You are on page 1of 15

!

Brittany Taylor
Dr. Igmen
History 499
Senior Seminar: Final Paper
15 May 2015

!2
Nor am I ashamed to admit that fear was a principal factor that contributed to my success as
a leader. I was always afraid of letting my men down and I was always afraid of dying. It was a
combination of these fears that drove me to learn everything I could about my profession so I
could bring as many men home from war as possible.1 -Major Dick Winters Commander, Easy
Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment
Fear can drive people to make either foolish choices or intelligent ones. Fear can cripple. It
can also stimulate. In the case of Major Dick Winters and other members of the 101st Airborne
division, 506th PIR, Easy Company: Fear was a stimulate. The 506th Parachute Infantry
Regiment was created after Americas entrance into World War II as a military outfit comprised
of a few companies, including Easy. These specially trained soldiers learned to drop from
bomber aircraft, fall behind enemy lines, and aid infantry units in battle.
The idea of paratroopers was new in the underdeveloped American airborne military divisions.
The idea of voluntarily joining a new operation, unsure of any potential consequences, the
government used two main incentives to draw men to apply: Higher pay and bragging rights. The
men of Easy Company responded to these incentives. Sergeant Don Malarkey of Easy Company
recorded his reaction to this news, I wanted to be one of the hardest, toughest, and best-dressed
soldiers in the army. I wanted to be hardened into a physical superman. Wear those wings. Hell,
I wanted to jump out of an airplane with a parachute on my back and be cocky. It seemed
challenging, yet simple2 Malarkey wanted the bragging rights. Major Winters remarked on
his perspective of the paratroopers before joining, Airborne troopers looked like I had always
pictured a group of soldiers: hard, lean, bronzed, and toughAnother selling point was the pay

1Richard

D. Winters and Cole C. Kingseed, Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of
Major Dick Winters(New York: Berkley Caliber, 2006), 284.
Don Malarkey with Bob Welch, Easy Company Soldier: The Legendary Battles of a Sergeant
from World War IIs Band of Brothers(New York: St. Martins Press, 2008), 30.
2

!3
of an airborne 2d lieutenant, $268 a month, which wasnt bad while it lasted.3 Winters
acknowledged the pay was better compared to other military units. However the incentives
allured the men to apply, the intense training led to the creation of soldiers, thrust into
preparation for Operation Overlord: D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, Normandy, France.
The all-inclusive nature of Operation Overlord among the Allies in an attempt to penetrate
German artillery on the beaches of Normandy, created complexity with the large amount of
soldiers involved in this operation. Easy Company was a modest unit of men compared to the
major push on the front of the operation. This first operation for the company entered their
involvement with the rest of WWII in the European Theater. Focusing on a single unit of
soldiers, applying a microscopic or individualistic approach by following WWII events through
the eyes of Easy Company, the picture of their identity in fraternity and humanity as a military
unit. By uncovering large numbers, statistics, and battles studied by many historians and their
counterparts, this narrowed focus will produce original interpretations and perspectives of a
soldiers experience in WWII and their reactions that produced an agency through their adaption
to the warfare surrounding them and the individualistic identity that resulted.
A few historical questions to apply to this individualistic study of Easy Company will act as a
guide for the central focus of this paper. A few questions to consider such as how the members
of Easy Company were affected by the demands of their bodies as human machines to counter
the opposing forces in battle; and through this, how their reaction to this demand from national
head quarters specifically shifted the identity of a U.S. soldier in the modern period. Key terms
to consider in this study such as modernity, nationalism, warfare, soldier, and agency will be

Winters, 10-11.

!4
defined and discussed in this paper. Easy Company was a unit of soldiers, but they were also a
unit of individuals. They each came from modest, ordinary backgrounds as civilians before the
draft of the war. They were the first paratroopers to come directly from civilian roles in American
society. They were trained into an elite military unit to combat the Axis forces. The analysis of
Easy Companys personal identity that developed through the events and experiences of modern
warfare in World War II creates a unique study of men turned into soldiers in a time of national
desperation that resulted in a cohesive, fighting military unit.
The men of Easy Company developed their collective military identity based on the larger
national influence of America. Recovering from the Great Depression of the 1930s and
expressing a sentiment of neutrality towards the European war, American society, that is the
general public, did not believe an attack upon U.S. soil would occur. After the attack on Pearl
Harbor on December 7, 1941, American society experienced a shock and an urgency. Once the
draft ordered men into military service, society accepted the war effort, whether voluntarily or
through the influence of promotion and propaganda for the war effort. The men of Easy
Company came from this society. The early 1940s in America was a different time and a
different setting that produced a different mindset that separates from more recent thinking in
American society.
The study of Easy Company under this national context calls for definitions of specific
keywords. Nationalism depicts the patriotism and unity of a people under a governmental
system. This period in WWII further added to the process of modernity. Modernity in this study
defines as the creation of a nation through the development of technology, establishment of
government, and the spread of education. The emphasis of modernity in this study is the military

!5
technology that enhanced warfare and affected the soldiers role in combat. Soldiers in WWII
differed from soldiers in WWI. While WWI soldiers faced great challenges in trench warfare and
technological developments of gas, tanks, and guns, WWII soldiers experienced a war of
mobility. A war that used greater technological advances and threatened to overtake any nation,
society, city, and individual. The warfare in WWII characterized as an experience of not only
waiting for explosives as a WWI soldier in the trenches, but it also became a warfare of charging
towards the fray. It was a warfare that showed no favoritism and included all, regardless of age
or gender. This was the war Easy Company fought in the European Theater. Their reaction to this
warfare created their sense of agency. This is how Easy Company developed their individual
identities as soldiers. Their sense of uniqueness as men based from a pro-war Americana and a
modern warfare.
The companys unique members each have their own origin story and deserve a section
describing their backgrounds and military careers up through their service in Easy Company.
This study focuses on four specific members: Major Dick Winters, Sergeant Don Malarkey, Lt.
Lynn Buck Compton, and David Kenyon Webster. Starting with Major Dick Winters, he was a
central figure within Easy Company because of his leadership position. Each member that knew
him personally recorded their respect for Winters leadership abilities. In speaking of Winters, Lt.
Compton explained their cordial acquaintance with one another, Winters and I were never close
friends through the war years, but were always respectful of each other. We both had a job to do
and did it. Simple as that. Winters later recommended me for the Silver Star, which Im grateful

!6
for.4 Although not close, both serving different leadership positions, Compton still
acknowledged a respect towards Winters. Sergeant Don Malarkey comments on Winters as well
in his memoir, Winters was the rare leader who could be tough as nails but who respected us
deeply. The result? We respected him.5 These men provided the evidence of Winters grand
leadership.
Winters was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on January 21, 1918. He grew up near
the Amish area in Pennsylvania Dutch, and he grew up in a focused, hard-working environment.
He had good parents. His mother diligently worked every day to keep the house and family
going, My mother was the first one up every morning; she prepared breakfast for my sister Ann
and me; and she was the last one to bed every evening. In many respects she was the ideal
company commander, and subconsciously, Im sure I patterned my own leadership abilities on
this remarkable woman.6 Winters also remarked on the influence of his dad, For forty-dollars a
week, Dad labored tirelessly to provide for his family and to ensure we had the necessities of
life. He was a good father7 His solid childhood transformed into a solid foundation for the
service Winters performed in the future. Interesting advice given to Winters by his parents
reveals the kind of character he had as a grown man, In my early days at home, she[his mom]
had always impressed on me to respect women, and my father had repeatedly told me that if I
was going to drink, I should drink at home. I made up my mind, however, that I wasnt going to
Lynn Buck Compton with Marcus Brotherton, forward by John McCain, Call of Duty: My
Life Before, During, and After the Band of Brothers(New York: Penguin Group, 2008), 99.
4

Malarkey, 72.

Winters, 5.

Winters, 4.

!7
drink, and I have never lost my respect for women.8 Winters chose to lead a very structured and
focused lifestyle. He was the type of man who would do any job well.
Winters professional career in the service began after his completion of college. A hard
worker from childhood, Winters was ambitious. Anything he set his mind to do, he would strive
to do his best. Diligence is a significant characteristic for a leader. The war having broke out and
the draft established in the country, Winters decided to volunteer for the war effort instead of
being drafted. He enlisted and was sent to Camp Croft, South Carolina. While stationed there, the
news of Pearl Harbor broke out. Winters records the shock upon hearing the news, My world
changed dramatically the following Sunday when our unit received news of the Japanese attack
on Pearl Harbor.9 Training was conducted under a sense of urgency after that. Winters passed
through basic training and eventually entered the Officers Candidate School. He expressed the
level of competition within the school, but his lesson on diligence as a child paid off as he never
gave up practicing and studying through his time in the academy. Upon passing the academy,
Winters looked into the next unit of service to train in. He discovered the paratroopers. Instantly
attracted, Winters contacted his family and told them he was joining the paratrooper division. In
1942 in Toccoa, Georgia Winters met the unit that became known as Easy Company.
Winters met many exceptional men during training at Toccoa. One of them was Sergeant Don
Malarkey. Malarkey grew up in Astoria, Oregon. In his memoir, Malarkey gives a detailed
chronology of events that impacted him and stuck-out in preparation for his service in Easy
Company. He remarks on the actions he performed as a child, Maybe it was what they call

Winters, 5.

Winters, 7.

!8
destiny, a sign of what would become of me in the futureAll I know is that when I was about
twelve years oldI jumped off the roof of our house on Kensington Avenue, clothing only a
beach umbrella.10 Malarkey recognized his early fascination with jumping off high places.
Subconsciously, he was preparing for the job he had ahead. Malarkey grew up where the main
jobs were factories, lumber yards, and fisheries. It was all hard, dangerous work. Malarkey
recalled the memory of hearing about a lot of deaths from the various factories in the area. He
also remarked on the time his family lost their cabin to an intense forest fire. It was a moment he
would never forget. It was hard to experience pain so quickly. Malarkey also records the
characteristics of his parents, Mom was a loving woman and the family disciplinarian. She gave
us our chores. She took us to church every Sunday11 His father, he recalled, led his on
insurance business and was gone quite frequently from the family. Unfortunately, after the Great
Depression hit and he lost his business, the Malarkey family unit fell apart. His father took to
drinking and closed himself off from the world, including his family. His parents never saw each
other and eventually his dad died in this pitiful state, Looking back on it,[his father] I believe
somewhere down deep I vowed I would never do what he did. No matter how bad it got, I would
never quit. On myself. Or on those around me.12 Malarkeys background prepared him
unknowingly for the harshness of warfare in WWII.
The brutality of warfare affected Lt. Buck Compton during the war, but his background turned
into a preparation for his future as well. Compton was born in Los Angeles in 1921. Regarding

10

Malarkey, 7.

11

Malarkey, 18.

12

Malarkey, 21.

!9
his parents, Compton remarked on their relationship and influence over him, Something that
troubled me as a kid was why my parents never had anymore childrenMom said that after my
father had seen her give birth, he vowed he would never put her through anything like that
againMy dad thought she was the world13 This impressed Compton as a child, My
fathers attitude toward my mother helped instill in me a strong respect for women. He was
adamant that a true man would never strike a woman under any circumstances.14 Comptons
parents served as a positive influence over the man he became.
Going through the depression, Comptons parents strived like everyone to make it financially.
He recalls seeing his father cry over not being able to help Comptons grandparents through the
Great Depression. His father did secretly drink, which hurt Compton when he found out, but his
father was a good man and his father tried to keep the family afloat. Involved in high school
football, Compton remembered his Coach Bert as a solid, hard coach. But this no tolerance
attitude helped Compton understand the importance of not giving up. This served him well
during the war. Unfortunately, Comptons father committed suicide. It was a complete shock for
him and his mother and deeply affected them both. This harsh reality subconsciously prepared
Compton for the realities of warfare ahead.
While attending UCLA, Compton joined the U.S. Reserve Officer Training Corps(ROTC), as
was expected of most young men at the time. Being enrolled int he ROTC, the young men were
compensated financially for their expenses. That was the start of Comptons military service.
After his graduation in 1942, Compton and other ROTC members were shipped to Fort Benning

13

Compton, 21.

14

Ibid

!10
for training. The war was upon them. They were going to fight. Compton also entered Toccoa at
separate time from the rest of Easy Company, and he did not experience the harsh training they
all faced with the notorious Captain Sobel their relentless training leader. Compton became a
member of Easy Company later on. He completed his time in Officer Training School(OCS).
And made a big decision: Joined the paratroopers. Prior to joining the paratroopers, the military
had Compton playing baseball to boost morale stateside. Compton could have led an easy
lifestyle but made a different decision, I probably could have spent the rest of the war Stateside,
getting up whenever I wanted, eating long meals, swimming at the officers club, and being a
morale booster in the outfield. Sometimes, however, you take the route least expected.15
Comptons choice to join the paratroopers shifted his identity as a person dramatically.
Although his background is not captured in his compilation of letters and writings during his
service in Easy Company, David Kenyon Webster offers insight into the secrets of comradeship
only understood among military units. He gives historical accounts of the battles he was involved
with, and he adds to the overall sense of what Easy Company endured through WWII. He died in
the 60s due to a boating accident and thus never finished his memoir. Going back to the events
of D-Day, when Easy Company made its debut in the battlefield, Webster recorded the emotions
surging within him at that moment, It scared me, it seems like a dream. I kept hoping Id wake
up and find myself in Aldbourne. We were jumping behind the enemy lines at midnight and
meeting three divisions of Germans. 16 Websters expression of how it felt to run into the fray

15

Compton, 83.

David Kenyon Webster, Introduction by Stephen E. Ambrose, Parachute Infantry: An


American Paratroopers Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich( New York: Random
House, 2002), 14.
16

!11
captures the agency these members of Easy Company developed under the circumstances of
WWII, The war, as for most men, was not a career or a chance for advancementthose things
were for generals onlybut a trap in which I might be killed or maimed for life.17
Agency. The reaction a person makes in the course of an event and what actions they take in
reaction to that event. This simple definition serves as a perfect formula to insert a WWII
soldiers experience in battle. Situation: He is carefully disguised behind brush and trees,
gunshots and shrapnel overwhelming him to the point of desperation. Reaction: The soldier
forms a plan of maneuver and defense against the enemy gunfire. Agency: The soldier carries out
his strategy and attacks the enemy back. Easy Company did just that. Their source of agency did
not come from the battle field only, but also came from the pressures of nationalist motive. The
American motive that directly affected members of Easy Company in their identity as soldiers
was the idea of the soldier hero. This concept, although analyzed in the context of WWII
Britain, a similar concept resonated within American society as well.
A gender study focused on masculinity contains an article written by Sonya O. Rose, a gender
historian. The soldier-hero was a man who enraptured all national patriotism and boosted the
morale of the war effort. In comparison to Britains use of the soldier-hero to create
enthusiasm for the war effort, so America did as well. Movies, paper articles, posters, comic
books all carried the soldier-hero. Rose explains further concerning the soldier-hero,
Individuality, not individualism, was key to wartime masculinity. It was the bravery of
individual menor specific units of men who were exemplary soldier-heroes.18 The masculine
17

Ibid

Stefan Dudink et al, editors, Masculinties in Politics and War: Gendering Modern
History(New York: Manchester University Press, 2004), 183.
18

!12
soldier. His heroism. His sacrifice. This characterized the link of American nationalism with the
members of Easy Company. The question is whether Easy Company identified with this
nationalistic concept or created their own identity in the midst of broader WWII themes of
statistics, politics, and agendas.
Easy Company developed their own identity dependent upon their mutual experiences in
battle. From training to the end of WWII, men of Easy Company trained together, fought
together, and inhabited together. Stephen Ambrose, who wrote Band of Brothers: E Company,
506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest and discovered Easy
Companys story and published it first, discusses the dynamics of Easy Company at training at
Camp Toccoa, As the statistics show, Toccoa was a challengeThe men were told that
Currahee[name of a 1,000 ft. hill at camp] was an Indian word that meant We stand alone,
which was the way these paratroopers expected to fight. It became the battle cry of the 506th.19
Ambrose continues by describing the intensity of the training, Those who made it got through
because of an intense private determination and because of their desire for public recognition that
they were special. 20 The men of Easy Company recognized the nationalist concept of the
soldier-hero and used it to their advantage in preparation for battle. They were mentally
preparing themselves, adapting to the physical stress required in training. Easy Company took
this nationalist identity and embraced it, performing their sense of agency. It was an incentive to
keep themselves urgent in battle, which caused them to fight harder.

19Stephen

E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from


Normandy to Hitlers Eagles Nest( New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001), 20-21.
20

Ambrose, 22.

!13
In battle, Easy Company proved, as many soldiers have over time, that it numbs emotions and
hardens the mind. But Easy Company also proved that through the worst points of battle they
experienced, they did not give up on each other. Beyond the identity of a soldier-hero each
member of Easy Company expressed, whether subconsciously or not, an identity of humanity.
Overall whether the identity of an American soldier, of a paratrooper, or of a soldier-hero, they
saw themselves as men. They understood the frailty of humanity, watching men die around them.
War causes soldiers to forget the complexities of politics, agendas, or policies and focus on
surviving. As a unit, Easy Company developed an identity of humanity and fraternity.
Having narrowed the focus of WWII events to a single unit of men, the study of Easy
Company cannot be complete without a nod to the legacy they have left. Professionals have
played with the idea of a microscopic approach of Easy Companys WWII experiences through
historian Stephen Ambroses biography, which highlighted the military units camaraderie and
unique cohesion. Hollywood professionals such as Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg turned the
biography to a tv mini-series that premiered on HBO in 2001. Through the use of this medium,
Easy Companys personal trials and unique agency, or reaction to the warfare around them,
projects from the screen. Although a film and not a valuable primary source to focus on, this
secondary source is important to consider in this paper, since professionals have acknowledged
and critiqued this mini-series. An element of the mini-series that separates this war film from
others is the opening and closing scenes of interviews from the real members of Easy Company,
describing their experiences that are portrayed in each episode.
The series captures the identity of fraternity and humanity Easy Company developed through
their warfare experience. A major drive that pushed Easy Company in those moments of

!14
desperation in battle, as many other soldiers, was fear. They faced death every day they fought.
The lowest point Easy Company experienced as a unit was at Bastogne, Belgium. They were
surrounded by Axis forces. It was in the dead of winter. They did not have sufficient clothing and
resources. The Battle of the Bulge claimed many lives, including men of Easy Company.
Malarkey expresses his reaction to the death of one of his close comrades, I didnt cry after
learning Skip Muck was dead. That would come later. Much later. Not that it didnt hurtId
never felt pain so deepBut the main reason I didnt crumble at his death is I couldnt. That
want allowed. 21 Giving up was not an option. Malarkey could have let the pain and fear tear
him from inside. But he had a duty to fulfill. Easy Company as a whole unit did not allow fear to
overpower them. It was an enemy just above the Axis Powers. They embraced their identity as
brothers, as humans, and used it as their drive or their agency to keep fighting and not give up.
Easy Company used a nationalist identity of a soldier-hero in America as a way to prepare
themselves for the battles in WWII upon entering the war on D-Day, and developed their own
identity of fraternity and humanity as a unit. Through the examples of Winters, Malarkey,
Compton, and Webster, the men expressed in their accounts the frailty of battle, but explain the
vitality of the company within the circumstance of war. The series based on the events of Easy
Company manages to successfully express this identity. As Winters described the fear that drove
himself to persevere for his men, so too the men of Easy Company as a unit expressed the same
reaction to warfare. They did not let the fear defeat them. They stuck together as a true Band of
Brothers.

21

Malarkey, 183.

!15
Bibliography
Ambrose, Stephen E. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from
Normandy to Hitlers Eagles Nest. New York: Simon and Schuster. 2001.
Compton, Lynn Buck with Marcus Brotherton. Forward by John McCain. Call of Duty: My
Life Before, During, and After the Band of Brothers.New York: Penguin Group. 2008.
Dudink, Stefan et al, editors, Masculinties in Politics and War: Gendering Modern History. New
York: Manchester University Press. 2004.
Malarkey, Don with Bob Welch. Easy Company Soldier: The Legendary Battles of a Sergeant
from World War IIs Band of Brothers. New York: St. Martins Press. 2008.
Webster, David Kenyon. Introduction by Stephen E. Ambrose, Parachute Infantry: An American
Paratroopers Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Random House.
2002.
Winters, Richard D. and Cole C. Kingseed. Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of
Major Dick Winters. New York: Berkley Caliber.2006.