Read the previous part in the series, here.
The focus of this episode is David Webster, an Easy Company soldier whose memoirs proved an invaluable source for the show’s writers. Webster, played here by Eion Bailey, was injured back during Operation Market Garden and as a result missed out on the events in Bastogne. When he links up with his Company again, they are a very different group of men to the one he left, now shut off and distant after the scenes they have witnessed. They are also resentful towards Webster as he spent four months in the hospital rather than busting out early to re-join his brothers like many other soldiers chose to. Liebgott in particular seem especially hostile and he openly rejects Webster’s friendly advances when they are first reunited.
The Last Patrol, is a bit of a slow burner after the non-stop battering of Bastogne and The Breaking Point but in many ways it needs to be in order to emphasise the lingering impact those experiences had upon the men. The survivors of Bastogne seem unflappable in the face of the occasional shell falling here in the town of Haguenau, with the likes of Malarkey taking on a dead-eyed indifference to the events going on around him. They have relative comforts, such as hot showers and a bed to sleep in and for now, that seems enough. The arrival of fresh-faced First Lieutenant Jones (Colin Hanks) straight out of West Point military academy, provides a sharp contrast between the his by-the-book outlook and rugged world-weary mentality of the remaining Toccoa men.
The episode’s central focus is a daring mission across the river to snag a few German prisoners. There’s great reluctance from Winters and his fellow officers to risk sending their men on such a dangerous mission, especially so soon after their recent struggles. The men are also wary, with the end of the war now coming into sight; nobody wants to take any avoidable risks. The mission does go relatively well and they capture a pair of German prisoners, but one young private walks into a grenade blast and dies from his wounds. After the success of the first outing, Colonel Sink demands a second mission, to the obvious displeasure of the men of Easy. Typically looking out for his men however, Major Winters instead instructs them to rest up and simply report that they were unable to secure any prisoners on this supposed mission. For Winters, the risk was just too great and he didn’t want to lose anyone else unnecessarily.
By the end of the episode, after once more proving his worth in combat, Webster is accepted back into the fold by his fellow men. Likewise, Lieutenant Jones, who is promoted to First Lieutenant at the episode’s close, appears to be far more accepted thanks to his role in the mission. One character who comes out of this and several other episodes rather badly however is Private Roy Cobb (Craig Heaney). He is shown as a bitter and angry young man, shaming the replacements in an earlier episode into taking off the regimental medals they wore because they didn’t actually take part in the Normandy landings. As Bull rightly points out though, Cobb didn’t jump in Normandy either, he was wounded in the plane and couldn’t jump.
The real life Cobb served for nine years before becoming a paratrooper and it’s argued that perhaps his bitterness was in part due to a continuing lack of promotion. However there is some debate as to how accurate his portrayal in this series actually is. Certainly in Stephen Ambrose’s book, his character is far less disagreeable. The incident shown here in The Last Patrol though really did happen. However, while in the episode he gets drunk and mouths off to Lieutenant Jones and Staff Sergeant Martin, in real life the incident was actually far worse. A drunk Cobb assaulted his platoon commander Lieutenant Foley and had to be restrained at gun point. Cobb was then duly court-martialled. While the show writers may have elaborated his bitterness at other points, they actually played down his insubordination here.
Webster’s narration offers a valuable insight into the mind-set of a soldier returning to his unit after a period away, especially after he was absent for such a traumatic experience. The real David Webster’s memoirs were extremely useful to the show’s writers as it provided a perspective on the war from the point of view of a low-ranking soldier right in the thick of battle.
Come back tomorrow for Rob’s look-back at the penultimate episode, Why We Fight.
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