David Webster, in his book said, “Was there any meaning to life or to war, that two men should sit together and jump within seconds of each other, and yet never meet on the ground below?”
Due to the book being written between the end of the war, and before Websters death in 1961, it has very firmly ensconced itself, before Band of Brothers, and in some ways, became the blueprint for it.
This book is not like other Easy Company memoirs. David Webster did not have a rank to put him alongside esteemed leaders such as Major Winters or Buck Compton. He didn’t have the admiration and respect that revered soldiers such as Bill Guarnere, Carwood Lipton or Don Malarkey had. David Webster was a Private. His memoir would not have been expected to reach the standards of Winters and others. Yet, in some ways, it exceeds them.
David Webster was a Private. He was also an English Literature major at Harvard University. While from a wealthy family, and potentially having the ability to arrange an officers commission, he made the decision that life as a ‘grunt’ was for him. Having a love of writing, he wanted to document the war from a foxhole. He wanted to simply do his duty. This was abundantly clear throughout the war. He never volunteered for anything. He declined promotions. He never discharged himself from hospital to rejoin his unit. His disdain for the war, and those causing it was palpable.
Examining his book, we can see that the difference between this book and others, is the frankness in which David Webster shares his dislike of the army, and of war. He didn’t spend all the time with Easy Company at every battle, so heroism in his stories and memories remain limited. He was a notable absentee through The Battle of the Bulge.
This book is a description of World War II, through the mundane, that everyday need for survival. David has an honest flair that parades through these pages. We see the army’s politics and weaknesses examined. We see that army life is not all guts and glory, not all gore and explosions.
The everyday life of the soldier is examined under a microscope in this book. The rules and regulations that are to be followed. The waiting around in between events. The morale of the soldiers through the theatre of war. The life is something that cannot be understood unless it has been lived.
Included are some of his letters home, which make an interesting addition to the book, and add authenticity and purpose to it.
If you are looking for a sentimental and patriotic memoir of Band of Brothers, put this one down and go read another. David Webster did not like the military, or the bureaucracy surrounding it. He simply didn’t like the job, but felt that his patriotic purpose was to fight. This book is not a star spangled banner, idealistic army memoir. It is David’s truth.
Stephen Ambrose wrote the books introduction. He is open in that he never had the pleasure of meeting him, but that he does have an admiration for the man. He particularly admired his writing.
Stephen is quoted as saying, “He had long ago made it a rule of his Army life never to do anything voluntarily. He was an intellectual, as much an observer and chronicler of the phenomenon of soldiering as a practitioner. He was almost the only original Toccoa man who never became an NCO. Various officers wanted to make him a squad leader, but he refused. He was there to do his duty, and he did it — he never let a buddy down in combat, in France, Holland, or Germany — but he never volunteered for anything and he spurned promotion”
On September 9th, 1961, David disappeared after going fishing in his boat. The following day, a search party found the boat. He was never found.
Thank you for your service Private Webster.