Former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Bill Guarnere, pictured above, a hero of the 101st Airborne immortalized in "Band of Brothers" (as played by actor Frank John Hughes) died over the weekend, on March 8, 2014. News of his death is just breaking nationally. Here's a Cold, Hard Football Facts tribute, with a look back at a CHFF classic that originally ran in March 2009.)
The Cold, Hard Football Facts have about three interests in life: football, beer and World War II.
So we were excited when the History Channel just played its "Band of Brothers" marathon this weekend for like the umpteenth time. And, for like the umpteenth time, we spent all weekend watching it, despite the fact the well-worn "Band of Brothers" box set sits proudly in the cardboard-box world headquarters, and apparently oblivious to the fact that there was some sort of basketball tournament going on at the same time.
Hey, it's not much of an existence ... but at least it's ours.
So, while watching, we started thinking, what are the 10 best scenes from this mind-blowing epic history about Easy Co. of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, from the legendary 101st Airborne?
There are probably 100 scenes we could have included, and if you asked us tomorrow, the list would probably be different. But here's a look at our Top 10 scenes from "Band of Brothers" as of today.
10 – Spiers tells Blithe to accept that he's dead
(Episode No. 3, "Carentan")
Blithe is painted as a coward in the TV series, though the books by Ambrose ("Band of Brothers") and company commander Dick Winters ("Beyond Band of Brothers") are a bit kinder. Spiers, meanwhile, is the baddest-ass mo-fo in the entire 101st Airborne.
The two make for one of the most chilling scenes in the series: Spiers comes upon Blithe in the dark of night, as the corporal is cowering in a foxhole outside Carentan, awaiting a German attack. Blithe admits to Spiers that he hid in a ditch on D-Day because he was too scared to fight.
Spiers tells Blithe that "we're all scared" and then bends down to tell Blithe the real reason he hid in that ditch. The short, chilling monologue offers insight into the nihilism that many soldiers had to adopt to survive psychologically:
"We’re all scared. You hid in that ditch because you think there's still hope. But Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you're already dead. And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you'll be able to function as a soldier's supposed to function. Without mercy. Without compassion. Without remorse. All war depends upon it."
9 – Lipton recites Henry V/Winters reads grandson's letter
(Episode No. 10, "Points")
The series concludes with the Easy Co. survivors playing baseball in Austria at the end of the war, as Winters recounts what the men did later in life. Some of their stories are pretty amazing. (Lynn "Buck" Compton, for example, became the California prosecutor who convicted Robert Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan.)
The episode (like each before it) then fades out with the actual survivors of Easy Company, now old men, recounting their own stories of the war – in this case of life after the war. Lipton and Winters are the last to speak.
Lipton recites the famous St. Crispin's Day passage from Shakespeare's "Henry V" before the Battle of Agincourt, the speech that spawned the name of the series:
From this day to the ending of the world,
We in it shall be remembered;
We few, we lucky few, we band of brothers;
For he who today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother
And then, in the beautiful and sad final scene of the series, Winters recounts a letter he shared later in life with Mike Ranney, one of the men of Easy.
"I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, "Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?' Grandpa said no. But I served with a company of heroes."
Grown men don't cry ... except at the end of "Band of Brothers."
8 – Malarkey picks up the laundry of his dead comrades
(Episode No. 3, "Carentan")
The most poignant scenes in "Band of Brothers" are not those of the battles. The most poignant scenes are the clever ways in which the producers try to remind the viewers of the human cost of the war.
This is one of those scenes: Easy had returned to England after three weeks of combat in France. Before shipping out again, Malarkey heads to the local village laundry to pick up his clothes.
The English woman at the laundry has a bunch of extra bundles so she says, "You couldn't be a dear and help me with a few others, could you?"
Malarkey stares blankly at the woman as she reads off the names of the men who have yet to pick up their laundry. It's the names of all the men who were killed or wounded in Normandy. You get the impression the woman knows this, too. But she's gotta do something with all the laundry.
It would have been a long list if she read all the names: In three weeks in Normandy in June 1944, Easy lost 65 men – about half the company.
7 – Easy takes out the German 105s at Brecourt Manor on D-Day
(Episode No. 2, "Day of Days")
For many, this is the most memorable scene in the series. Just hours after dropping into Normandy, and in the first combat action for just about every man involved, Easy is ordered to take out an emplacement of four German 105s that are lobbing shells on the soldiers who are landing down on Utah Beach.
Under the cool, clear-thinking leadership of Winters (pictured), they destroy all four guns, with the loss of just one man killed. The assault was a pivotal moment in the development of Easy: it established Winters as a brilliant leader and tactician and earned him the respect of every man in the company, as you find out in the next scene, when they return to Ste. Marie du Mont and ponder what just happened on this incredible "Day of Days."
Everything Easy did later in the war was a result of their success in this attack.
At the end of the episode, you learn that Easy's movements at Brecourt Manor on D-Day are still taught today at West Point, as a textbook example of an assault on a fixed position. There's also a movement afoot to this day to get Congress to give Winters the Medal of Honor for his actions at Brecourt.
6 – Spiers takes command of Easy at Foy
(Episode No. 7, "The Breaking Point")
Badass Spiers is best known among the men for the rumors that he gunned down a group of German prisoners on D-Day after handing them cigarettes.
The rumors – never confirmed – grow over the course of the war. His legend is confirmed during Easy Co.'s effort to take the Belgian town Foy under ineffective company commander Dike, who cracks up during the attack. Spiers, commander of Dog Co., is sent into relieve Dike and instantly gains control of the situation, ordering men into position and then racing, completely exposed to a hail of enemy fire, to connect with I Company on the side of the town.
As Spiers races through rifle and artillery fire, the incredible scene is narrated in a near-whisper by a disbelieving Lipton:
"At first the Germans didn't shoot at him. At first they couldn't believe what they were seeing. But that wasn't the really astounding part. The astounding part was that, after he hooked up with I Company, he came back."
That was one ballsy ass mo-fo.
5 – The assault at the crossroads in Holland
(Episode No. 5, "Crossroads")
The phrase "follow me" is one of the recurring themes of "Band of Brothers" (both the book and the series), never more so than when Winters and an Easy Co. patrol come across an outpost of German soldiers near a dike in Holland.
Winters, with his typical cool tactical command, spearheads the assault, as usual. He races to the top of the dike, and coldly guns down a young German soldier at nearly point-blank range. (The face of the soldier will later haunt him, especially when he attempts some R&R in Paris.) Then, completely exposed to the enemy, he guns down about a half dozen other Germans.
The rest of the patrol finally reaches the dike with Winters and they proceed to destroy two companies of SS in one of the most gruesome scenes of the series. Winters, who was immediately promoted to battalion executive officer in the wake of the attack, once again proved his incredible leadership skills and his naked bravery.
As one of his comrades said at the start of the episode, "I don't know how he survived."
4 – Jewish trooper Liebgott breaks down at Landsberg concentration camp
(Episode No. 9, "Why We Fight")
Easy comes across the miserable Landsberg concentration camp near the war's end, a place inhabited by piles of dead bodies and walking skeletons. It's only here that they became aware of Hitler's "Final Solution" when they realize that the prisoners are all Juden – Jews.
They rush to feed the starving prisoners, but are ordered by an Army physician not to give out the food, because the emaciated people will eat themselves to death. They need to put the prisoners back in the camp until they can get proper food and medical care.
One soldier is ordered to give the news to the prisoners – Liebgott, the German-speaking Jew.
He initially refuses, but then obeys the orders – only to break down after telling the distraught, famished prisoners, his fellow Jews, that they need to get back behind the fences of the stinking death camp until more help arrives.
3 – The invasion begins with jump into Normandy
(Episode No. 1, "Currahee"/Episode No. 2, "Day of Days")
There's a moment at the end of Episode 1 in which the troopers suddenly realize that they're no longer ordinary men (or even boys), when they realize that they are now invaders – small pieces of the largest and most amazing military force ever assembled.
The faces and moods of everybody involved suddenly changes, especially as the troopers climb into the C-47s and slowly lift off into huge formations in the sky, while soldiers on the ground stare solemnly at the planes, the enormity of the situation and the moment in history hitting everybody, including the viewer. It's on. Boy is it f*ckin' on.
The scope of the invasion is best represented at the very end of Episode 1, when you see Winters sitting in the jump door of his C-47, on the flight to Normandy. One single invader who's part of an epic quest to liberate an entire continent from genocidal tyranny.
The camera then begins to pan back from this one man, and you start to see what Winters must have seen if he actually sat in the jump door that night: aircraft and invasion ships stretching across sky and sea as far as the eyes can see. It's an amazing show of force, the likes of which mankind has never produced before or since, and Winters saw it all from the jump door.
The episode ends right there, but the scene picks up right where it left off in Episode No. 2. Only this time as the planes cross over the continental coast, greeted suddenly by anti-aircraft fire, explosions, fiery planes and death, these ordinary men instantly thrown into war.
No. 2 – Easy rests in a candle-lit convent in Rachamps
(Episode No. 7, "The Breaking Point")
A nun's choir sings beautiful medieval songs by candlelight as the men of Easy sit in church pews in a small Belgian town. It's their first night indoors after a month spent living in foxholes in Bastogne at the depths of winter, and then taking over several small villages around Bastogne, suffering great losses every step of the way.
As the worn, disheveled troopers sit quietly and listen, lost in their own thoughts amid the flickering candlelight, the men who were killed and wounded in Bastogne slowly fade from the screen like ghosts, while Lipton tallies the human toll: 82 of the 145 men Easy had heading into Bastogne were killed or wounded. Only 63 remain.
The scene ends with a quiet conversation between Lipton and the new company commander, Spiers, the object of so many rumors. Spiers says Roman general Terseus was probably dogged by rumors that he lopped off the heads of a couple centurions, a tacit recognition of the stories that he had gunned down the German prisoners on D-Day.
Lipton wonders why Spiers doesn't put an end to the rumors. He replies:
"Maybe that’s because Terseus knew there was some value to the men believing he was the meanest, toughest son of a bitch in the whole Roman legion."
No. 1 – Easy marches into Bastogne to halt final German offensive
(Episode No. 5, "Crossroads")
Wow, this is powerful stuff. The series reaches its climax in Bastogne (in Episodes 6 and 7). But the stage is set at the end of the perfectly named fifth episode, "Crossroads."
On a bitterly cold December night, the under-equipped, under-dressed 101st Airborne is hastily trucked to the front to defend the vital Belgian crossroads town of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.
As the paratroopers head in, dazed soldiers and walking wounded from a shattered infantry division are retreating, warning of the slaughter they just witnessed during the surprise German attack.
The paratroopers strip the defeated Americans of any ammunition, while one armored division lieutenant tells Winters that German tanks are about to cut off the last road out and that they'll soon be surrounded.
"We're paratroopers," replies Winters. "We're supposed to be surrounded."
Then the line of paratroopers begins walking, slowly and stoically, into the forbidding woods ahead, their path marked by large fires of diesel fuel they lit to keep warm.
Winters stares at the men, the light of the fires flickering across his face and in his eyes, and a look of quiet pride briefly crosses his face. He slowly turns and joins the column that appears to be walking into certain death – and into what turns out to be the darkest, deadliest days of the war.
They look so bad-ass and you just think that these were the ballsiest mo-fos you've ever seen, and thank God they were on your side.