In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve been on a bit of a Band of Brothers kick lately. I finally read the book that the series was based on, and that led me to start reading the memoirs of the guys from Easy Company. I almost wasn’t going to do a book report on Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends, the combined memoirs of Bill Guarnere and “Babe” Heffron because I didn’t want to bore people with my obsession, but as I finished it I realized I had a lot more to talk about than just the experiences of Easy Company.
Now, I’ve read biographies before. I’ve read a few books by living celebrities about their lives and early years. But I don’t think I’ve ever read a straight-up memoir before. Bill and Babe’s book is definitely a memoir, and it was a whole new experience to me. I believe this is the first time I’ve read a book penned by a pair of old men (or at least narrated by them and recorded by a writer). Let me tell you, it was awesome!
As a fiction writer, I really appreciate the way these two characters were developed, from their childhoods growing up poor in South Philly to their experiences of war to the way they lived the rest of their lives after the war. It was a fine example of how even the lives of ordinary people (not that these two are ordinary) provide a gripping narrative.
What I absolutely adored as a reader was the voice of these two men. Each section, be it Bill’s or Babe’s, felt as though I was sitting in the living room listening to my Granddad’s friends talk. You could practically see the guys as they talked. Their tone was conversational and no-nonsense. The grammar was what they would have used and the words were the ones you just knew they would have bandied about on the street corners or in the bars of South Philly. It was like being with them.
I was completely sucked in! And let me tell you, I was particularly taken with Bill Guarnere. I’ve always sort of identified with him in the series because he was from Philly, my hometown, but man! He was awesome! His mindset and attitude toward the war and toward life was remarkable. He really got in there and did what he had to do, diligently and effectively, to win that war. He was a leader in so many ways, even more than the series portrays.
He was also a total character! He pulls no punches as he relates the pranks he pulled, the vast quantity of women he entertained during the war, and the single-minded love that he had for his girl back home (even as he was “entertaining” all those women). His reflections on the battles he fought are sharp and moving, and the way he talks about losing his leg and everything that happened after that is awe-inspiring. The man was a crackerjack. Judging by the photos from his personal collection that he included in the book, he was pretty darn hot as a young guy too! I think I have a total crush on him now.
I have a whole new respect for Babe too. I felt like I didn’t know him as well just by watching the series, but Babe was a man with heart. And it’s heartbreaking to read the way he talks about some of the things he experienced in the war: losing friends, nearly killing (but not) a young German family, the girl he fell in love with in Austria. It’s all so moving!
Reading Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends has given me a whole new appreciation for memoir as a genre. It’s also given me a much deeper understanding of the generation that fought WWII. I’m really beginning to see why they’re called The Greatest Generation. They’re certainly tougher than my generation and the current young generation because they had it much harder. I look forward to reading more memoirs now, about these guys and beyond.