08
Apr
11

CR3 #29: We Who Are Alive and Remain by Marcus Brotherton

This book is a companion piece of sorts to Stephen Ambrose’s incredible work Band of Brothers. Basically, it is the combined recollections of several more soldiers who served in the 101st paratroopers but were not featured in Ambrose’s book. It begins with each man’s background, then moves through his training, into his combat experiences, and finishes with a little bit about their lives after the war. There are also three chapters written by the children of men who passed away before the books were written.

As much as I wanted to like this book, I really was somewhat unimpressed. My lack of interest had little to do with the actual content–each man had some amazing, touching, impressive recollections–and more with how the book was arranged. Each chapter had a section by each man revolving around a particular topic, like training, or a specific campaign of the war. For example, the chapter on training was particularly confusing, since it spanned nearly two years–most of these men were replacement soldiers, so they did not train at the same time or in the same places. The author did not tie the stories together, but simply organized them exactly as the men told them. There is no real context or objective fact, since it is solely the subjective views of a small group of soldiers. Another issue is the chapters written by the deceased soldiers’ families–it’s nice to hear how great their fathers were, but since none of the men had been particularly forthcoming (if at all) about their war experiences, those chapters–while touching–are basically “my father was a great man who didn’t like to talk about the war.”

Although it might be considered unfair to compare this work to Band of Brothers, I find it perfectly reasonable, since it was written as a reaction. One of the main problems is that while some of the soldiers vehemently disagree on the way some incidents were portrayed in the original book and mini-series (for instance there is much debate on whether drill instructor Sobel was the unstable martinet he was portrayed as by Ambrose), there are no facts or evidence, only personal opinions. Ambrose’s book combines the men’s memories with solid research, which lends him more credibility.

On the positive side, the men interviewed by Brotherton are all very interesting people, and they have some great stories to tell. There are many humorous anecdotes, including untold stories about the men featured in Band of Brothers. There are also some very poignant sections, including the reactions of the men who had a hand in liberating concentration camps. In my opinion, the author’s work interviewing these veterans is amazing–they all have such interesting views, and I’m glad the time was taken to record their stories. The content in the book is definitely interesting and worth reading, but it is just sorely lacking as far as broader context is concerned. Only someone who already knows WW2 history will be able to follow a lot of the events.

This is not a bad book for those who really enjoyed Band of Brothers and are interested in hearing about those events from a slightly different perspective. However, it is a very poor stand-alone book, since it is lacking in facts and context as well as making constant references to Ambrose’s superior work.

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