“Trying to do it the way Dick Winters wanted it to be done”—that was the impetus that led Jake Powers, Mark Patterson, and Chad Weisensel to come together and establish a tour company that specializes in following the footsteps of the “band of brothers” from Toccoa to the Eagle’s Nest.
Battlefield tours are nothing new. Enterprising entrepreneurs took tourists around Civil War battlefields when memories of that war were still fresh. Given the popularity of HBO’s miniseries Band of Brothers and the book by Stephen Ambrose that inspired it, no one should be surprised that a company might use Easy Company’s World War II history as a basis for tours. What is more surprising is that this one is carrying on a tradition begun by Major Dick Winters, the commander of E Company E, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Berchtesgaden.
Winters found himself in the public spotlight thanks to the book and miniseries, and he seized the opportunity to educate others about the lessons he’d learned in the war and the sacrifices made by the “band of brothers.” The founders of Band of Brothers Tours hope to carry on that education for a new generation. One of the founders, Jake Powers, knows Maj. Winters very well and traveled with him to visit the battlefields where Maj. Winters and his comrades fought.
Another of the founders, Chad Weisensel of Wisconsin, spoke to HistoryNet on February 25, 2010.
HistoryNet: How did this all get started?
Chad Weisensel: Jake Powers, Mark Patterson, and I formed Band of Brothers Tours because we want to do it the way Dick Winters wanted it to be done. Major Winters used to do these tours with Jake and a few others. He took the actual maps he carried during World War II and walked the battlefields, showing people “this is where we established our line” and things like that.
We take these same maps, the ones that belonged to Maj. Winters with us on tours so our travelers can see where things were, to do it the way Maj. Winters did it.
Jake has been part of the Easy Company family for many, many years. He’s the official historian of Easy Company and is very involved with some of the men who are still with us. He’s gone to the battlefields, taken vets there.
HN: Who takes these tours now? Are they vets?
CW: Generally, we plan on bringing at least one vet on every tour we can, but we have a broad spectrum of people with us: wives, husbands, single men and women, high school kids. Many wives have told me, “Boy I wasn’t sure this was for me,” but by the end of the tour they’re very excited. It turns into a big treat for everyone.
HN: You mentioned high school students. So young people go on tours like this?
CW: On the tours I’ve gone on there were young people. The first time it was a young boy, the next time there was a girl. Both were doing reports. They showed great respect for veterans. Many young people out there don’t understand this, the importance of what we’re doing and seeing. They did. It wasn’t just a trip to them. It was something special and they were part of it and they know it. They’ll never forget it.
HN: How do the veterans react to seeing places they were in when they were young with bullets flying around them?
CW: Many recall numerous battles they had. Fred Bahlau recounted details of battles many of us had never heard of. Some cry. Some are happy to see these places again. The best part is that the people with them understand what it meant. You see it in their eyes, see them salute their lost comrades at the cemetery in Normandy. You have to see the look in their eyes to really understand. They’re phenomenal. They have the inspiration of youngsters again when they go on these tours because they see the interest of the people with them.
HN: HBO is premiering its new miniseries, The Pacific, which a lot of people are describing as “Band of Brothers in the Pacific,” although it has nothing whatever to do with the Band of Brothers story. Are you planning on starting Pacific tours?
CW: The three of us specialize in the European front. We know the vets of Easy. We may look for a Pacific expert to do something later, but right now we’re concentrating on Band of Brothers tours. There’s certainly opportunity out there, but the three of us aren’t capable of doing it on our own. We will stick to what we do best and that is telling the story of the men of Easy Company!
HN: Any tours planned for the near future?
CW: Our first full Band of Brothers tour will be in May, and we have another scheduled for July. In Sept we’ll be taking what we call the Combat Tour—we’ll skip where they trained and go straight to Normandy and then on through Bastogne and elsewhere, only hitting the places where Easy was in combat. We will be in Holland during the anniversary of Operation Market Garden.
We’ve discovered that not everyone can take 15 days for a tour, so we’ve instituted a shorter, nine-day tour. The full tour starts in Atlanta, then goes to England, Normandy, Holland, Bastogne, Austria and Germany.
HN: You also volunteer with the Honor Flight program, don’t you?
CW: Yes, it’s a national non-profit program to take vets to visit the memorials in Washington, DC. Right now it is concentrating on the World War II veterans because we’re losing them at a rate of 1,000 a day, but we also provide flights to terminally ill veterans of other wars as well.
HN: How did you come to get involved?
CW: A few of us went on a Stars and Stripes Honor Flight in Milwaukee. When I got off the plane from that flight, I knew I wanted to organize something in Madison, Wisconsin. Our first Badger Honor Flight will be April 17. We’re trying to raise funds right now. Everything is free to the veterans on Honor Flights— the airfare, ground transport in D.C., food. There are also guardians to accompany the vets.
HN: You seem to be very involved with veterans.
CW: When the veterans are gone, someone will have to pick up the torch, to keep the memory of what they did alive. That’s what Jake, Mark, and I want to do.
Read Maj. Winters’ own account on HistoryNet, “Dick Winters’ Reflections on the Band of Brothers, D-Day and Leadership.”