I’m working through my review of Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters and in doing some background googling* (read: getting rather distracted and off-task, something I’m particularly deft at), came across this Wikipedia article on Herbert Sobel, the much maligned commander of Easy company during their training and preparation for D-Day. I’m struck by the articles’ depiction of the latter years of his life. I can’t think of a much more pathetic, tragic end to a life.
Having read a lot of first-hand opinions and details of Sobel’s actions, I have no reason to doubt the prevailing opinion that he wasn’t always the nicest or most compassionate person (some labelled him vindictive, petty), nor was he competent enough to lead men into combat. In his defence, he is credited, by the men themselves, as the man who ‘made’ Easy company what it was, the ‘band of brothers’ united together against him, to survive his training, and the effectiveness is proven by the company’s record. He created an excellent company of combat soldiers, although he wasn’t fit to lead them in battle.
Yet what strikes me about the article, and about the man is the latter part of his life, his legacy. He marries, and has three kids, and is divorced. In 1970. for reason unknown, he shoots himself in the head. But he doesn’t die, he merely blinds himself, severing both optic nerves. Remarkably lucky, right? Not so much. He then winds up in a VA assisted living facility, dying there from malnutrition, of all things, in 1987. None of his family, not his ex-wife, children or other family were in attendance at his death, nor present at his funeral; he didn’t have one. His single enduring legacy seems to be the company of soldiers that appreciated how his training prepared them for war, but despised him as a person.
Now reportedly he was a wonderful father, much beloved by at least one of his sons (We Who Are Alive and Remain: Untold Stories from the Band of Brothers, pg 244-5, also a great read), but I can’t help but see the almost pathetic tragedy. Almost universally disliked by those he who knew him in the army, divorced by his wife, tries to commit suicide and fails, dies alone, of malnutrition, with noone caring to be with him on his deathbed, nor organise a funeral/memorial for him.
I can’t help but think about my life, and hope that I am, and will live it in such a way that, I suppose that I have reason not to be alone and uncelebrated in my death. And that I, if it’s within my awareness and power, do not allow anyone I know to pass similarly alone and uncelebrated.
*Oddly enough, Google Chrome’s built in spell check doesn’t recognise googling as a word, although when googling the word googling (bet you didn’t think I could use the word three times in a sentence!) several online dictionaries do consider googling (4!) a valid verb, including Merriam-Webster. Apparently Google doesn’t like this, and if its name must be used as a word other than a noun referring to the search engine or corporation, insists that, well, you’re actually referring to the use of its search engine, not as a generic term for searching on the internet. I suppose it would be a blow to them to lose their trademark rights if google became accepted as a generic word like aspirin, zipper and escalator did.