on October 22, 2007
For true Band of Brothers fans, "Wild Bill" Guarnere and "Babe" Heffron need no introduction. Although the foreword by actor Tom Hanks is a sincere and fitting tribute (both men think very highly of Hanks), it was not necessary to help promote this wonderfully written book. Journalist Robyn Post gives us Heffron and Guarnere in the rough with South Philly colloquialisms in tact. Five years in the making, _Brothers in Battle Best of Friends_ (a more fitting title would be impossible to conjure) joins the memoirs of Dick Winters, David Kenyon Webster, Donald R. Burgett, and a host of other histories of the 101st Airborne Division in World War II.
Post brings her readers right into the men's living rooms. One gets the impression that Bill and Babe are sitting across from them in an easy chair sipping a beer, recounting their amazing experiences. Post arranges the book nicely. Though both men grew up only blocks apart in South Philly, they would not meet until Babe joined Easy Company in England after the Normandy battles. Recognizing Babe's South Philly accent (for those who ever had a friend from Philly, you know the accent) the men became fast friends. Guarnere ensured Babe was placed in Joe Toye's squad because he knew Toye would take care of "the dirty rat." Both men soldiered through Holland, the bitter cold and horrendous fighting at Bastogne where both Toye and Guarnere were horribly wounded by the same artillery round and both men lost a leg. Babe then carries the narrative to war's end, while Bill recounts his journey through recovery and the physical and mental readjustments he overcame, all the while "just happy to be alive." Chapters on the men's lives and sixty-two year enduring friendship after the war, their travels back to Europe today, and an Epilogue written by actors Frank John Hughes and Robin Laing ("Bill" and "Babe" respectively) round out the book.
Like the memoirs of Winters and Webster, the book ties up loose ends created by both the written and film versions of Band of Brothers. For example, in the film, Guarnere, played by Hughes goes AWOL from hospital to return to Easy Company just prior to heading to Bastogne. Winters advises Guarnere about taking any more "joy rides" and the film leaves it at that. In the book, Guarnere recounts having been previously shot in the leg by a sniper while riding across an open field on a motorcycle in Holland to check on his men (a scene that would have been an exciting addition to the film). Heffron, never forgetting his Catholic school upbringing, recounts his personal feelings during the liberation of the Landsburg concentration camp, and listening to his inner voice that stopped him from throwing a hand grenade into a house in Germany. Breaking down the door with his rifle butt, Heffron discovered a terrified mother and her small children crouched in a corner. Heffron is still haunted with the thought of what would have happened had he thrown the grenade.
Bill and Babe's message is crystal clear, however: war is hell, and the men do not attempt to sugarcoat that fact. The grim reality of shooting German POWs, alluded to in the film is further confirmed within these pages. Today, when a youngster writes a letter to the pair stating he wants to go off to war and bee "heroes" like them, Bill and Babe reply with an astonished "What? Are you crazy?" Both men survived some of the most brutal combat of World War II, and not a day goes by that they do not think of the friends that were killed. Both men's dry humor shines through as well, and one finds oneself laughing hysterically on one page and welling up in tears on the next. Guarnere repeatedly emphasizes that World War II was won through a team effort of all the combined services, and that he and Babe were just two individual members of that enormous team. Two guys from South Philly, imparting a lifetime of wisdom that we can all benefit from. This book is a must read, and one that will reach further than a circle of loyal Band of Brothers fans!
proud son of Sgt. Nicholas Canellis
Company M, 13th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division
March 1941-September 1945 266 days in combat
on October 3, 2007
The real hero's of WWII didn't come home according to Babe Heffron. Well Bill and Babe have heroically told the stories of those men for 63 years. Right out of Damon Runyon these two characters, as labeled by a priest, through thick and thin have survived the Depression, Third Reich, health problems and all that life can throw at them. No sissys here, they both are giving and caring beyond the point they would admit. From foxhole to hole in the wall,the story of their loyalty, honesty and true devotion to each other is unparalleled. It is one of the greatest gifts that we have from their generation and it is a testimony that todays society can certainly use. Robyn Post's book has brought to the public the heartfelt tale of two different men who, damn the consequences, are buddies forever.
on November 3, 2007
As a WWII buff, I watched the HBO series Band of Brothers, and eventually bought the DVD version, and I also read the Stephen Ambrose book prior to watching the series. These are good introduction to this book.
This book gives Bill and Babe's first hand account of what they went through during the war, and how the hardships of battle bonded them together even to this day.
The Ambrose book and HBO miniseries while excellent, they pale in comparison with the story being told in the first person, by men who were actually there.
These are two ordinary guys from South Philadelphia,who never knew each other prior to the war, but because of it are best of friends.
If you want to read an excellent first hand account of two real Band of Brothers, pick up this book. You'll laugh and cry, but most of all you will see how the horrors of war can bond people together.
on October 5, 2007
This book is a fine account of the exploits, adventures, and mishaps of two of the better known members of the "Band of Brothers" extolled in the the Stephen Ambrose book and HBO miniseries (based on the book) of the same name.
The book stems from the interviews by a journalist in 2001 of "Wild Bill" (aka "Gonorrhea" and one of the two "natural killers" in Easy Company according to Major Richard Winters in his autobiography, "Beyond Band of Brothers") and "Babe" (who joined Easy Company after D-Day and lived through Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, and the capture of Hitler's Eagle's Nest at the end of the war) in connection with an article she was writing about them and the then upcoming HBO miniseries.
Each chapter contains their life stories (and those of other members) as told separately through these interviews, from both of them growing up poor in Philadelphia, to both of them ignoring their draft exemptions to volunteer, to their training and combat experiences, to their continuing post-war friendship ("Wild Bill" was shipped home after losing a leg in the Battle of the Bulge), to their belated renown as heroes.
I viewed this book with some trepidation as yet another spinoff from what is now a cottage industry of Band of Brothers material but I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting it was to learn more first-hand information from both of these warriors about their WWII experiences and lives both before and after the war. (Particularly revealing are frank admissions of certain acts that have been widely downplayed, discounted, or dismissed for generations. But without these admissions, no one will ever understand what these men went through and what war is often like no matter what side you are on. History cannot be studied or understood in a vacuum. It is these admissions that are, perhaps, their final act of heroism.)
on November 2, 2007
"Brothers in Battle" really touched my heart. Sometimes, I would have to put the book down because my feelings were so strong. To think that brave people fought to the death to keep America free was an overwhelming emotion. The writing is in the words of the men who fought together and the sentences were kept clear and simple. These men are my heroes. This book is one I will always cherish. All I can say is thank you to the author for capturing these brave men enduring their sacrifices. And, truly, thank you to the men who were Brothers in Battle.
on November 1, 2007
The book is an easy read with some background info that you don't get in the other books on the market. The best part of the book was getting insight into the early days of Wild Bill and Babe. I would suggest reading it if you are interested in these things. Ambrose and Winter's book have a better coverage of the battles these guys fought, but this book gets you into their frreindship. Its worth the price and time to read it.
on January 9, 2008
I'm not exactly what you would call a gung-ho patriotic type of guy, but I am fascinated with WW2 history, I loved Band of Brothers, and I have nothing but respect for these two guys. Bill "Wild Bill" Guarnere and Edward "Babe" Heffron were two paratroopers from Easy Company, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division that jumped into Normandy on D-Day, and helped defeat Nazi Germany. They met for the first time in England, 1944, but unbeknownst to them, they were from the same neighborhood; South Philly. Even though Guarnere was already a Normandy veteran at this time, and Heffron was just a green replacement, they became fast friends and remain so to this day. This is their remarkable story and their experiences before, during, and after the war. So many different emotions came to me while listening to these guy's stories; anger, despair, joy, pride, and even shame. These two gentlemen's story of sacrifice and loss literally put me to shame. I need to listen to stuff like this every once in a while to keep things in perspective.
They start with their childhood experiences growing up in South Philadelphia, and not ironically, they were quite similar. One is Irish, and the other Italian, but both had a Catholic upbringing, from decent, hardworking families. South Philadelphia in the 1930's though, was not like Leave it to Beaver. These guys pull no punches, and mince no words. They are from a different era, and you won't find a lot of political correctness here.
They quickly move on to their training, and eventually combat, which took them from Normandy, to Holland, Belgium and ultimately into the German Reich itself, their company capturing Hitler's Eagle's Nest at Berchtesgaden. A lot of the stuff they talk about is familiar from the miniseries, but a lot of it is new. Much of it, like the comradery, is heartwarming, some of it is sad, some humorous, while some of it is gruesome and downright disturbing. They really bring home the horrors of war. I was a bit surprised when the guys openly talked about killing prisoners and the like. I knew this sort of thing happened on both sides, but it's a bit unsettling when Bill casually says, "two SS soldiers put up their hands and handed over their weapons. I blew their brains out." They didn't have much good to say about the Germans, as men, or as soldiers. I was a bit surprised by the latter, as the Germans normally have a reputation as being such good soldiers. In these guy's experiences, technology was the only superiority the Germans had. They also talk about the British soldiers. They say the enlisted men were good soldiers, but the officers were too slow and leisurely. Bill claims that they literally had to stop for tea and crumpets before each advance.
The end of the war for Bill was when he lost his leg in Bastogne, Belgium (Battle of the Bulge) in January 1945 and was sent home. Babe made it through to the end of the war in Europe where he helped liberate several concentration camps. The two men met back up stateside and continued their friendship, which is going on 60 plus years and counting. They talk about their lives after the war as well, and even their experiences with Stephen Ambrose, Tom Hanks, Stephen Spielberg and the cast from the miniseries that was made about them and their comrades. They insist they are not heroes, but there is an undeniable pride about them, not only for what they did, but who they did it with. They were the best of the best, and these remarkable men share an intense bond that most of us will never know.
I have the audio CD version btw, which is my first experience with this format and I enjoyed it very much. At first, I hated narrator Dick Hill's voice, but it grew on me. It was gritty and far from eloquent, but it was fitting for the content. Hill puts on his best South Philly accent when he is reciting the men's words, and also infuses the stories with much emotion, making it a much more personal experience than just reading the book. Five stars.
on November 7, 2007
Full disclosure - as one of the lucky souls who has travelled with Bill and Babe on a tour of their old battlesites, I'm a bit biased.
Still, I can attest that the personalities and character of these two extraordinary men radiate in their memoir. Reading the book is just like listening to them speak about their memories; I hear their voices with every word (and if you've ever heard them speak, either on the BoB interview footage or in person, you know just how distinctive those voices are). The only things missing to complete the experience are the sound of one of Bill's sharp whistles, or Babe's gimlet eye checking to make sure you're paying full attention.
As someone who is not a WWII military history buff per se (although I come from a military family and adored the BoB miniseries), for me Babe and Bill's stories are fascinating not only in historical context but simply on a human level - it's the story of two disadvantaged, street-wise kids from South Philly who, along with their compatriots, exhibited unbelievable depths of aptitude, endurance and courage as wartime soldiers a half-world away from home. Further, the energetic devotion with which these men have overcome their own reluctance to revisit painful experiences in order to honor the memory of their fellow soldiers is incredibly inspiring. They're still the best of the best.
In sum - anyone who likes a well-told true story will appreciate this book. Guaranteed.
on October 23, 2007
Kudo's to two of Easy's more visible and entertaining brothers. Bill and Babe truly show how the bonds of brotherhood are forged in battle and are stronger then any other.
We've all read or watched Steve Ambrose's version of Easy Company and were enthralled by the various members and their interactions with each other. Dick Winters follow on story just reinforces how unique these men truly were. However, what is wonderfully refreshing in this tale is we are treated to the same story from the viewpoint of 2 enlisted men and their interactions with Maj Winters, other officers, and their enlisted peers. Much as been deservedly written about the positive impact of leadership that Dick Winters had on this group of individuals. What separates this tale is the passion and honesty that Bill and Babe go to in giving Herbert Sobel the credit he deserves for making them tough and battle ready. While they may personally dislike the man and his methods, neither will argue that Sobel's hardening probably saved many lives. What Bill and Babe paint here is something that all of us professional military members know: "the best trainer may not be the best combat leader."
That fact that these two men still see and interact with each other, every day, since 1945 speaks volumes to the bonds that their shared experience has forged. Read this book and get to know these men while you can.
on October 21, 2007
This is the 3nd in a series of books I have read concerning " Band of brothers" and related. The book allows an intimate and honest view of what it was to be involved in a generations test of their metal ! They are steel and gold! Here again we ( I am a 50's -60's child) see the real caliber of men that were thrust into a life changing ordeal and ; as luck would have it, survived to become life long friends . War destroys the day to day crap we find so compelling and lays open the soul, forever. As a medic in Viet-nam I saw many things that never left me. These men are no different than any man faced with the worse man deals out to his brothers ! The book is a small, intimate look into their most guarded memories. Well worth the read !