Last time, Easy Company and the rest of the 101st Airborne dug in to protect Bastogne, filling gaps on a stretched-thin Allied front line. The brutal winter stand was made worse by a supply, clothing, and food shortage. Joe Toye got trench foot, and medic Eugene Roe warned him it could turn gangrenous. Babe Heffron watched his foxhole friend Pvt. Julian get shot in the throat during a patrol trip to the German front lines; the soldiers had to fall back and leave the writhing man there to die alone. At Christmas, Gen. McAuliffe -- acting 101st commander -- replied, "Nuts!" when the German leader called for Allied surrender. Harry Welsh, a popular Easy platoon leader and friend of Winters, got hit in the leg and sent off to the hospital.
"I've seen death. I've seen my friends, my men, being killed," recalls one veteran. "And...it doesn't take too many days of that, and you change dramatically." Another man recalls again the shortage of food and ammunition, plus the way blistering cold cut through their insufficient layers. "Couldn't be able to fire [sic], and if you could, some crazy thing would shoot at you," he says. A third man recalls with sorrow that everywhere they looked, they saw death -- dead animals, dead enemy and Allied soldiers. "You don't have a chance, when your friends go down, to really take care of them as you might...especially if you're under attack, moving, or whatever," says a fourth man. "I withstood it well, but I had a lot of trouble later in life because those events would come back, and..." He looks down, shakes his head, and chokes away tears. "You never forget 'em," he finishes, his voice clogged with unshed tears.
The theme music gets me choked now. I can't help it. I see Eugene Roe's distressed face from last week, and I see Winters and the injured Welsh and Compton talking about his breakup, and I'm totally moved. I have become...sigh...a sucker.
January 2, 1945: Ardennes Forest, Belgium. Donnie narrates, noting that Easy's tragic but successful stance holding the line at Bastogne prompted HQ to call upon the men again, this time to push the Germans backwards. Compton and Donnie stare at a map, which is spread across hunched Malarkey's back. "We were here this morning, then we came this way," Donnie theorizes, tracing a line. Compton grins and punches the map with his pointer finger, deliberately poking Malarkey, who complains. "Stop crying, Malarkey, or I'll nail it to your head," Buck Compton grins. "Ya should, it's made of wood," Gonorrhea says. Merry at Malarkey's good-natured expense, Compton tells Gonorrhea to lead the men out, and lets Malarkey free himself from the Bitch position.