shamefully I must admit that I was not aware of the nature of the movie that would be shown (How could that happen? Living in Switzerland which I did at the time and am doing again now doesn’t really put you in the position to talk about the latest releases of the film industry. US movies are usually already classics by the time Swiss  movie theaters start to show the previews). Fifteen minutes into the beginning of the movie it dawned on me: Popcorn was the least appropriate thing when watching a movie like this. And everybody knows what I’m talking about when referring to the first 15 minutes of Private Ryan. This is probably one of the most hellish moments in the history of war movies (put aside the episode Bastogne in Band of Brothers) and what’s even worse: There is no escaping it. You don’t watch it , you’re literally in it. These 23 minutes are very probably part of its success story. They lead to  an extremely close  and  maybe for some spectators  totally unwanted identification with those poor unfortunate soldiers landing on  Omaha Beach. A nightmare and absolutely not encouraging popcorn eating. I almost threw up.

After having said all this, adorned with some little anecdote of the life of a moviegoer, I’d like to put this straight: I do appreciate Saving Private Ryan. It is one of the best WWII infantry combat movies, no doubt about that, but it is just unfair it gets all the credit when The Thin Red Line is so much more emotional and poetic, and When trumpets fade so much more moving. Ahh… I hear some of you wonder …When trumpets fade… ?What the heck is she talking about?…See? Overshadowed by Saving Private Ryan. 1998. What a year for war movies.


Which war movie was it that did it? Which was the first to catch my interest to such an extent that it would become a passion? Is it the same that I would call my all time favourite war movie or has it meanwhile become one amongst many?

Which one is it for you? Or is it more than just one, maybe a whole category? Was it the day you discovered that there is actually more than just one Vietnam movie but a whole bunch of them?  Or do you go for combat movies in general and the actual war isn’t even that important to you?  It could also be about the camaraderie. Or the weapons. Or machines. You could love sniper movies or those with subs in them. Maybe you are obsessed with panzers.

See? A lot of things could get you hooked.

In my case it was a very specific movie. The war: Second world war. Location: The Pacific. Genre: Infantry combat. You know which one? Take a guess.

Yes, the other one, the one that didn’t get all the credit it deserved cause Saving Private Ryan was out there at the same time.  Yeah, I’m talking the Thin Red Line here.

That was the first one that moved me so much it got me thinking. And looking back. There had been others before and there would be many more afterwards but this one  was the first that got me hooked. Followed closely by Stalingrad, Black Hawk Down and Band of Brothers. Ok, I admit, it is not a very old passion but notwithstanding it is a profound one. These  movies convinced me that there was more about war movies than the general public would ever see,it showed me a huge terrain full of astonishingly original, moving, interesting and fascinating movies.    A world full of variety. There are so many war movies out there and so many different genres and subgenres that probably no one, and I mean it, absolutely no one would not name the one or the other among some of their all time favourites (it just depends on how inclusive the borders of the category are to you.  Combat movies are just a genre among many and even though, admittedly, it might be what I prefer, they are not to everybody’s liking. But think: Last of the Mohicans, Enigma, The Pianist…..  There’s quite a wide range.)