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Charlotte writer reflects on “Band of Brothers” legacy

Erik Jendresen shared his memories of “Band of Brothers” ahead of the 80th remembrance of D-Day.

Writer Erik Jendresen looks at the camera with his arms crossed with trees in the background.

Author, playwright, and screenwriter Erik Jendresen served as lead writer and supervising producer for the HBO miniseries, “Band of Brothers.”

Photo by CLTtoday

On a rainy spring afternoon outside Charlotte, screenwriter Erik Jendresen reflected on a remarkable story.

In the midst of America’s struggle in World War II came an elite group of US paratroopers — Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne who fought in the European Theatre and participated in some of the war’s most critical chapters: D-Day, the liberation of Eindhoven, the Battle of the Bulge, the discovery of a Nazi concentration camp near Landsberg, Germany, and the seizing of Hitler’s “Eagle’ Nest.”

Jendresen’s role in this story came decades later when these surviving veterans were in their 80s. Most had shared little of their experiences during the war.

“History inspires me a lot. True stories are some of my favorite things to write,” Jendresen told City Editor Jack from his office where he’s the screenwriter for “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 2.”

A passion for storytelling led Jendresen to the Queen City. “I came to Charlotte in 1988 or 89 for Charlotte Repertory Theater’s ‘New Plays in America Festival’ for which one of my plays had been selected. It was then that I met my love-at-first-sight wife, Vennie. Soon after, we married in 1995. We moved here for a few years, hence my work on ‘Band of Brothers’ commenced here.”

A promotional poster for the HBO series, "Band of Brothers."

“Band of Brothers” debuted on HBO on September 9, 2001 to 10 million viewers. The series would win the Emmy and Golden Globe for “Best Miniseries.”

Promotional artwork via HBO

That same year, after meeting executive producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, Jendresen became the lead writer and supervising producer for what would become the biggest production in television history. His first responsibility was crafting what would become “the bible” — a comprehensive narrative chronicling Easy Company’s journey from training camp at Toccoa, Georgia, to V-E Day.

Learning the veterans’ stories was crucial and no one played a more vital role in Jendresen’s research than the leader of Easy Company himself — Major Richard Winters. “When I came home from our first meeting in Hershey, Pennsylvania, I told my wife that I had just met the most balanced man I’d ever known. His stillness, pure purpose, sense of intention and standard of excellence were astonishing.”

Jendresen wrote the majority of the story in Charlotte while corresponding with Maj. Winters from his home in Hershey, Pennsylvania. “The writing of the bible and the episodes themselves took over a year. We were on the phone multiple times every day.”

Jendresen understood the importance of following the truth of Easy Company and avoiding Hollywood tropes. “This was not just a responsibility. This whole story and this opportunity we all had was an incredible gift and it very quickly became about serving the true story of these men.” Production received full creative freedom from HBO during the 10-hour production. “It was the most ego-less production any of us had ever experienced.”

Collaborating aside actor and filmmaker Tom Hanks, Jendresen said, “I certainly learned what someone of his stature and strength of character in Hollywood can get accomplished. We got along tremendously.”

Actors portraying World War II soldiers are crouched in a field with rifles.

The cast of “Band of Brothers” underwent bootcamp training to accurately portray the WWII paratroopers of Easy Company.

Photo via HBO

In front of the camera, the men of Easy Company were portrayed by an extraordinary cast of actors, including Scott Grimes, Ron Livingston, Michael Cudlitz, Frank John Hughes, and Neal McDonough. English actor Damian Lewis portrayed Maj. Winters in the lead role. Lewis would later star in the Showtime drama series “Homeland,” which was filmed in Charlotte.

“Band of Brothers” premiered on HBO two days before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. It became a source of patriotism and strength for the American people and US service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The series won six Primetime Emmy awards, including ‘Best Miniseries.’ Maj. Winters was present at the Emmys to accept the award alongside the cast and crew.

More than two decades later, “Band of Brothers” is regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time. “We decided intentionally we were going to set an incredibly high bar of excellence.” Jendresen continued. “I’m just so grateful and honored to have had a hand this. It’s not often a piece of writing or a production of a film has that kind of cultural impact.”

A black and white photograph depicting US troops storming the beaches of Normandy.

June 6, 2024 marks the 80th remembrance of the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II — laying the foundation of the Allied victory in Europe.

Photograph by Robert F. Sargent via Wikimedia Commons

80 years since Easy Company parachuted into Normandy on D-Day — as seen in “Band of Brothers” — the world reflects on the heroism demonstrated that day. When asked if this year’s remembrance holds any greater significance, Jendresen said, “It’s just a number, but it’s a big number.”

None of the members of Easy Company are alive to commemorate this year’s 80th remembrance of June 6, 1944 — including Maj. Winters who died in January 2011 at the age of 92. Jendresen delivered the eulogy at the Maj.’s funeral.

Before their deaths, “Band of Brothers” provided the men of Easy Company and veterans of WWII far and wide with an opportunity finally to share what they experienced during the war. In the eleventh hour of their lives, the series provided a frame of reference - an index into understanding what these men endured.

A black and white photograph showing dozens of US paratroopers huddled together for a photograph.

Paratroopers of Easy Company, 506th Infantry Regiment in Austria, after the end of World War II in September, 1945.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Today, Jendresen speaks of “Band of Brothers” with great pride. “I can’t have a meeting where the first 15 minutes aren’t spent talking about the series.”

Jendresen continues to hold an affinity for his home in Charlotte. “What I admire most about Charlotte are its cultural venues, restaurants, and fine people.”

Indeed, Erik Jendresen has crossed paths with many extraordinary people while chasing his storytelling passion — from Hollywood icons to men who led troops through World War II, like Maj. Winters.

I asked him what triggers the memories of his dear friend. A long pause followed. “I think of him often — sometimes it’s a though he’s hanging around on my shoulder when I start a project.” Jendresen said he’s caused to reflect on Winters and Easy Company when yearning for the world to reveal more people demonstrating strength of character and a sense of purpose, duty, and responsibility. “I guess I think about him a lot.”

“Band of Brothers” is streaming now on Netflix and HBO Max.

This City Editor could find no better ending to this story than lending the words of Maj. Winters who told Jendresen he didn’t believe he was a hero in the war. With tears in his eyes, the Major concluded, “but I served in a company of heroes.”

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