|By Chrisdfw (Chrisdfw) (18.104.22.168 - 22.214.171.124) on Tuesday, October 09, 2001 - 06:10 pm:|
From the Time-Picayune (New Orleans)...
An Easy Hero
The Easy Company medic of quiet grace and courage at the center of Sunday's episode of HBO's Band of Brothers isn't fictional. He's Eugene Roe, and in real life he was born, worked after the war and died at home in Louisiana.
By Renée Peck TV Focus editor
"Doc" Roe wasn't a doctor at all.
Nevertheless, he treated the wounds of hundreds of men. And they remember -- and revere -- him for it.
"Every time we met someone from Easy Company, he'd say, ‘Your dad saved my life.' You can't imagine how many times we've been told that," said Maxine Tircuit, Roe's daughter, by phone from her home in Baton Rouge recently.
"Doc" -- Louisiana native Eugene Roe -- is the central character in Sunday night's episode of the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, the 10-part epic based on the real-life exploits of E Company of the 101st Airborne Division's 506th Regiment during World War II. It airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on the cable channel.
Roe was a medic with Easy Company. Sunday's sixth installment of the series focuses on the winter siege of Bastogne, Belgium, one of the bloodiest and most heroic stands of the war.
Through the eyes of the young medic, the episode explores the brutality and raw cruelty of both nature and man, as Easy Company digs into the snow-covered forest near Bastogne, outnumbered and surrounded by German troops and artillery, and short of food, ammunition and warm clothing.
Roe, played by British actor Shane Taylor, strives for emotional distance from his comrades, even as the physical immediacy of death and carnage threatens to overwhelm him. At one point he must thrust his fist deep into a man's chest and try to grasp a spurting artery. This is not an episode for the squeamish.
"He didn't talk about the war a lot. It came in small bursts," Tircuit said of her late father, the real Roe. "The story I grew up on was about a guy who got the top of his head blown off. It's in the episode. Daddy saw the brain pulsating and had to hold it inside the soldier's head until help came."
The son of a shrimper, Roe grew up in Bayou Chene, near Morgan City. He had two brothers and two sisters, and though he's described in Band of Brothers as half-Cajun, he wasn't really.
"The irony is that he was from some German descent from way, way back," Tircuit said. "But his grandmother was a Verrette, which is good southern Louisiana French. Not quite, however, a true Cajun."
No one can say why Roe was chosen as a medic, only that he proved adept at the job. He had no medical background and was given little training, but went about his duties with quiet grace.
"Dad had only about a fourth-grade education. He didn't feel eloquent with words," Tircuit said. "He let others do the talking."
Perhaps that's why Stephen Ambrose's book, upon which the miniseries is based, mentions Roe only sparingly, but in glowing terms. One of the few references to the medic is made by Lieutenant Jack Foley:
"He was there when he was needed, and how he got ‘there' you often wondered. He never received recognition for his bravery, for his heroic servicing of the wounded. I recommended him for a Silver Star after a devastating firefight when his exploits were typically outstanding. Maybe I didn't use the proper words and phrases, perhaps Lieutenant Dike didn't approve, or somewhere along the line it was cast aside. I don't know. I never knew except that if any man who struggled in the snow and the cold, in the many attacks through the open and through the woods, ever deserved such a medal, it was our medic, Gene Roe."
Those heroics come to life in "Bastogne," one of the more stark, brutal segments in the series. Taylor's almost-Cajun backwoods accent may be a bit off, but his characterization of Roe is not. The actor manages to convey exhaustion, determination, courage and despair largely through demeanor alone. It is a compelling portrait of a small man doing great things. And it teaches as much about heroes as it does about history.
One indelible memory of the history of Bastogne is the cold.
"He talked a lot about the frostbite," Tircuit recalled. "They all had those little morphine ampules, and he'd take them off the dead soldiers to help the living ones."
In a poignant side plot, the miniseries has Roe meeting a French nurse. That, said Tircuit, is one of the program's few outright fictions. "Though we could imagine him making friends with the everyday people there."
In reality, Roe was married at the time, having just tied the knot with his fiancee, Vera, during a furlough to Great Britain. The cautious Englishwoman had made up a name -- Maxine -- when she first met the American serviceman. It caused some confusion when he later arrived at her house asking for the non-existent Maxine. The two would later give the name to their first child.
"We heard a lot from him and my Mom about England during the war," Tircuit said. "About the chocolate and the bombing and rations, how scarce things like cigarettes were."
After the war Roe returned to Morgan City, and waited for Vera to arrive on the QE II. The couple moved almost immediately to Baton Rouge, where Roe worked in construction. Maxine was followed by two siblings, sister Marlene Langlois, who also lives in Baton Rouge, and a brother, Eugene Jr., who lives in Beaumont, Texas.
Perhaps ironically, Roe became closer to some of his comrades after the war than he had during battle.
"You didn't build relationships that were deep during the war," Tircuit commented. "You were too afraid the man who became your best friend would be the next one who died."
That changed when Roe began attending Easy Company get-togethers.
"He loved the reunions," Tircuit said. "After the war, he got to know many of the men well. Dick Winters called all the time. So did Bill Guarnere. And Walter Gordon, who lived in Lafayette and Pass Christian."
After 27 years of marriage, Gene and Vera Roe divorced. Roe remarried, and he and his second wife, Myrtle, were together for almost 25 years, until his death in 1998. Just before he died, his two daughters, accompanied by their husbands, visited Bastogne.
"When we got to the top of the monument, none of us could say a word," Tircuit said. "When we came back, we showed him pictures, and gave him some eagle's wings we'd bought there. He remembered the church, the road. It was so vivid."
Doc Roe never got to see Band of Brothers. Though he knew Ambrose's book was being made into a miniseries, he never learned that one of the episodes would be built around him.
"What a wonderful country, where a dirt-poor person can become someone discussed by Spielberg and Hanks," said William Roe, a Plaquemines Parish judge and Roe's nephew. "It redefines what a hero is -- it's not necessarily someone who does great things, but someone who quietly does what he's expected to do, and does it quite well."
Members of both of Eugene Roe's families were in attendance this summer when Band of Brothers premiered in France. Roe's children, as well as his second wife Myrtle and her grandson, got to meet many of the actors, including Taylor, as well as Hanks, the show's producer. Ambrose signed Tircuit's copy of Band of Brothers, writing, "To the daughter of a brave man."
"This has been a healing process for us," said Tircuit, whose mother, Vera, died not long after her father. "As a film, it was more than we could have imagined. We knew about the snow and the lack of food. But we didn't know the brutality of war.
"When you think about it, my dad really was a hero. Not that he thought that way. But they all were. I'm so thankful to every man who went over there. They all had to have been traumatized by it. These men have to be carrying scars they will take to their graves. Things that will never be known anywhere but in their hearts."
Tircuit and her sister will be thinking about that Sunday, when they, their husbands, children and friends gather for their usual weekly viewing of the latest episode in the series.
"Dad always had a smile," Tircuit mused. "He was quiet, although you could get him in a crowd and he could really cut up. But usually he just stood back and did his thing. I know he was a tiny, tiny part of a very big whole."
. . . . . . .
TV Focus editor Renée Peck can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 826-3431.
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