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E Company veteran finds show realistic

Sunday, September 09, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- Carwood Lipton knows whether a movie portrays World War II accurately. He was there. "Some of them are completely unrealistic," he said at an HBO party in July. "I thought the first 20 minutes of 'Saving Private Ryan,' coming in on Omaha Beach, was most realistic."

Lipton, 81, prefers "Band of Brothers," though he has reason to be biased. After all, Lipton was featured in the HBO miniseries, played by actor Donnie Wahlberg.

"It's much better because it had more input from all the men of E Company," Lipton said. "Each one of the people in the film maintained contact with the man whose part he was playing if the man was still alive. It's most realistic and extremely well done."

Unlike "Private Ryan," which chronicled a single mission, "Band of Brothers" depicts pivotal battles in the war.

"'Band of Brothers' takes a group of men, E Company, and starts when they first get together and takes them clear through the war, not with just one objective in mind to find Private Ryan," Lipton said. "It covers a much greater length of time and many different combat situations."

He said he spoke with Wahlberg throughout the production, talking by phone as often as two or three times per week, sometimes for an hour or more.

"He'd tell me about the scene coming up, and he'd ask what I did and what the other men did and what my feelings were," Lipton said. "He'd tell me how they planned to shoot the scene and ask if that's how it really happened."

Currently living in North Carolina, Lipton grew up in Huntington, W. Va., and graduated from Marshall University after the war in 1952.

He said his decision to join the paratroopers came after reading an article about them in Life magazine in early 1942. Lipton enlisted at age 22.

He was dropped into Europe over Utah Beach and said he had no second thoughts or wishes to be elsewhere.

"It's hard to describe the frame of mind," Lipton said. "There isn't any alternative. You don't wish you didn't have to do this, because you know you have to do it. You concentrate on doing what has to be done.

"On the plane going over, a lot of the men went to sleep," he said. "They were perfectly relaxed. Then when we got over the Normandy coast, we got a lot of anti-aircraft fire, and they wanted to get out of the plane before it was hit. I wanted to get out, too."

Lipton said his call to duty changed the course of his life in many ways, particularly his attitude toward working with others.

"Before I went in the Army, I was a loner. What I accomplished, I accomplished myself, and I didn't think of looking to others to help me do what I felt needed to be done," Lipton said. "When I came out of the Army, I came out as someone who wanted to organize things and accomplish things through joint effort with other people."

Watching the miniseries was a moving experience.

"I find that as the years go by, I become more emotional, and the filming of 'Band of Brothers' has had a profound effect on me," he said. "It is so well done that it brings back memories I thought I had long ago lost."

"Band of Brothers" executive producer/writer/director Tom Hanks recalled driving through the French village of Ste. Marie-du-Mont with Lipton on June 6 of this year. Hanks looked at his watch. It was 10 minutes until noon, and he asked Lipton what he was doing at the same hour in 1944.

"He said, 'We had just taken the guns at Brecourt Manor and were moving on down the road to the village of Culoville, which was our secondary objective,'" Hanks recalled. "Here's a man who has silver hair and a hearing aid sitting across from you, and not only does your hair stand on end and your blood run a little faster, something goes through your soul because you're in the presence of living and breathing history. He was able to turn a very simple statement into something that made me weak in the knees."

Lipton said he was only doing what had to be done back in '44. Although his has been tagged "the greatest generation," he said any generation would heed the same call.

"Men rise to meet the challenges that are before them," Lipton said. "I think that if a challenge like this would come now, the young men and young women of the United States would meet that challenge just as we met it."

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