Plaque of war medals given to Sam Polak during WW2Image Courtesy of Roger Bennett
Plaque of war medals given to Sam Polak during WW2Image Courtesy of Roger Bennett

Band of Brothers Podcast Production Statement

By Roger Bennett

I watched Band of Brothers when it first hit HBO's screens back on September 9, 2001, and was entranced by its epic narrative upon first viewing. Like thousands of diehard fans across America, I have gone on to re-watch the entire series ritually around Veterans Day on a yearly basis. Every time I relive Easy Company's heroic journey, I notice new details, a line that passed me by which now resonates as truth, a deeper meaning.

That experience reinforces my understanding of, and immense gratitude towards, the generation who pulled the world back from the brink of destruction.

Unbelievably, the ground-breaking, genre-changing miniseries, created by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in the wake of Saving Private Ryan, is about to mark its 20th anniversary. As it does so, it has been the honor of a lifetime to produce the show's official podcast series.

To interview the creators and actors about the making of my favorite show, and how it changed the legacies of the real men of Easy Company who fought it. Band of Brothers is both a remarkable and important series for so many reasons.

One of the things I am most fascinated by as it turns 20 is that its relevance and popularity seems to grow year on year, as it is discovered and experienced by new, ever younger audiences. I truly believe there can be few more important shows for our time and place.

My own love of the show is rooted in my childhood in 1980s Liverpool, a city which was, in many ways, still recovering from the war. As a kid, I was immensely close with my Grandfather Sam, by then a butcher, but once, in his younger days, a Desert Rat who had survived a prolonged siege against Rommel's massed panzers at Tobruk, a decisive engagement which turned the war in Africa.

For all the time I spent with my Grandfather -- all the chess matches we played, wrestling shows we watched, and despite my best efforts to engage him on the subject -- he refused to talk much about his wartime experiences. Like many of his generation, he kept those memories to himself. The one thing he would talk about over and over was how grateful he was to the Americans who landed in Europe and decisively turned the tide of the war.

Perhaps fuelled by that gratitude, my grandfather loved little more than to take me to the cinema to watch any, and every, war movie that played. "Where Eagles Dare," "Dirty Dozen," "The Guns of Navarone," we devoured them all.

Inevitably, upon leaving the cinema after feasting on Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin, or Gregory Peck's eye-popping exploits, I would ask my Grandfather if "that was what war was like?" He would just smile, shake his head and say, "No, love. That is what Hollywood's wars are like." To me, Band of Brothers' enduring greatness is born of the fact that it is what war is like.

Rather than valorizing combat, or "John Wayne-ifying" it, the show strips away the mythology, portraying in great detail the chaos of D-Day, the failure of Operation Market Garden and the hell-on-earth that was Bastogne, then examining the physical and mental price paid by the men who endured.

In the words of historian Stephen Ambrose, who wrote the book Band of Brotherson which the television event was based, "In almost all war movies before 'Saving Private Ryan' when an American gets shot, it's either [in the forehead] or [in the heart], and he's dead...and his commanding officer can write home to the grieving widow or to the parents, saying, 'He never knew what hit him. He didn't suffer.' It doesn't happen like that. They do know what hit them.

They do suffer. When you watch a Spielberg movie or when you see Hanks' Band of Brothers, you're going to see that." It is Hanks' and Spielberg's almost zealot-like commitment to authenticity, to honoring the truth of the stories and the experiences of the men that makes

Band of Brothers such an important piece of television. As Tom Hanks said to us when we discussed the profound questions he believed the show posed, as well as his own motivation for going deeper with this series, "Anybody seeing this for the first time should be saying, 'All right, this is not a celebration of nostalgia. This is an examination of the human condition.' What do you think? What would you do?"

My grandfather died in 1987. I thought about his passing this summer when I read that in June 2020, there were approximately 300,000 Second World War veterans still alive. By June 2021, that number had dwindled to just 100,000. The youngest who once served are now in their late 90s. Indeed, of Easy Company, only one man, Col. Edward Shames, survives. He is now 99.

When you read those numbers it becomes clear why the Band of Brothers story becomes more important as the years pass. These remarkable men are no longer alive to pay witness and tell their stories themselves. It is simply unfathomable to imagine what would happen if their narrative fades in our national consciousness.

In that vein, one of the most powerful Band of Brothers viewings I have experienced came last year, back in April, in the early days of COVID, as the pandemic paralyzed the world.

Trapped in our apartment surrounded by the swirling fear and uncertainty as Manhattan ground to a halt, I sat down with my youngest son, Oz, then aged 10, and introduced him to the miniseries. We revelled in episode after episode on a nightly basis. Against the chaos and panic of our present day reality, I wanted him to immerse himself in something which embodied the idea of American leadership I grew up admiring from afar alongside my grandfather.

Band of Brothers is exactly that. A show filled with empathy, courage, everyday heroism, and the "follow me" ethos by which I've been awestruck ever since. In Tom Hanks' words, "There are moments throughout history in which impossible things, unimaginable things have come to pass because like-minded people decided to get together and make it so."

Roger Bennett, September 2021


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