With a quivering lip, "I don't know how he survived... but he did," utters the the late Sergeant Robert "Popeye" Wynn to kick off Episode 5 of the HBO Band of Brothers series. And within those simple words, you feel his emotion—just as raw as it was decades ago.
Based on a non-fiction book that historian Stephen E. Ambrose released in 1993, the Band of Brothers miniseries was first aired in 2001. The WWII series dramatizes the history of "Easy" Company, which was part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. The episodes take the viewers from jump training in the US, to D-Day, and then through other costly battles before concluding with the surrender of Nazi Germany in May of 1945. All of the characters portrayed in the series are based on members of Easy Company and each episode begins with interview clips of the elderly, real soldiers.
In the episode titled Crossroads, there is a scene about eighteen minutes in that reflects an event that occurred in October of 1944.
After an ambush in the middle of the night where Easy Company hit numerous German soldiers, Easy found themselves in a defenseless open field the following morning. Understanding Easy could easily be outflanked once the Germans realized the situation, Captain Winters surmised Easy had no choice but to attack. With an untriggered canister of red smoke in hand, the 26 year old Winters looks along the line at the faces of his soldiers and pauses to take in the weight of the moment. He is about to lead these men, who are younger than him, in a charge to their highly plausible demise. The men look at Winters with fear covering their faces, but with faith in their leader. Winters throws the canister and sprints by himself toward unknown danger as the others wait for the smokescreen to fully manifest. As Winters runs out of sight, the camera focuses in on one of the shaken soldiers anxious to follow his Captain. Under his breath, he murmurs, "Jesus..."
Courage is not a matter of lacking fear but a matter of being able to move forward despite having it. It is the ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty or intimidation and can be divided into two categories. One is showing "physical courage" in the face of physical injury, hardship, or threat of death. And the other is showing "moral courage" in the face of shame, scandal, or discouragement. The word "courage" comes from the word corage in Old French, which derives from the Latin word cor, meaning heart.
People are amazing and they show courage every day. But we often think of courage on a huge, grandiose scale. The truth is courage has a large range and vast examples. On one side, courage is accosting an aggressor. On the other, courage can simply be mustering up the strength to speak in front of an audience. And then there is everything in between...
Courage is doing the right thing even though it is the much harder path.
Courage is standing up to your friends when they are in the wrong at the risk of your own embarrassment.
Courage is holding your ground when being picked on by a bully.
Courage is stepping out of the box and trying something new.
Courage is saying hello to a homeless street person and asking if they need any help.
Courage is challenging someone that blatantly litters right in front of you.
Courage is taking on an extra project at work and not knowing the solution readily but knowing you have the ability to figure it out.
Courage is taking responsibility when you make a mistake.
And courage is becoming a parent and doing everything you can to ensure your child is an improvement of your own self.
Courage challenges our comfort zones and forces us to grow. It is not a matter of making life easier but a matter of building strength to overcome our troubles. The struggles we are in today are developing the strength we need tomorrow. Don't give up!
Keep pushing. Keep moving forward. Keep growing. And keep following your dreams. Why? Well, courage is the magic that turns dreams into reality.
As the late author, Keshavan Nair, said, "With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity."
Thank God for courage.
And speaking of thanks, to the folks that currently serve or have served our country in the armed forces, I thank you sincerely for your dedication, sacrifice and courage to defend the freedoms we so graciously enjoy.
(The picture above is of Rosie the Riveter, wearing her iconic uniform and iconic "Westinghouse Electric Service" pin. During World War II, American women surged into the industrial workplace like the country had never seen before—courageously supporting the troops displaced overseas.)