As a reminder, these recaps are not meant to be a frame-by-frame retelling of the episode with my thoughts; rather, they are reactions to details or storylines as I view them through my lens in the Army. Enjoy!
You're probably thinking to yourself, "Jeez, it's been a minute since the last recap of episode 8" and you'd be correct. In the last month and a half I had to prep to move, pack, move, get settled into a new house, and then we ran smack dab into Christmas and New Years. No excuse but I was behind on my rewatching.
Episode 9 contains some of the most stomach churning and horrid portions of this series as the men of Easy Company discover concentration camps and you're instantly reminded of the evil that blanketed this war.
It was always striking to me that even considering the intense battles they went through and how the nazis made their lives hell, the men in the opening interviews reflect on how they were just soldiers doing their job just like them. Shifty goes so far as to say that the enemy and he might've shared the same hobbies. I am not entirely sure how to reconcile that (although that's not for me to reconcile) because at the end of the day, most of the Germans who fought for the nazis believed in what they were doing as opposed to simply fighting because they didn't have a choice. For the men of Easy Company to humanize their enemies that brought death and destruction upon many American service members speaks volumes about who those men were as people.
Officers vs Enlisted
I've talked throughout these recaps as well as on Zero Blog Thirty (go subscribe) about the stereotypes that exist among enlisted Soldiers and Soldiers who are Officers. Some are exaggerations, some are true, and some are somewhere in the middle. We see a middle one at the beginning of the episode as the Soldiers are listening to the townspeople play music among the ruble that was once their proud town. Webster says it's Mozart only to be corrected by Nix - "Beethoven. That's not Mozart. That's Beethoven." Nix came from an affluent family and was likely very cultured in the arts so he would have a better ear for music. At that time, the folks who went to college (and thus became officers) were from middle class to upper middle class families so this all checks out.
When you're deployed, you often interact with the local people in those countries aside from the enemy. Every time I see Perconte and Luz taking eggs from the farm I think back to the time I sat down for breakfast in Iraq with some village elders. They served eggs but not like you get at a diner. No no, these eggs were served on a giant platter on the dirt that we all sat around. Not one to insult or pass up an opportunity to have eggs, I dove in just like the villagers did - with my hands. Needless to say even my strong Irish stomach was affected by what was likely floating around those eggs due to the unwashed hands of some.
Now one thing I did not do while in Iraq was engage in the actions Janovec was caught doing at the top of the episode. But you couldn't help driving around Iraq and wonder where those blonde haired blue eyed children came from.
Spears seemed to be obsessed with taking anything that wasn't nailed down. I've always wondered about that - ok sure you want to take something home but at what point is it just a little weird that you have a ton of nazi memorabilia? All the silver he was taking I can understand but even that stuff probably had a swastika on it somewhere. Present day it gets a little more tricky to send something home because everything has to be checked before it goes into a container and sealed. Certainly if you're friends with the guy doing the checking he can turn a blind eye to whatever you're trying to get in there, but there also wasn't much worth taking home anyway. Although I've never fact checked this, I have to imagine certain plants got smuggled home from Afghanistan at some point in the last 20 years, especially from someone who got deployed multiple times and felt like he was owed something.
Hearing that Nix never fired a single shot during the whole war is actually not that surprising. Sure, Easy company found themselves on the front lines and in tons of major battles but staff officers aren't in the mix on those dust ups. When Winters presses him saying, "even with all the action we've seen?" it's a valid question because you'd think he would've had to fire at least a warning shot at some point. Nevertheless, I am not surprised. Staff guys stay at headquarters in the rear for the most part. They may ask to tag along on a mission here or there if they come up with a good enough excuse and promise not to get in the way but otherwise they stay in their office all day every day.
One time my platoon discovered a massive weapons cache. When that happens, you set up a perimeter for security and call for EOD to come blow it up. We have no use for their old weapons and ordance and we certainly don't want to leave it for the bad guys to use again so we get to stick the cache full of explosives and blow it to kingdom come. Anyway, I radioed back to HQ what we found and wouldn't you know it, an element of trucks from staff showed up. Guys coming up and taking pictures with the cache, posing like they were responsible for the discovery. Meanwhile, my Soldiers are sweating their asses off after pulling security for hours while we waited on EOD and you're smiling for mom back home.
Listen, I get why they came for pictures. Being stuck in an office on a deployment isn't any fun and if you can go outside the wire to see some bad guy stuff, you're going to do it every time. Unless you're my commander who stayed behind on a mission due to a tummy ache (I think I already told that story.)
Barstool in Iraq
Speaking of staff duties, Nix is charged with giving a current events briefing to the men. This is wild to think that you had to wait weeks at a time to hear about what is going on at home but that's also because Al Gore hadn't invented the internet yet so the men just had to deal.
When you have down time on deployment there are a number of different ways to pass the time and reading current events on the internet is certainly one of those ways and the exact way my Barstool journey began in 2008. My cousin was living in Boston at the time and she said she would read this paper on her way to work and that they started putting in on the internet in recent years. Well, she sent me a link to Barstool and I was hooked from the first blog I read. The amount of times I would hit refresh in the hopes of a new blog appearing would make your head spin. Now here I am writing on the exact site that helped me through long days in Iraq. Barstool has always been about the troops first. Thanks Dave!
I talked about this in a previous breakdown but Perconte saying he hadn't seen home in two years makes my stomach turn. These men left home having no idea when and if they would ever come home. That took fortitude that isn't as prevalent these days. Now kids won't go to school unless mommy gets them Starbucks first. Kids these days! *Shakes fist at cloud*
Later in the episode, the men lay out their plans for life when they return home. This is largely one of the things that keeps you sane and motivated during war; giving yourself something to look forward to when you return home. These men were planning the rest of their lives. I simply planned a massive welcome home party for block leave.
One way you could tell they had been at war a very long time was when they drove past the executions and none of them even blinked except for the replacement. War will very quickly make you callous to many horrible actions so it's imperative to work to retain your perspective.
When I was deployed I was a single guy. Heck, I was a single guy basically until 2015/2017 - you see I met my wife in 2015 but she likes to say I was a "jerk" and I "wouldn't date" her for two years.
She lives her truth. Whatever. At any rate, I didn't have to worry about getting a Dear John letter like Nix. Breaking up is one thing but getting divorced via letter and being told your wife is taking the dog is unfathomable. She didn't even like the dog! Divorce feels like something you have conversations about in many instances. Doing it via letter feels heartless so I'm going on record as saying I am not a fan of Nix's first wife.
One thing I did experience was when one of my Soldiers came to tell me his "wife" had emptied his bank account and filed for divorce two weeks after we arrived in country. I say wife in quotes because they got married two weeks before we left. That wouldn't be a big deal typically because it makes sense to be married while deployed for financial reasons among others. What's not typical is when you only knew the woman for a week before getting married after you met her at her place of work. I'll let you all figure out where she worked. Hint: it was cash only and everyone had a stage name. As a 23 year old platoon leader, that was a very eye-opening life lesson I had to help that kid through to make sure nothing further went down.
The most gripping part of the episode had to be when they came upon the concentration camp. The first time my platoon took a prisoner, I can remember there was a part of me that hurt. Granted, this guy was planting bombs on the side of the road and absolutely needed to be in American custody and held accountable for the terrible actions he was responsible for in our area of operations. However, when you have a 19 year old kid in zip ties who is so clearly scared for his life, I believe most humans will feel at least a little something for that person. I know I did. As I write this I can still remember the feeling. We were doing our job and absolutely following the law of war to the letter, but a tiny part of me felt for how scared he was.
Take that feeling and multiply it by infinity for what the men of Easy Company must've felt when they saw the atrocity of that concentration camp. Kudos to the actors for portraying that horror because even given as much as they'd see since D Day, I don't know that anything can prepare you for witnessing genocide and barbaric behavior to that scale. I suspect many of those men struggled for years, perhaps the rest of their lives, trying to reckon with what they witnessed. The men of Easy Company were heroes for liberating that camp as was every unit who liberated the survivors in those camps.
Ok, one more episode to go - I have my notes ready so don't expect to have to wait a long time to wrap this up completely.