On Being Given Much

by Marcus Brotherton on May 21, 2009 · 36 comments

in A Man's Life, On Virtue


How do you remember what you don’t know? How do you appreciate what you have not experienced?

A few years back I moved to LA to begin a graduate program. All the university’s on-campus housing was filled, so the only room I could find to rent was in the home of my advisor’s father, a World War II veteran named Nate Miller.

Nate’s wife had recently died, so his son thought it might be good for him to have company. Nate had lived in the same bungalow in Buena Park since the war, raised two sons, and enjoyed a quiet life since his days in combat. Other than a smattering of high school history, I knew little about World War II or what its veterans had been through, or about any war’s veterans. I was clueless about what would come next, like nearly anyone of my generation would have been as a veteran’s housemate.

Nate kept a big russet Doberman named Diana that did business all over the front lawn. One day I mentioned to my new landlord that it might be appropriate to have the stuff picked up once in a while. “Aw, that ain’t nothing,” Nate said. “You should see a Kraut’s helmet lying on the ground when its still got his brains in it.”

Underneath his pillow by night or his chair cushion by day Nate kept a loaded pistol. He warned: “If you come home late, make sure you yell so I know it’s you. I might blow a hole in your guts.” Most evenings Nate fell asleep in front of the TV. The only way into the house was through the front door, near the TV. I’d come home and face a dilemma: should I shout and wake the old man, or let him sleep and risk a bullet?

Nate spoke in monologues, often repeating stories. Most were ornery tales suited to the pool halls he frequented. But one story was unlike the others: He was fighting in Hurtgen Forest, late 1944. It was winter, freezing, with blood on the ground and heavy artillery resistance. The forest was so ripped full of lead you couldn’t even cut down a tree for firewood because you’d break your saw, Nate said.

In a lull in the fighting, a group of the world’s toughest soldiers scraped snow from fallen logs, and a chaplain came and spoke to the men. As many times as Nate repeated this story he always ended with the same line: “I seen a lot of fancy churches while in Europe-huge cathedrals-but that was by far the best church I ever went to.”

Nate said it in sincerity, not to disparage cathedrals, but to mark the solemnity of the moment. For all his rough edges, Nate was a reverent man. He loved his country. He loved freedom. There was more to this man than his outer veneer.

Learning gratitude

A while ago my agent phoned about a book project. Lieutenant Buck Compton, one of the original Band of Brothers, wanted to write his memoirs. I agreed to the project immediately, then in a quieter moment wondered what I had done. All I knew about veterans was from renting a room for one semester from Nate Miller.

As work began on Lieutenant Compton’s book, strangely, I felt that my ignorance brought vitality to the work. Since I didn’t know anything, I needed to ask Buck everything. What’s a Regiment? Why do they award Silver Stars? How does a Thompson differ from an M-1? Buck was ever patient. He’d look at me, sometimes incredulous at the questions I asked, but always willing to explain.

As I worked, I found myself looking at the world differently, through the lens of a veteran.

A new personal determination emerged. If the men of Easy Company could run up and down Mt. Currahee each day-a seven-mile trip-while training at Camp Toccoa, then I could certainly go for my morning jog without complaining as much as usual.

Challenges were seen in a new perspective. In December I went to a car auction and stood for two hours in the snow as each vehicle came to the block. As I stamped my feet to stay warm, I reminded myself I wasn’t fighting in Bastogne with my feet wrapped in burlap bags.

I came to see soldiers as men willing to lay down their lives for the sake of others. They fight for themselves and the generation under immediate attack, but certainly they fight for the futures of free peoples. Decades beyond World War II, I am one who benefited. That I can vote in presidential elections and not bend my knee to Hirohito’s grandson is testament to the enduring work of veterans. That I can write books for a living instead of sweating in a Third Reich factory is a product of Allied triumph.

What is my hope for my generation? As a whole, we’d probably admit casualness in our patriotism. Many view Memorial Day as little more than a good day for a barbecue. But I wish we might glimpse anew the freedom we’ve been handed. I wish we would read books about veterans and watch war movies and talk to veterans and rent rooms from them. I wish we’d pray that future generations will never be called upon to make the same sacrifices as those who gave up everything for the sake of freedom.

And I wish we would live as those who have been given much. That is what I take from soldiers like Nate Miller, Buck Compton, and all the veterans who have fought and died in the name of liberty. They have given much, so that we might live for what matters.


Mr. Brotherton is the co-author of Call of Duty with Lt. Buck Compton. His newest book, We Who Are Alive and Remain: untold stories from the Band of Brothers, tells the stories of 20 surviving members of Easy Co.



{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

1 doug little May 21, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Yes, I’m sure the men who gave their life for the USA would be really pleased with the current condition of this country. The country is being totally invaded by Mexico and the Govt. does nothing. That’s what they died for? Untold number of families are being torn apart by the anti-male, anti-father pro-Feminist Family Court system. That’s what they died for? Men and boys are treated worse than animals and demeaned in every aspect of society. Media, education, workplace, you name it. That’s what they died for? The USA can go to hell. I respect the men who fought and died but this country is a mess and done. There’s no reason to “man up” or “be a man” for this worthless country and govt. Every man for himself. I won’t fight and die for ungrateful American Women, Pussified American Men, or Aunt Samantha US Gov. Nuts to that sh*t. This country is the furthest thing from representing Freedom. Read Taken Into Custody by Baskerville.

2 George May 21, 2009 at 6:17 pm


Those men died so that you can whine about the country on the internet and not have to fear a thing. They also died so that you can leave if you choose to. I suggest you exercise that right. You are not welcome here.

3 Tess May 21, 2009 at 6:30 pm

I’m sure the men who have given their lives for America would be very pleased with the current condition of this country. A country where approximately 2/3 of eligible voters are even registered to vote, and only half voted in the presidential election in 2004. A country where a person with strong opinions feels that the proper course of action is, not to become more involved with some level of government or to join or start an activist organization, but rather to whine and complain about the state of the country and assert that there is “no reason to ‘man up’… for this worthless country.”

I agree that the Family Court system, and, for the most part, the entire legal system in America, is broken. I agree that the Government regularly takes actions that hurt the US rather than help it (example: recent economic bail-outs). But I also know that if everyone who is dissatisfied with our government walks away from it, the country will fall into ruins faster than it already is. Follow the example of our veterans, and work for the change you want.

As for America being “the furthest thing from representing Freedom,” look up how many countries you could be arrested in for criticizing your government, and count your blessings that you live in America.

4 Aaron May 21, 2009 at 6:48 pm

Thank you to all of the veterans out there. Appreciate all you have done, are doing, and will do.

Like the guest post today and I am looking forward to reading We Who Are Alive and Remain: Untold Stories from the Band of Brothers:

5 Lee May 21, 2009 at 7:04 pm

What an absolutely great post. I am so thankful for the veterans out there and the men who are currently serving our country. Happy Memorial weekend everyone.

6 Blake May 21, 2009 at 7:58 pm
7 oracle989 May 21, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Wow. This sure is an excellent post. There are no words which can ever describe the debt and gratitude which we owe the men and women of our armed forces, past and present. Have a wonderful Memorial Day, everyone, and remember over this weekend those who have fought so that you could have these freedoms we enjoy.

That book is most definitely on my read list.

8 Cory Martinez May 21, 2009 at 8:19 pm

good post. I’m currently reading “The Greatest Generation” and getting to know these veterans just a little bit better (having been born 2 generations after their time). Reading about their work ethic and convictions just makes you want get out there in the world and do the same.

I find it sad that almost every website has people who post little whiny comments and basically just ruin the whole feeling you get after reading an article. I thought this website might have more manly men, but alas, even it’s not immune to these deadbeats.

9 Simon May 22, 2009 at 12:23 am

Sure, a lot of soldiers may have believed in the cause. But we are talking about conscripted soldiers. The choice was either to fight and maybe die by the hands of the Axis powers, or desert and die with dishonor under the fire of a fire squad. In my opinion, most soldiers simply made virtue out of necessity, consciously or unconsciously. Following this logic, Axis soldiers should be respected as much as Allied soldiers. They simply did what they had to do, there was very little choice.

I generally like this website, but the naivete I find here is sometimes astonishing.

I know that this comment will be voted out in minutes, but that’s the price a freethinker has to pay.

10 Charlie May 22, 2009 at 3:46 am

First, I want to thank those who have given all or part of their lives for the cause of freedom.

Second, I believe that we as Americans are waking up to the fact that we do have to stay diligent for the freedom we enjoy. And, yes, sometimes we may have to fight. There is a quote something to the effect of the only thing necessary for evil men to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Personally, I think good men have been doing nothing at the risk of offending others. I see that tide changing, and the good men are beginning to do something. Keep the momentum building, gentlemen. It is our duty to those serving elsewhere.

11 Joe Cope May 22, 2009 at 4:14 am

what an incredible post. thank you, Mr. Brotherton. my younger brother, jeremy, just graduated from his marine occupational specialty school and is one of america’s newest fleet marines and my hero. i have always had reverence for our great nation’s military men, but now that my brother is one of them, words can’t describe the pride in my heart for him and for our military. you do a good thing, helping our veterans tell their stories. stories that all of us should hear and take to heart, so that we can understand the hardships of how and why they spent sleepless hours fighting wars in foreign lands so that we may have the freedom to have that barbecue, to watch that baseball game, to live a free life.

from a very grateful american, to every man who has ever served in america’s armed forces… thank you.

12 Jason Y May 22, 2009 at 5:04 am


It looks like others share your sentiment, or at least find your post thought-provoking.

It is indeed a tragedy whenever soldiers are forced to fight in opposition to what they themselves believe.

13 John May 22, 2009 at 5:48 am

Actually, Buck Compton and his brothers in E Company were volunteers, not conscripted soldiers. That doesn’t diminish the sacrifices made by the millions of men who were indeed conscripted. Very few people in this world want to go out and fight a war, but when their country said to them “We need you,” these men didn’t run away from their duty. They accepted their burden and for this they deserve to be honored.

14 Jon W May 22, 2009 at 6:06 am

I would like to first thank you for your post and your clear desire to teach others about giving on this memorial day weekend, it is much appreciated.

I am currently serving as a member of the u.s. military and I see you men arguing about the current state of the country and your dismal view on it. I believe nothing has changed only our views and what we want to see. the press and media focuses on negativity and when you just accept everything you hear from these outlets of course your opinion and outlook on these subjects will become negative as well. Work on a strong positive outlook at life and anything that comes your way won’t have a chance of inhibiting you or your family.

This day is about remembering those who have given their all. Sacrifice at any level is the greatest gift we can recieve, Jesus has taught me this. If I must do so for my family and my fellow man, than I give it all with no regrets. Take a few minutes to stop arguing about your petty opinions and really think about what these men and womens’ sacrifices have given to you though you’ve never met them, and I pray you can find happiness in that.

in any case i hope everyone has a wonderful memorial day weekend. God Bless

15 Brett May 22, 2009 at 7:51 am


I don’t quite understand your point. Does making virtue out of necessity, make the virtue any less virtuous? If a man impregnates his girlfriend and when he finds out, he decides to marry the girl and become a great father, is his decision less worthy because it is born from necessity? There are many things in our life where we are required to do our duty, and we may either do the bare minimum or carry forth that duty to the best of our abilities. If we choose the latter, is that not virtuous and honorable? Is the honor of doing our best canceled out by the fact that the position we found ourselves in was not entirely of our choice? The men of Easy Company could have done the bare minimum. They could have pretended to fight while cowering in a hole. They could have fallen to pieces under the pressure. On D-day when they were dropped far from their drop points they could have given up instead of banding together and doing what they could. And we could have lost the war. They made the choice to do incredibly brave things. If you don’t think sir that they should be honored because some were conscripted, that strikes me as more naive than anything I’ve read here.

16 Brett May 22, 2009 at 7:56 am

On choices:

“Herb Suerth enlisted at November 11th, 1942, at the age of 18 as a volunteer for the reserve engineer corps while he wanted to become a mechanical engineer. In March 1944, he joined the service at Fort Ballfort for basic training. Herb arrived in England in early July 1944, and he was still an engineering replacement. He was expected to be assigned to an engineers corps or a construction battalion. He and his friend Chase overheard some guys of their company talking about faking illnesses or shooting their toes off so they got themselves transfered asap.

When Herb and his friend sat in the bar they said to each other: “When we stay in this unit we will be the only ones fighting, we better try to get out of this outfit if we can”. A couple of days later they heard that the 82nd and 101st Airborne Division were coming over to recruit. They already knew that these were outfits that were going to make their mark in WWII. They decided: “if we are going to be with an outfit to fight with, we want to be with one where the rest of the people are doing the same things as we are”. They went to their commander and told him they wanted to volunteer.”

17 Brucifer May 22, 2009 at 8:04 am

As a Viet vet, I frankly get more than a little tired over the exaltation of the WWII “Greatest Generation” as this mythical bunch of good guys. Especially, when persons unfamiliar with the reality of WWII, and wanting to condemn Gitmo waterboarding, throw up their “fact” that gramps would *never* have violated the Geneva Convention. Bullcrap!

German and especially Japanese soldiers were often shot point-blank when trying to surrender. After the war, thousands of German POWs were administratively reclassified by our Army so that they could be used by us for our own slave labor or to illegally clear minefields in France and Norway. Thousands were starved-off in open-air prisoner camps with NO sanitation and NO shelter. Those places make Gitmo look like a 4-star resort. Don’t tell me I don’t know. My own father confessed to guarding one of those camps. Tons of German prisoners were also blithely given over by us to the Soviets, we knowing full-well that the Russians were just gonna take them down the road a mile or two and shoot them. Geneva Convention … what a joke!

I’m all for people remembering that Memorial Days is NOT about beer and hotdogs. But to pretend that WWII was somehow this “good war” and it’s vets all self-sacrificing and squeaky clean, does a disservice to the veterans of all our conflicts since.

18 Brett May 22, 2009 at 8:11 am


Where does Marcus pretend that the WWII vets were all self-sacrificing or squeaky clean? Here’s what I don’t get-when we post up a post like this whether it’s about WWII vets or famous men of history, people complain that we didn’t talk about their sins and faults. But how would that be appropriate to this type of article? If you’re writing a Memorial Day article would you say, “these guys did a lot of good, but let’s also remember that they shot POW’s point blank!” There’s certainly an appropriate time for such facts (a history book), but this isn’t really that time. At Memorial Day parades should we hold up signs saying, “I know you made Germans clear mines.” ? I don’t understand why we cannot embrace honest scholarship while also making time for pockets where we unabashedly celebrate the good of what men did.

19 Terry.d May 22, 2009 at 9:12 am

Mr. Brotherton,
Thank you for this post and helping to keep in the forefront of our minds that freedom is not free. There can be no greater honor than to give your life or be willing to give your life in service for the protection of this country. We are far from being perfect, but the liberty we enjoy, which many unfortunately take for granted, is unparalleled in the world. I would urge readers that the next time you see a veteran or person in uniform, tell him or her, “thank you”, or let them go ahead of you in that grocery store line. It’ll do more for that soldier than you will ever know. Is that naive? Maybe. But it’s because of their service, we can be that way. . . and not have to worry about it. I’m also going to go out and get this book as my way of connecting with and honoring those we owe so much to.

20 Thomas May 22, 2009 at 10:50 am


I think your comment, “The choice was either to fight and maybe die by the hands of the Axis powers, or desert and die with dishonor under the fire of a fire squad,” oversimplifies things a bit. In fact, there were other choices.

My great-uncle failed the medical test to enlist. I would think this would have been reason enough to remain a civilian, but he thought otherwise and had a hernia operation so that he could try again. Just months after being deployed to France, he was killed by a machine gunner on a German tank, while trying to protect his superior officer.

I never knew Uncle Martin, so I couldn’t tell you if there was something particular about his character that made him undergo a voluntary surgery so that he could try again to enlist. I was never able to ask him his feelings on war and duty to one’s country. But I suspect that his sacrifice was not atypical. I suspect that, like many of that era, he understood that victory was not guaranteed and that each was called to protect our country.

What were the conscription numbers for American soldiers in World War II? A quick Google search didn’t turn up much. My impression had always been that it would have been considered dishonorable at that time not to serve, at least in some capacity, during World War II. I wonder to what extent a draft was even needed during World War II. Also, though I recall that a number of men were imprisoned for draft evasion in WWII, I am not sure that any were actually executed.

21 Santa May 22, 2009 at 11:18 am

Sadly we are losing more people from that generation as every year passes. My grandfather fought in WWII and told me stories that still bring me chills when I think about them. The soldiers then were a different breed than the ones serving our country today. We owe them our gratitude and respect.

22 Dawson May 22, 2009 at 11:47 am

“What is my hope for my generation? As a whole, we’d probably admit casualness in our patriotism. Many view Memorial Day as little more than a good day for a barbecue. But I wish we might glimpse anew the freedom we’ve been handed.”

You could write a book on the reality of patriotic apathy in current generations. But there’s a funny thing about that. When our fathers and grandfathers and great grandfathers (of every war and generation) went out to fight to make our future better…we were insulated from the very things that would stimulate such patriotism. As so many have pointed out in response to Simon’s comment it is more common for people to find their courage and strength and virtue when forced to it, not while ensconced safe and sound from danger.

It is my belief that when one sacrifices something for another (particularly for future generations) they will never quite appreciate it the way they might if they had to fight for it themselves. Those who are safe and insulated will remain ignorant of the danger of what would have happened if not for acts of courage and strength. Particularly children. And that is as it should be.

I do not think that our fathers and grandfathers would want us to truly appreciate what they have given us…if we did then they would have failed in keeping us safe from horrors and hardships and in passing on to us a better world. That apathy is grown from the security they provided and while not a stellar attribute for anyone…it is at least a hallmark of the greatness of previous generations.

23 Brucifer May 22, 2009 at 11:49 am

@ Brett -

There were no parades or “greatest generation” accolades for my own comrades and I. There was only civilian derision and decades following of civilian distrust and discrimination. Therefore sir, kindly allow me my bitterness.

24 Marcus Brotherton May 22, 2009 at 12:35 pm


Sir, this is much too little, much too late, but thank you. Sincerely. Thank you for your service.

I was born in 1968 and the events of what you speak of happened before my generation came to adulthood. But, as much as I am personally able to, I apologize for what you went through. I apologize as an American and a fellow human being.

There is so much truth in what you speak of. I am truly sorry you received that response for your service.

25 Brett May 22, 2009 at 1:56 pm


I do certainly respect your bitterness. This country’s treatment of Vietnam veterans was deplorable. While like Marcus, I was born after that generation, I apologize as an American and I thank you for your service. I’m optimistic that Americans have learned a lesson from that mistake; every year at my town’s Fourth of July parade, people rise to their feet and clap and cheer as the Vietnam vets pass. I see people get a little misty-eyed as they walk by. I hope we can condemn what was wrong in the past while still honoring what was good in WWII and Vietnam vets alike.

26 Brucifer May 22, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Thank you Brett .. and thank you Marcus

I do know were you are coming from in parts of your first response to me, Brett. I too deplore the tendency of we moderns to apply the sentiments, sensibilities and standards of our own time to personages of our past. For example, denigrating one of the finest minds of his time, Thomas Jefferson, for having had slaves. He was merely a product of an era when that was acceptable. I’d frankly love to see how future generations will hold our current mores and practices in scorn.

My reaction to the posted article Brett, was based upon seeing WAY too much of late in the way of overly lauding the “greatest generation” and the so-called “good war.” As both you and I would most certainly like to see, our national mythologies oftentimes uplift our personal behavior and the conduct of our republic. But they sometimes also blind us to some historic truths.

Thank you, gentlemen!

27 bobm May 23, 2009 at 6:37 am

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

28 Capt. Will May 23, 2009 at 7:25 am


I’m an Army brat, myself, and my father always told me that Memorial Day (and Veteran’s Day for that matter) should be seen as a day to honor all veterans from every war for the sacrifices they made for my country. He was taught that by my grandfather, a WWII and Korean War veteran.

Thank you, sir, for everything you, and your comrades sacrificed on my behalf. Know that whenever I fly Old Glory from my balcony, I do it to honor you.

29 alexander May 23, 2009 at 7:32 am

Wonderful Post Mr. Brotherton,
As a civilian, running through life at a hundred milies an hour, working here and there to get my degree, ultimately enjoying the fruits of society, I did not understand those sacrifices and triumphs of our forefathers to the point that the nearest reference was an overdone series of films and dusty old history books that were opened with hesitation. When I joined the Airforce new things started to happen to me that allowed me to realize that the life that I had been leading was a cause of so many lives put to the stake, so many stories left untold to the masses, so many moments pushed to the limits. Heros had been here.
I do not belive that our countrymen, the vast majority of people that were much more like me in my past life as a civilian, understand the what it means to be a comrade, “a wingman, leader, warrior.” to offer up ones life for the sake of our great nation. The lengths to which we need to strive and what we need to sacrifice in order to get there. what it means to be a patriot without being an extremist or complacent.
Im sure that if you stripped off the PTSD from your old roommate, you would find a man “faithful to a proud heritage, a tradition of honor, and a legacy of valor. A guardian of freedom and justice, his nations sword and shield.”
I never knew, and I am glad that I do now.

30 Adam May 23, 2009 at 2:40 pm

we should admire the man you describe; how should we feel about our soldiers who hoodwink and torture iraqi prisoners?

there is no such thing as ‘giving your life in the name of liberty.’ the man in your story gave his life in the name of his nation. people don’t die for abstract concepts; they die for pieces of earth and privileges, for the right to continue to behave as they have.

war is grim. let’s honor our veterans by avoiding it.

31 Mark May 24, 2009 at 8:48 pm

@ Brucifer, Simon, Adam, and others:

> My reaction to the posted article Brett, was based upon seeing WAY too much
> of late in the way of overly lauding the “greatest generation” and the so-called
> “good war.” As both you and I would most certainly like to see, our national
> mythologies oftentimes uplift our personal behavior and the conduct of our
> republic. But they sometimes also blind us to some historic truths.

I was a child during Vietnam and so had no real opinion about that conflict at the time, and there’s no doubt that the way Vietnam vets were treated by elements of the public was disgraceful (both in my own country of Australia and in the US). It’s a dead-set shame that such things happened, and FWIW, I respect and admire the men who served there. I’ll always cheer just as heartily at military parades for Vietnam vets as well as WWII vets.

Having said that, as a civilian and someone who has had the good fortune not to have had to go to war, it seems that anyone who wants to admire soldiers these days is damned either way. If we laud them and admire them we are told that we’re naive and innocent of the horrors and realities of war; if we decry them for fighting we’re told that we’re ungrateful for their sacrifice.

My own opinion is that I will honour brave men and women whereever I find them, regardless of their circumstances. I know war is hell; not from personal experience, but from listening to and reading the experiences of those who went to war and spoke/wrote about it. I’m damned grateful to the soldiers who served our countries in *all* wars.

I know that soldiers are just human beings; I’m not pretending that they were somehow gods amongst men whose every act was haloed with virtue. They were just people like us who did their duty as occasion demanded; sometimes with honour, sometimes not. But anyone who had the sheer balls to go off to war and act with courage deserves the respect and gratitude of someone like me, whose life has been one of privilege thanks, in large part, to their actions.

So my respect for WWII vets does not imply a lack of respect for Vietnam vets, Korean War vets, Iraq vets, or anyone else. Nor does it imply a rosy-tinged and naive view of history. But I’ll buy a beer for any vet on any day I meet one. People may think me shallow or naive for thinking that way, but WTF do I care?

32 john May 25, 2009 at 2:01 am

very nice & interesting. good luck

33 Hitler May 25, 2009 at 4:09 pm


“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

There is one greater love – to lay down your life for your enemies.

34 jerry May 28, 2013 at 7:35 pm

I have the highest regard for those that joined and some regard that were drafted and didn’t run. I have great thanks for the cowards that went to foreign land to avoid because I would never want to serve beside them. Thanks so much for the courage of your cowardly convictions.

The Korean and Vietnam vets that joined did so for the manly reason. To help someone in distress. The ww2 went because they had to. Additionally, the Russians won the second world war. Look at the body count and pure sacrifice.

35 jerry May 28, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Brett…you are extremely right…you don’t understand…but, thanks for the website.

36 jerry November 11, 2013 at 7:04 pm

If you want to see true freedom fighter..look at the Korean and Vietnam vet…not the dopers and whiners but, the true soldier that fell in love with the country’s people and risked their lives for them.,,,this greatest generation bull has got to be revealed. They went because they had to.

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