From the book Band of Brothers and its late author Stephen Ambrose: “Each of the 140 men and seven officers who formed the original company followed a different route to its birthplace, Camp Toccoa, Georgia… [they] came together in the summer of [July – December] 1942…”1There is an undeniable aura of World War II history in the small town of Toccoa, located in northeastern Georgia. Driving down its main street lined with small shops and eateries I wondered which venues once served as uniform shops, laundromats or maybe even a USO club or dance hall. I could almost hear the Andrews Sisters or Glenn Miller music playing from a 1940 Ford or a tiny corner “gin-joint”. Downtown Toccoa looks like many other revitalized small-town “main streets” or “broad streets” so common in America today. The big difference of course is that this small main street in Toccoa once had the likes of Dick Winters, Bill Guarnere or George Luz walking smartly and with military bearing over its sidewalks on a weekend pass.
Home today to nearly 10,000 residents, the local area’s most prominent feature is Currahee Mountain. Currahee, made famous in HBO’s Band of Brothers from 2001, rises some 1,874 feet and appears on the horizon as you wind your way up highways 365 and 123 into the town of Toccoa.
The day of my visit was another day of record heat for the area, reaching 96 degrees by mid-afternoon. I thought it best to postpone my “Three miles up, three miles down” trek up Currahee out to October. Each October Toccoa hosts the ‘Currahee Military Weekend’. That event brings many WWII and Band of Brothers enthusiasts together with remaining veterans of the 501st, 506th, 507th, 511th, and 517th Parachute Infantry Regiments of the US Army’s 101st Airborne as well as the 457th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion and 295th Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Company. (All units trained at Camp Toccoa during the war) Past attendees have included Bill Guarnere, Tom Hanks and surviving veterans of the Filthy Thirteen.
The Filthy Thirteen were members of the 506th, made famous by the (very) loose adaptation portrayed in the 1967 film The Dirty Dozen. In reality, none of the ‘Thirteen’ were convicts or sentenced to death as portrayed in that movie. A member of the Currahee Military Museum’s staff shared a great story with me regarding one of the surviving Thirteen members. She offered that Thirteen member Jake McNiece whom attended last year, said to her, tongue-in-cheek: “I don’t remember too well – I’m either 19 or 91!”
Units portrayed in Saving Private Ryan also trained at Camp Toccoa prior to D-Day. The actual site of the camp is now gone and in its place industry has replaced the former military complex and barracks.
At the end of North Alexander Street lies the Currahee Military Museum. Built in 1915, the museum shares a building with the Stephens County Historical Society and Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber of Commerce in the renovated Toccoa Depot. This train depot served as the main point of arrival and departure for all Camp Toccoa trainees during the war.
The inside of the depot is restored to appear as it would have in 1940. After paying the $8.00 per person admission for my wife and I, we made our way through the entryway to the museum. The entryway is comprised of two 1940s-style movie theater doors and opens to an area dedicated to the general history of Stephens County. Now there are two types of museum visitors – those who patiently stop at every exhibit as presented in order, and those of us who run excitedly from artifact to artifact in no particular order (myself). Since I have blown right past the history of Stephens County pre and post-Civil War in favor of the WWII-era artifacts, I had to rely on my wife’s eye for detail on the ride home.
The largest and most note-worthy within the collection is the stable which housed (some) members of the 506th’s Able and Easy Companies in Aldbourne, England during that training period. The stable was deconstructed and reassembled in Toccoa on 7 October 2005. The stable itself is a very primitive structure built in 1922 that contained small rooms with bunks and little else. It was donated to the Currahee Museum following the release of ‘Band of Brothers’ by its owner in England.
Shown in the photo above, there is a well-weathered Nazi flag that was brought back to the US by the late Daniel K. Webster, of ‘Band of Brothers’ fame (Note: In the HBO series Webster was played by actor Eion Bailey). A former Harvard University student before the war, Webster disappeared at sea in 1961 while studying sharks. In 1994, Stephen Ambrose saw to it that Webster’s memoirs of the war were published. Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper’s Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich by Daniel Kenyon Webster is still in print and available today.
There are many tributes to Colonel Sink in the museum. (portrayed in the series by Dale Dye) Of special note is his complete medal and ribbon display. Sink went on to the rank of Lieutenant General and retired after service in the Korean War. These medals and ribbons are in the photo album:
Many of the artifacts were donated by surviving veterans of the four regiments and families of those veterans whom are now gone. Aside from the many weapons, American and German alike, other items include mess trays, tables, uniforms, medal displays and much more. My photography is not intended to be a complete representation of the exhibits, displays or artifacts of the Currahee collection. The lighting inside the museum is quite dark and makes effective photography challenging. Couple this with my remedial skills as a photographer and we are left with the pictures I have submitted here.
1 Stephen E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001) 16,15.