Don Malarkey is a real American hero. Easy Company Soldier is a memoir of Malarkey's time fighting in World War II as a member of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division, the story famously told in Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers. Malarkey tells things from his own perspective, including a few stories that Ambrose doesn't cover. It's an excellent memoir despite the fact that it doesn't seem to get as detailed as it could be at only 254 pages. I would have loved a bit more depth into his wartime experiences; at this point, I'll take what I can get.
Malarkey starts his story in a way that immediately grips the reader. In the freezing cold of Bastogne, extremely short on supplies and surrounded by the Germany army, Easy Company soldiers were beginning to despair, though they fought on determinedly. Malarkey sits there, almost freezing to death, considering using the pistol in his hand to end things right there. Will he pull the trigger? Obviously not, since he's writing the book, but it's a dramatic, heartfelt moment that places you into the middle of the tensest situation of his life. He then jumps back to begin the biography where most start: at the beginning.
It's amazing, given how short the book is and thus how short the section about Malarkey's early life is, that we really feel like we are getting to know this man - getting to know what formed the soldier that we eventually see in this book. He tells how both of his uncles died either in World War I or as a result of injuries suffered in that war, and how his grandmother reacted when he volunteered for the army in 1941; how his father withdrew from the family during and after the Great Depression, unable to bear how it had affected his ability to take care of them. He details paratrooper training, including the horrible washing-out ceremony when a trooper was forced to leave the unit. As he says, it wasn't the military's proudest moment.
Half of the book is about Malarkey's wartime experiences, and he really brings the war home to the reader despite the fact that his descriptions sometimes feel cursory. While he demonstrates his own personal confusion during their first drop into Normandy, I didn't really get a feel for the complete chaos that erupted behind German lines. It seems to be over too quickly in the book. Perhaps that's because we don't see the grand picture, but even Malarkey's own bit of chaos doesn't seem to last long.
This changes with Operation Market Garden, the completely misguided airborne operation intended by Field Marshal Montgomery to end the war quickly. Malarkey does immerse readers in the little things that were going on at the time. The same goes for the Battle of the Bulge. The end of the war doesn't have the same impact, because Malarkey missed a large part of it, being wounded.
Especially effective is the final chapter, the aftermath of the war up to the present day. We see the emotional toll that being a soldier forced on him, the waking nightmares that even now occasionally plague him, the desire to bury it all in alcohol, and the inability to deal with things like company reunions until many years into the future. The epilogue talks a little bit about the HBO series based on Ambrose's book, and his role as a consultant. Especially poignant is how close he became with the actor who played his best friend, after having hung up on the actor the first time he called to get some information on how to play his friend because he couldn't handle it.
Malarkey's descriptions are quite vivid, and he doesn't pull any punches when he talks about the friends and companions who are killed in action. You feel the raw emotion when one of his best friends is killed by an artillery burst, and it wrings Malarkey to his emotional depths. His prose style is no-nonsense. Iím sure co-writer Bob Welch polished things up a bit, but it very much feels like an old soldier telling war stories. I really appreciated that.
Another good thing about Easy Company Soldier is how in the course of the narrative he points out how the mini-series occasionally took dramatic liberties with the events he describes. Thatís valuable for those readers coming to the book only knowing what they saw in the movie. Malarkey tells it like it was despite Hollywood. For example, he says neither he nor anybody in the company he has spoken to remember going through the concentration camp as is shown in the movie.
While Easy Company Soldier isn't quite as deep as I would like, it's an excellent memoir of a soldier fighting in World War II, doing his best to keep his sanity when everybody else is losing theirs. You'll feel like you know this man after reading the book, and that's the best thing you can say about a memoir.