Episode two is titled “Day of Days” and follows Easy Co. on D-Day.
Jumping on Normandy scattered the 101st and 82nd across the peninsula. Men formed piecemeal squads to reach objectives and find their outfits. Equipment was lost in the jump, leaving soldiers under-armed behind enemy lines. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, for most of the men this was their first experience in battle.
The episode follows Winters as he makes his way from where he landed (st. Mere-Eglise) to his objective (Le Grand-Chemain/causeway 2), gathering soldiers to him along the way and dealing with run-ins with enemy soldiers. The sentiment I get from this episode is the level of preparedness the soldiers had entering the war. They are scattered across France, disoriented, being shot at, lacking equipment – yet they all set out to achieve their objective of protecting the beach for the landing. You also see how the men react to war at first, many of them are almost giddy and make a series of silly mistakes that they are lucky didn’t lead to more detrimental results.
The book added more interaction with the French civilians than the show, and one of the things that stood out to me was the gratitude the French showed to the American soldiers. A Pvt. Burgess was shot the night of the invasion, and took refuge in a nearby barn. The French farmer whose barn it was came out and held his hand, gave him wine, comforted him, and the next day found some medics and gave them his cart to evacuate Burgess. Since the Civil War, Americans have never had to live in a war-zone. I can’t imagine how that French farmer felt when the American’s and their Commonwealth allies liberated Normandy, but the compassion that one farmer showed I think illustrates a level of gratitude that I doubt I’ll ever experience. (pages 73-4)
The morning after the invasion Easy was tasked with taking out an artillery battery shelling the beach during the landing.Now, the battalion, usually around 600 men, was only at about 100, and responsible for holding the area around a town called Le Grand-Chemin. Winters, now the company commander (the original was killed when his aircraft went down), led his present men to take out the guns. So, with twelve men, (and later another 5 with Lt. Speirs) Winters destroyed a battery of three guns that were firing on the second causeway on Utah beach. It was a task normally done by at least a platoon, and was achieved by 17 men (about a squad), showing the high level of training, trust, and leadership of the soldiers. And it’s pretty incredible. (pages 78, 83)
Ambrose ends the chapter with a segment of Winters journal, which I feel the need to quote as well. It sums up I’m sure what most of the men were feeling that day: “I did not forget to get on my knees an thank God for helping me to live through this day and ask for his help on D plus one.”