On this Memorial Day when we remember our heroes, I believe of all the glorious movies the genius duo of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have given this world, the 10-part miniseries. “A Band of Brothers,” is the crown jewel. To me it is perhaps mankind’s greatest illustration ever of how insanely horrible war most truly is. Today the miniseries is recognized as the most popular of all time.
It first aired on HBO in 2001, and is based on Stephen Ambrose's historical bestseller by the same title. It is about a World War II unit called Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army. The series begins with Easy Company’s training in Toccoa, Georgia, in the spring of 1942, then follows them into France on D-Day, and ends with the Allied victory in Europe in 1945.
What you need to know on this Memorial Day is that the title for the book and series comes from the famous St Crispin's Day Speech in William Shakespeare's play Henry V, delivered by King Henry before the Battle of Agincourt. This was set on October 25, 1415, and you need to understand in the play the English armies are tired and ready to quit. Yet the French armies, who outnumber the English 5-to-1, are fresh and are ready for war.
How King Henry inspires his “Band of Brothers” is Shakespeare at his best and has been repeated for centuries as one of the most motivational and beloved verses of all time. As one critic wrote, “In his ‘Saint Crispin’s Day’ speech, Henry V speaks of glory, honor, and brotherhood -- all ideals that inspire even the most despairing and downtrodden of men.” (In the play, there is a line: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”)
Secondly, of the 10 episodes, it is the ninth that has earned the worldwide distinction of “Why We Must Fight.” It is the most popular of all the one-hour segments and, be advised, it is for mature audiences. I don’t care how old you may be, this will likely move you to tears and you’ll never question why good men and Godly countries must fight ever again. To see a clip of the episode, CLICK HERE.
This description of Episode No. 9 by one critic is an understatement -- “Easy Company finally reaches Germany, but they aren’t prepared for what they will find there, especially not the remains of a concentration camp which has been abandoned by the German soldiers who ran it. Here they see Hitler’s “Final Solution” and, as they liberate the remaining prisoners, the reasons they are fighting this war are brought home to the soldiers.”
In Stephen Ambrose’s book, Shakespeare’s ‘Saint Crispin’s Speech’ is the forward of the book and, in the miniseries, the speech is recited by a surrendering German Amy officer in the closing scenes.
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THE “ST. CRISPIN’S DAY SPEECH,” FROM THE PLAY ‘HENRY V’ BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Of fighting men they have full threescore thousand.
There's five to one. Besides, they are all fresh.
God's arm strike with us! ‘Tis fearful odds.
O, that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work today.
What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin.
If we are marked to die, we are enough
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honor.
God’s will, I pray thee wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honor,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, ‘faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace, I would not lose so great an honor,
As one man more, methinks, would share from me,
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart. His passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse.
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand o’ tiptoe when the day is named
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors,
And say ‘Tomorrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
*But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother, be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks (Henry V, Act 4. Sc. 3)
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day. (Henry V, Act 4. Sc. 3)
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To watch the speech in a clip from Kenneth Branagh's masterpiece film of the Shakespeare classic play. CLICK HERE.
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With today’s modern technology, you can stream “Band of Brothers” in a number of ways. Please Google “stream band of brothers” or go to Amazon, where there are several options. The miniseries will also be aired by several sources in June.
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“Men, it's been a long war, it's been a tough war. You've fought bravely, proudly for your country. You're a special group. You've found in one another a bond that exists only in combat, among brothers. You've shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You've seen death and suffered together. I'm proud to have served with each and every one of you. You all deserve long and happy lives in peace.” -- Joseph Liebgott (Ross McCall), Band of Brothers, Season 1: Points
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“Hitler made only one big mistake when he built his Atlantic Wall,” the paratroopers liked to say. “He forgot to put a roof on it.” -- Stephen E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers.
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“How could anyone ever know of the price paid by soldiers in terror, agony and bloodshed if they’d never been to places like Normandy, Bastogne or Haguenau?” -- David Webster, Band of Brothers.