This first in our series is about the 506th during WWII. There’s a good chance you may have heard of them as HBO did an incredibly well done series, “Band of Brothers”, based on the unit. That series in turn was based on the “Band of Brothers” book by Stephen Ambrose. Both the series and the book are more novel/narrative than text book/documentary and all the better for it. Both are well worth taking the time to read and watch.
We wanted to start off this series addressing an angle on the 506th that the HBO series hints at at different points, but never overtly addresses. There is a modern perception that all caucasians are and have always been one homogenous group. In reality, prior to the First World War America was largely white but very much a country sub-divided along ethnic as well as religious lines. In 1917 one in three Americans were recent immigrants or had a parent that was an immigrant. World War I government pro-war pamphlets were printed in 14 different languages. The U.S. Army Metropolitan Division of New York in 1917 spoke 42 different languages not including English.
Sainte-Mère-Église: The church made famous by Private John Marvin Steele who was one of many 82nd Airborne troopers erroneously dropped into the town on D-Day. In honor of the soldiers and Mr. Steele in particular a “paratrooper” is draped on the steeple of the church. Lt. Winters of the 506th landed outside the town 10km from his designated drop zone.
Even after WWI and in the period leading up to WWII many Americans continued to identify with their ethnic group far more strongly than common today. Practically speaking everyone was an hyphenated American. Amongst even the hyphenated European-Americans there existed an artificial hierarchy of social desirability where the Irish, Southern Europeans, and Eastern Europeans were deemed less desirable and looked down upon. These discriminatory views were codified in government immigration policies. Easy Company (and much of the service as a whole) was drawn from this ethnically diverse and divided America which included people of Hispanic, Irish, Italian, and German heritage. These men were blue collar workers, college students, and members of affluent families.