HBO’s Band of Brothers is a show which has never really dipped in popularity since it aired in 2001, and it is consistently featured in IMDB’s list of the top rated mini-series of all time. It follows the story of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division, who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day, liberated Eindhoven, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and eventually captured Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. Band of Brothers’ cinematography and special effects set a new standard for both TV shows and war films, and the series is as watchable now as it was 17 years ago.
June 6th marked the 74th anniversary of D-Day, one of the pivotal moments of World War II. The weekend before the anniversary, The World War II Foundation held a series of Band of Brothers events as part of their Normandie WWII International Film Festival. There have been a number of Band of Brothers reunion events since the first one in 2011, when several cast members did a parachute jump to help raise the funds used to erect a statue of Richard Winters in Normandy.
This year’s events ran over four days, based around the Utah Beach area and Carentan, which is where episode three of the series takes place. The actors in attendance were Douglas Spain (who played Antonio Garcia), Nick Aaron (Robert ‘Popeye’ Wynn), Philip Barantini (Wayne ‘Skinny’ Sisk), Peter McCabe (Donald Hoobler), Mark Huberman (Lester Hashey), Tim Matthews (Alex Penkala), Bart Ruspoli (Ed Tipper), Christian Black (Walter Hendrix) and Dale Dye (Col. Robert Sink). Also a guest of the Foundation was David McCallum, star of The Great Escape, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and NCIS.
The first event was a red carpet reception, where fans were able to mingle with the cast members and veterans in the spectacular setting of Utah Beach Museum’s hangar, home to a B26 bomber.
There was also live music thanks to Nashville Exile, featuring Nick Aaron on vocals. The evening was pretty relaxed, with some hijinks courtesy of a Wild Bill Guarnere thong which a fan had brought along. I was not party to the back story behind the thong situation, but I did enjoy seeing Bart Ruspoli throw it on to the stage during Nashville Exile’s performance.
Saturday’s event was a Q&A panel in Carentan, where the actors fielded questions about the legacy of the show and the impact that playing real-life heroes has had on them. There were poignant words from the cast members who were lucky enough to meet the real men they portrayed, and David McCallum talked about his experience of being an officer in the army before he went on to play Ashley Pitt in The Great Escape.
At one point in the Q&A, Douglas Spain turned the spotlight on to the crowd and asked people to raise their hand if they’d seen Band of Brothers. He then told us to keep up our hands if we’d seen it more than three times. By the time he asked us to keep our hands up if we’d seen it more than ten times I kind of wanted the floor to swallow me a little bit. I’m so thankful he didn’t continue past that number…
On Sunday the actors did a signing at Utah Beach, then a few fans went on a tour of some of the key sites around Normandy, with D-Day historian and tour guide Paul Woodadge. On the tour, we were lucky enough to be able to go to the site where the legendary Brécourt Manor Assault took place on D-Day. This is a place which is strictly off limits to the public (and there are electric fences everywhere, so don’t event think about trying it!), so to be allowed to go there was a little bit mind-blowing. There was a good-natured disagreement between Paul Woodadge and resident legend Captain Dale Dye about what configuration the real guns were placed in. Paul Woodadge is a brave man, because I don’t think I’d argue with Captain Dye…
On Sunday night, Nashville Exile and Nick Aaron’s band, Deadbeat Delta, played a special gig in Carentan town square, including an excellent guest appearance on vocals by Tim Matthews, who sang And it Stoned Me by Van Morrison. Luckily, the other cast members were all in attendance, so they were able to catch Nick Aaron when he did his inevitable stage dive, which is something that didn’t go quite so well when he attempted it at the Nuts Bar in Bastogne.
There were a few sore heads the next morning at the final signing event, which showed that the actors enjoy these reunions just as much as all the Band of Brothers nerds do. There was quite a lot of clowning around on social media from them, including Bart Ruspoli and Christian Black recreating the classic photo of Ed Tipper and Walter Hendrix, the men they played in the show.
I’m one of the irritating fans/military history nerds who just keeps turning up at every one of these events like a bad penny, and honestly the actors must be sick of seeing my face by now. I turned up to the first event in Devon with one friend, and came home having made two more, and since then the four of us have made three trips to Normandy and a trip to Bastogne to attend Band of Brothers reunions. There’ll be another Normandy reunion next year, and there are a few rumours about an Eindhoven event in 2020 (fingers crossed!), so there will hopefully be a couple more opportunities for me to turn up and make a nuisance of myself.
When any TV fan meets the stars of the show they love, all they want is for them not to be a bunch of absolute prongs, and in that respect, the fans of Band of Brothers are very lucky. Without exception, the actors are all so nice and really patient with the army of nerds who have turned up to bother them at all these events for the past seven years. I didn’t think I could get any more invested in this show, and then I went to the events, and it kicked my obsession up to a whole new level. I’ve made so many friends, visited some amazing places and learned so much about history because of Band of Brothers. As fandoms go, it’s a pretty good one to get involved with.
The Airbnb is already booked for Normandy 2019…