Herbert Sobel

Some said he was “an inflexible tyrant of a drill sergeant”. Others said “he was a man who drew hard lines over petty issues”. He was also described as a poor map reader and an incompetent leader. This man was a strategist who played a vital role in shaping Easy Company. His role as a drill sergeant was to train young soldiers into combat warriors. To use a cliché, he was to make them ‘the best of the best’. He was Herbert M. Sobel.



Early life

Herbert Sobel  was born in Chicago on January 26th, 1912 to a Jewish family. As a young man he attended the Culver Military Academy in Indiana. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1934, majoring in architecture.

Army life

On March 7, 1941 Herbert Sobel enlisted for the US Army, making the choice to volunteer for the paratroopers. He was commissioned initially as a Second Lieutenant but soon promoted to First Lieutenant. Sobel commanded Easy Company through its basic training at Camp Toccoa, Georgia.

Sobel proved himself an expert in training young soldiers. There was an intensity to his training that continued throughout, eventually leading to his promotion to Captain.

The members of Easy Company had a tough time with Captain Sobel. Petty infractions were  the name of the game for Sobel and every opportunity he got to revoke passes, he took it. Harsh was an understatement. Private Malarkey was insulted by Sobel for having a name synonymous for being “slang for bullshit”. Joe Liebgott was on the receiving end of Sobels temper for a rusty bayonet, leading Sobel to yell that he “wouldn’t take this rusty piece of shit to war”.  

Sobel was a hard trainer. If any other company run 3 miles, then Easy had to run 6 miles or twelve miles. After one Friday night 12 mile  march, Sobel inspected the company’s water canteens, having previously instructed them not to drink for the full 12 miles. Finding a trooper who had disobeyed the order seemed like Christmas to Sobel who sent him straight out to repeat the run.

Sobel was also known for his surprise contraband inspections. Those who watched the series will remember the infamous “it’s a can of peaches Sir” line that was said at one inspection. After one of his many contraband inspections he did, Sobel spoke with Winters saying, “I think a special meal before the mens afternoon off would be a welcome change of pace…I like spaghetti”. Easy to say this now,  but in hindsight no one saw it coming. In true Sobel fashion,  he sprung a Currahee run on the men. For the full three miles up, he tormented the men as they vomited up the meal. The continued taunts and bullying did little apart from fuel the men to keep going. The Company started singing and ran faster. Sobel taunted, they ran harder. Moving on to Fort Benning, the men completed the finalities of their training and got their wings. It was clear to see Sobel was hesitating but he did jump.

A tactical training exercise, an incorrect  map position and being tricked by his own platoon led Herbert Sobel to an overwhelming sense that Richard Winters could very well  overtake his leadership in combat.

This is where the infamous Latrine inspection and written trial by court-martial incident comes in. Winters was immediately clued up with Sobels plan. By asking for court-martial, it trumped Sobel. He wasn’t expecting it.

With this hanging over Easy, Colonel Sink was greeted by the NCOs of Easy, who were mutinied in protest over the treatment of Winters. Sobel may have had the command of Easy but he never had the respect. That sat squarely on the shoulders of Richard Winters.  Colonel Sink recognised it and Sobel was reassigned.

On March 8, 1945, Herbert Sobel was assigned as the regimental S-4 logistics officer. After the war, it was time to go home. His time at home was short lived as he was recalled to active duty to serve during the Korean War. He remained in the Army National Guard and retired a Lieutenant Colonel.

After the army

Following the war, Herbert Sobel worked as a credit manager for a wholesaler in Chicago. Later, he moved on to a mid level position in a company that made tools for the telephone industry.

Personal life

After World War II, Herbert Sobel married an American woman who was nine years younger to him. She worked as a nurse in a hospital in Italy during the war and made him incredibly happy through their early years together. The couple had three sons. They also had a daughter who sadly died after a few days of birth.


Herbert  doted on his wife and was very much in love with her. He was very loving and attentive husband. It’s been reported that Sobel never used obscene language or lost his temper with his family. He spent a lot of time playing with his sons, especially baseball. He always addressed them by the nicknames he had given them—Michael was called Inky, his older brother was Footsie, and his younger brother was Skookie. He was devoted to his family. He idolised them. 

He was conservative in his savings throughout life, being conscious of saving for his sons education. He was a Republican and remained strong and disciplined in his beliefs. Its been reported that he was never absent from work. He liked living in comfort and luxury and drove a four cylinder Metropolitan car to the Chicago L station to ride the train to work after  retiring from the army. He would be seen every day in his suit and clean white, nicely starched shirt. 

However his life was to take a downturn. The idyllic family life that he had lived, deteriorated in the 1960s. His wife divorced him and his sons distanced themselves from him. In 1970, Sobel attempted suicide when he shot himself in the head with a small caliber pistol, but survived. The bullet entered his head from the left, passed through his eyes, and came out from the other side of his head. The bullet damaged his optic nerves and left him blind.

For the last seventeen years of his life, he stayed in a facility in Waukegan, Illinois, assisted by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). He eventually died on September 30, 1987 due to malnutrition.

His fellow Easy Company soldiers did not have fond memories of him. Despite this, many of the veterans respectfully acknowledged that Easy Company successes had a great deal to do with him. While his basic infantry knowledge was lacking, his sheer discipline, overbearing nature, strictness , and ruling by fear, did in part, make Easy Company the specialised unit it was.

It’s reported that in the 1960s he met up with Major Clarence Hester who was Sobels first Company Executive Officer. They had lunch together where it became glaringly obvious that there  were resulting mental issues from his war experiences. He was bitter and life and resented not only the men of Easy Company but life in general

Quotes and thoughts

Many things have been said over the years regarding Herbert Sobel.  Richard winters said in his book Beyond Band of Brothers, ‘What bothered Easy Company’s officers, me included, was not Sobel’s emphasis on strict discipline, but his desire to lead by fear rather than example.” 

Stephen Ambrose described him in his book “Band of Brothers” as ‘a petty tyrant’. But he also said this – “Sobel came back into contact with Easy during 1945 where he witnessed that many of the men he had trained were in high command positions. Sobel must’ve been doing something right in the summer of `42 at Toccoa”. On one occasion during  his contact with Easy, Sobel did have to be reminded by Richard Winters “that we salute the rank not the man”. This clearly showed that Sobel had not forgiven him for doing as well as he did. Maybe it was simpler than that. Maybe it was that Winters was the man that Sobel never was nor could be. It clearly did eat away at him for some time.

Despite Sobels own failings out in the field, he has been credited with making Easy Company the elite tactical unit that it was.  This was reflected in    “We who are alive and remain”by Marcus Brotherton. It tells how in 2002, Herbert Sobels son Michael ended up as an impromptu guest speaker at an Easy Company reunion. Michael was hugged and the man who hugged him said ““My father told me that if I ever had the honour of meeting you to let you know that it was because of your father that I’m alive today.” That man was an Easy Company veteran.

Herbert Sobel was a complex man. It’s been rumoured that he was diagnosed from bipolar disorder late in life. Signs of bipolar are:

  • Delusions of importance.
  • Feeling high and euphoric.
  • High levels of energy and activity.
  • Mood swings.
  • Impulsive behaviour.
  • Lack of empathy.

If you lay those potential signs over the top of Sobels life and behaviour, maybe how he was with Easy Company might make more sense. But that was not to be. He wasn’t diagnosed until later in life. It’s something we will never know.

In the army, he ruled by fear. He was a man who did not have the respect of his company, clearly illustrated by the NCO mutiny.  He had little clue on the battlefield. Sobel was a man plagued by jealousy, shown by how he refused to take guidance from others and how he noted that Winters had garnered the respect from Easy.  But despite all of those things, Sobel was a man of principle. He made Easy the best that they could possibly be.

Thank you Captain Sobel for the training of Easy. Without the training, our Band of Brothers could not have achieved all that they did.