Band of Brothers is, to many, the definitive TV dramatization of the American experience in WWII. A quality production from top to bottom, it maintains a high degree of fidelity both to the source book by Stephen Ambrose and to the memories of the veterans of Easy Company, many of whom were still alive when it was produced.
That said, no movie or TV show can be a page-by-page retelling of a book - especially when the book is a nonfiction title that constantly jumps among the points-of-view of various characters and organizes its material chronologically rather than dramatically. Whether for purposes of condensation or to add a little extra character interest, Band of Brothers made its share of changes.
For some of these changes, the producers likely ended up knowing things that even Stephen Ambrose didn't know, as they worked closely with Easy Company veterans and conducted further interviews that influenced the development of the show.
Private Blithe Gets Only A Few Lines In The Book But Becomes A Key Character In ‘Carentan’
Private Albert Blithe, the skinny kid who suffers from shell shock and gradually comes to terms with the reality of combat, has a major role in the Band of Brothers episode "Carentan." In fact, he’s arguably the soul of the episode, the one with the most substantial character arc. In the book, by contrast, Blithe is mentioned on just two pages.
On page 98, Winters’s encounter with Blithe at the aid station - where Blithe says he can’t see, and then suddenly regains his eyesight, is described. This is mostly the same in the book as in the show, except that in the series, Winters appears rather skeptical of Blithe’s claim to be blind. (This is subjective, based mainly on actor Damian Lewis’s facial expression.) In the book, Winters describes the incident as “spooky” but seems to take Blithe’s claim at face value.
On page 103, it’s mentioned that Blithe participates in a patrol near Carentan and that he gets shot in the neck. This happens in the show, but Blithe volunteers for the patrol, thereby completing his character arc from shell-shocked kid to true soldier. There’s no indication in the book that Blithe volunteered.
The rest of the episode includes other scenes with Blithe helping Winters unite E and F Companies, being scared by the remains of a German soldier, and getting a mini-lecture on the psychology of war from Speirs. None of this is in the book. It seems to be a case of writers taking a relatively blank-slate character and giving him some extra detail, to add dramatic heft to the proceedings.
In the episode’s closing crawl, the series mistakenly claims that Blithe would succumb to his neck wound and perish in 1948. In fact, he lived until 1967.5514Surprising?
There Really Was A ‘Night Of The Bayonet’ Poem, But It Hasn’t Survived, So The TV Writers Composed It From Scratch
Episode 3 of the series, "Carentan," includes a scene in which Sergeant Talbert, wearing a looted German poncho, attempts to awaken Private George Smith to put him on watch duty. Smith, mistaking Talbert for a German soldier, stabs him with his bayonet - and is immediately stricken with remorse when he realizes his mistake. Talbert survives and the incident goes into the lore of Easy Company’s 3rd platoon.
Later in the episode, we see platoon member Walter Gordon reciting a poem commemorating the event, “The Night of the Bayonet,” and donating one of his three Purple Hearts to Talbert for his “battle wound.” According to Ambrose, there really was such a poem, written by Gordon and Paul Rogers, but it is not included in the book:
[F]ortunately for posterity, the poem has not survived (or at least the authors refused to give it to me for this book).
Undaunted by this omission, the writers of Band of Brothers decided to recreate the poem themselves. It’s heard almost in its entirety (occasionally obscured by other dialogue) in a closing scene of "Carentan."
Various online sources suggest that the poem was written by Band of Brothers lead producer Erik Jendresen, although he is not a credited writer on that particular episode. Here, in its entirety, is the fictional reimagining of the lost poem “Night of the Bayonet”:
The night was filled with dark and cold
When Sergeant Talbert, the story’s told,
Pulled on his poncho and headed out
To check the lines dressed like a Kraut.
Upon a trooper our hero came;
Fast asleep he called his name,
“Oh Smith, oh Smith, get up, it’s time
To take your turn out on the line!”
And Smith, so very weary,
Cracked an eye all red and bleary,
Grabbed his rifle, he did not tarry,
Hearing Floyd, but seeing Jerry.
“It’s me, cried Tab, don’t do it!” And yet -
Smith charged tout de suite with bayonet.
He lunged, he thrust, both high and low
And skewered the boy from Kokomo.
And as they carried him away,
Our punctured hero was heard to say,
“When in this war you venture out,
Best never do it dressed as a Kraut!”2510Surprising?
Medic Eugene Roe’s Friendship With A Belgian Nurse Is Not In The Book At All
Stephen Ambrose’s book has high praise for the medic Eugene Roe, who was at the battle for Bastogne and performed heroically, dashing about the battlefield to help the injured with no regard for personal safety. In the book, Lt. Jack Foley recounts:
[Roe] was there when he was needed, and how he got "there" you often wondered. He never received recognition for his bravery, his heroic servicing of the wounded.... [I]f any man who struggled in the snow and the cold... ever deserved [the Silver Star medal], it was our medic, Gene Roe.
The series’s sixth episode, "Bastogne," makes Eugene Roe the protagonist, following him as he scrambles to save as many lives as possible amid the brutal German siege. But a major plot element - Roe’s friendship with a Belgian nurse who cares for the wounded in the town of Bastogne - isn’t mentioned at all in the book.
The nurse really did exist. Her name was Renée LeMaire, and she was nicknamed "the angel of Bastogne" for her efforts ministering to the wounded. Tragically, she was killed by a bomb during the battle - though in a house, not in the Bastogne church, as the show implies.
Though LeMaire is a historical figure, the book says nothing about her having befriended Eugene Roe, and indeed there seems no record of the friendship anywhere. They may or may not have met in reality, but the dramatization of their relationship in the series appears to be a fictional addition.3825Surprising?
The Machine-Gunning Of German POWs By Lt. Speirs Is Only A Rumor In The Book
The book mentions that Lt. Speirs - who rises to become the commander of Easy Company after Dick Winters’s promotion - deliberately cultivates a reputation for being a stone-cold killer. The reputation mainly rests on the rumor that, in the first days of the Normandy campaign, Speirs machine-gunned a group of German POWs after giving them cigarettes.
In the book, this incident is never described in any terms other than as a rumor floating among the infantry:
The rumor mill swirled around Lieutenant Speirs. No one ever saw "it" happen with his own eyes, but he knew someone who did. They may be just stories, but they were believed, or half-believed, by the men of E Company.
The show, however, seems to treat it as fact - albeit rather elliptically. In the episode "Day of Days," Private (later Sergeant) Malarkey walks away from the German prisoners after chatting with one POW. Soon afterward, Speirs shows up and offers the Germans cigarettes. We don’t see what happens next, but we do hear a machine gun firing over an image of Malarkey’s shocked expression as he registers the sound. The implication is pretty clear.
In a later episode, "The Breaking Point," Speirs actually discusses the supposed incident and refuses to confirm or deny it, merely referring to the value of such a rumor in enhancing his reputation. It’s left to the viewer to decide what really happened, but it’s a bit strange for the show to retroactively confer ambiguity on a scene that appears quite straightforward when we first watch it.2424Surprising?