mINI-SERIES - MOVIES - BOOKS
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”
James E McNiece, one of the 13, trained at Camp Toccoa
The real Private Ryan, Fritz Niland
BAND OF BROTHERS
1,600 men from the first 5,000 who came to Camp Toccoa became the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. Nicknamed “Easy Company”, their story is told in Stephen Spielburg’s and Tom Hank’s award winning HBO series “Band of Brothers” – The story of Easy Company of the US Army 101st Airborne division and their mission in WWII Europe from Operation Overlord through V-J Day.
Band of Brothers is a ten-part, 11-hour television World War II miniseries, originally produced and broadcast in 2001, based on the book of the same title written by historian and biographer Stephen E. Ambrose. The executive producers were Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who had collaborated on the World War II film Saving Private Ryan (1998). The episodes first aired in 2001 on HBO and are still run frequently on various TV networks around the world.
The narrative centers on the experiences of “Easy Company”, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment assigned to the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army. The series covers Easy’s basic training at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, the American airborne landings in Normandy, Operation Market Garden, the Siege of Bastogne, and on to the end of the war, including the taking of the Eagle’s Nest.
The events portrayed are based on Ambrose’s research and recorded interviews with Easy Company veterans. A large amount of literary license was taken with the episodes, with several differences between recorded history and the film version. All of the characters portrayed are based on actual members of Easy Company; some of them can be seen in prerecorded interviews as a prelude to each episode (their identities, however, are not revealed until the close of the finale).
The title for the book and the series comes from a famous St. Crispin’s Day Speech delivered by the character of Henry V of England before the Battle of Agincourt in William Shakespeare’s Henry V; Act IV, Scene 3. A passage from the speech is quoted on the first page of the book, and is also quoted by Carwood Lipton in the final episode. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”
THE DIRTY DOZEN
The legend of the Filthy Thirteen got its start at Camp Toccoa during initial training when the group was known as the Flying Thirteen and that was the number of men who jumped together in Normandy. By the time the war ended, over thirty men could claim to be part of this famed group who became known as the Filthy Thirteen having spent many days without bathing during battles. They were a demolition section assigned to the Headquarters Company of the 506th of the famed 101st Airborne Division, “The Screaming Eagles”, and would play an integral role in every battle they fought during World War II.
During training and throughout the war, their antics and attitude would get them in trouble. Like many of the stories the print press would publish during the war about the Filthy Thirteen, a 1960’s movie, loosely based on them by E. M. Nathanson, The Dirty Dozen, bore only a slight resemblance to the group’s real makeup and accomplishments.
Surviving members are quick to point out that unlike the movie they were not prisoners or convicts but their behavior would get them in trouble, often meriting a short trip to the brig. They didn’t do everything they were supposed to do and did a lot more than the military wanted them to do.
James E McNiece, one of the 13, trained at Camp Toccoa and became one of it’s most notable members.
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
Another movie directed by Stephen Spielburg ( written by Robert Rodat), Saving Private Ryan, is said to be based on 101st paratrooper, Sgt Fritz Niland. Starring Tom Hanks, the movie has been nominated for and won many awards.
The real “Private Ryan” was Sgt Fritz Niland (right) of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. An extract from Stephen Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers – E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, From Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest” reads as follows:
“The previous day, Niland had gone to the 82nd to see his brother Bob. Fritz Niland had just learned that his brother had been killed on D-Day. Bob’s platoon had been surrounded, and he manned a machine gun hitting the Germans with harassing fire until the platoon broke through the encirclement. He had used up several boxes of ammunition before getting killed. Fritz Niland next hitched a ride to the 4th Infantry Division position, to see another brother who was a platoon leader. He too had been killed on D-Day, on Utah Beach. By the time Fritz Niland returned to Easy Company, Father Francis Sampson was looking for him, to tell him that a third brother, a pilot in the China-Burma-India theater, had been killed that same week. Fritz was the sole surviving son, and the army wanted to remove him from the combat zone as soon as possible. Fritz’s mother had received all three telegrams from the War Dept on the same day. Father Sampson escorted Fritz to Utah Beach, where a plane flew him to London on the first leg of his return to the States.”
“Just an FYI on your Fritz Niland piece: despite how Ambrose “screwed it up,” as my uncle put it, Fritz was with H Company of the 501, and they didn’t piece together the three brothers until after he got back to England. My uncle, Charley Morgan, H Company, went with him to find Bob, the 82nd airborne paratrooper brother, in St. Mere Eglise, and said Fritz went the next day to tell his other brother about Bob, only to find Preston, too, had been killed. Fritz went back to England with the 501, and found out about his third brother being shot down flying the hump. Turns out he survived, and came home. Cate Niland, Fritz’s daughter can confirm this correction, as can Mark Bando’s works on the 101st. Or you can simply google ‘Niland Brothers.'”
A CORRECTION FROM JOHN MORGAN
THE DIRTY DOZEN
The character of “Colonel Robert Stout” played by Elliott Gould, is also based on Colonel Sink – commander of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Toccoa, Georgia; Fort Benning, Georgia; and Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Sink commanded the 506th throughout World War II, turning down two promotions during the war to remain with the unit (the regiment sometimes being referred to as the “Five-Oh-Sink’) and became a close personal friend to Major Richard Winters.
BOOKS AVAILABLE ABOUT LOS BANOS &
A HISTORY CHANNEL VIDEO
LIBERATION OF LOS BANOS
The 11th Airborne Division / 511 PIR rightfully takes tremendous pride in the liberation of the Los Banos Internment Camp. These books (and the History Channel segment) tell the tale of the liberation of the many American and other Allied prisoners on February 23rd, 1945. A combined force of American paratroopers, Filipino guerillas and amphibious tanks liberated over 2,000 prisoners who were facing a potential massacre at the hands of their Japanese captors. Incredibly, not a single prisoner was killed in the attack.
AN INTERESTING READ
TONIGHT WE DIE AS MEN
The untold story of Third Battalion 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment from Toccoa to D-Day
The exploits of the 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) have been long overshadowed by those of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, who were immortalized in Stephen Ambrose’s book Band of Brothers. Yet the actions of the 3rd Battalion were every bit as incredible and this book finally gives them deserved attention.
Formed in 1942, the 506th PIR were shortly after attached to the 101st Airborne Division. After training they were transported to Wiltshire in 1943 to prepare for the invasion of Europe. Whilst taking part in the D-Day landings, the battalion suffered many immediate casualties, including the battalion commander. This is the astounding story of how the surviving paratroopers fought on towards their objectives against horrendous odds, told in their own words, and those of the French civilians who witnessed the Normandy campaign.
Through many hours of interviews, and in-depth research, the authors, Ian Gardner and Roger Day, have pieced together the perspectives of the soldiers to create a unique, comprehensive account. Including a foreword by Ed Shames, veteran of the 3rd Battalion, and illustrated with black and white photographs and maps throughout, this book vividly details the experiences of the 3rd battalion from training through to D-Day and beyond.
CAMP TOCCOA: FIRST HOME OF THE AIRBORNE 1942-1944
A short historical work covering the Federal Years of Camp Toccoa, Georgia. The original home of the US Army Paratroops. 1942-1944. By G.G. Stokes, Jr.
Dedicated to the Paratroopers who trained to serve this country at Camp Toccoa, Georgia during the dark and uncertain days of World War II, and the members of the Stephens County Historical Society who keep their memories alive.
ROD SERLING OF THE TWIGHLIGHT ZONE
Remember the “Twilight Zone” TV series? Rod Serling, the creator of the show, began his military career in 1943 at Camp Toccoa, Georgia under General Raymond “Joe” Swing and Col. Orin D. “Hard Rock” Haugen and served in the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division. Serling went on to fight with the 511th in the Phillppines and was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Philippine Liberation Medal.
After the war Serling went on to create “The Twilight Zone” beginning in 1959, air for 5 seasons for a total of 156 episodes and garnered many TV and drama awards.