Band of Brothers: The true story of Albert Blithe
In Band of Brothers, we meet a soldier named Albert Blithe who falls victim to the horrors of war, both physically and mentally – but his true story is a bit different from the show.
The acclaimed HBO series – which was recently added to Netflix, where it’s taken on a second lease of life as a smash hit – follows the heroic efforts of Easy Company, of the US military’s paratrooper division, in the European theater of the Second World War.
The third episode begins with the Battle of Carentan, with Blithe (played by Marc Warren) rejoining his company after getting lost in the wake of the Normandy landing. After the first firefight, Dick Winters (Damian Lewis) finds Blithe in the infirmary, apparently blind after the battle, and after reassuring him that everything will be okay, he suddenly regains his sight – according to Eugene Roe, it was “hysterical blindness.”
His recovery led to him defending Carentan, with one harrowing shot showing Blithe shrieking in a foxhole as the Germans batter the men with artillery, explosions, and heavy fire. In the heat of battle, Winters convinces him to get up and fire his weapon, and inspired by the lieutenant’s courage, he becomes more confident with each gunshot, eventually killing a retreating soldier. However, what happens next is where the series gets his story wrong.
Band of Brothers gets Albert Blithe’s true story wrong
Band of Brothers says Albert Blithe died in 1948 from a gunshot wound – but this is completely false.
Near the end of the episode, Blithe volunteers to investigate a nearby farmhouse while out on patrol. Everything seems clear until he’s shot by a sniper in the neck and dragged away. We later see him lying in hospital as the men around him talk about him deserving more than one Purple Heart.
Back in England, Donald Malarkey (Scott Grimes) visits Mrs. Lamb to collect his laundry. She asks if he wouldn’t mind taking away some of the other soldiers’ clothes, as they hadn’t come to collect them – because they were killed in battle. In the last moment of the episode, as the camera pans across the abandoned uniforms, she reads out Blithe’s name. “Albert Blithe never recovered from the wounds he received in Normandy. He died in 1948,” a final message reads.
Blithe was actually sent home and made a full recovery, and while he never returned to fight alongside Easy Company, he didn’t retire from military service. He served in Korea with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team and was later assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division and the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Taiwan.
He died on December 17, 1967, a week after returning from a weekend in Bastogne, Belgium, where he’d been on active duty. He was soon taken to hospital, where he was diagnosed with a perforated ulcer, and he died in intensive care a few days later. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full honors.
So, how did this happen? Well, the error stems from Stephen Ambrose’s book upon which the series is based, which also incorrectly states that he died in 1948. It’s unclear why he believed Blithe was dead; some reports say the other members of Easy Company didn’t know what happened to him, so he was presumed to have died, while others say he may have been mixed up with another Albert Blithe.
Nevertheless, Blithe’s son only discovered the error when Band of Brothers first aired on HBO, telling Marcus Brotherton for his book, A Company of Heroes, that he “got some pretty nasty emails from people who couldn’t believe that Stephen Ambrose and HBO had actually made a mistake.”
Blithe’s family went through a great deal of effort to correct the error, providing extensive documents and photographs of his life after 1948, and “all the people who needed to be convinced were convinced” – however, the mistake still remains intact in Episode 3, even with the show just being added to Netflix.
On the Blu-ray version of the mini-series, one of the special features correctly states that he died in 1967, but the message at the end of the third episode remains unchanged.
Band of Brothers is available to stream on Netflix now. You can check out our other coverage below:
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- What is Band of Brothers about?
- Is Band of Brothers based on a book?
- Is Band of Brothers based on a true story?
- How many seasons of Band of Brothers are there?
- Is there another series after Band of Brothers & The Pacific?
- Is Paul Rudd in Band of Brothers?
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