Who was Herbert Sobel?
Herbert M. Sobel Sr. was a commissioned officer with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, a well-known company in the US Army. He fought in the 101st Airborne Division during the World War II. Some of the veterans who served under Herbert described him as “an inflexible tyrant of a drill sergeant”. According to them, he was a man “who drew hard lines over petty issues”. He was described as an incompetent leader, who would get his team members killed in the battle, which ultimately led to his removal from his position of leadership. He was also a poor map-reader, which led to several wrong decisions. Sobel was a hated man and this perpetuated a lifetime of misery for him. Although he was not a fundamentally bad person, he was portrayed as one because of the circumstance in which he was placed. Despite his shortcomings, Sobel was a strategist, and he played a vital role in shaping the Easy Company. Sobel’s role as a drill sergeant was to train young soldiers into hardened, combat warriors. His later life was a sad one. In 1970, he attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head. The bullet left him blind for the rest of his life. He died on September 30, 1987, due to malnutrition. No services were held for him after his death, and none of his family members attended his funeral. He was later characterized in the HBO miniseries titled ‘Band of Brothers,’ based on the book of the same name by historian Stephen Ambrose.
Childhood & Early Life
Herbert Sobel was born on January 26, 1912, in Chicago, Illinois, to a Jewish family. He grew up in Chicago, where he attended the Culver Military Academy in Indiana. He was a good swimmer since his school days.
He graduated from the University of Illinois, majoring in architecture. Initially, he worked as a clothing salesman.
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Herbert Sobel spent nine years in the military, serving with the National Guard, Military Police, and earning a commission at the Officers Candidate School, prior to being called from the reserves to active duty in 1940. Two years later, he became a member of the 101st Airborne Division when it was created. He was also the initial member of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry.
He volunteered for the paratroopers while the World War II was on, and was soon commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. After he was promoted to First Lieutenant, he commanded Easy Company for all its basic training at Camp Toccoa, Georgia. He was an expert in training young soldiers intensely, and in recognition of his ability as a trainer, he was eventually promoted to the rank of Captain. However, his team members accused him of being petty and vindictive.
Before the Normandy invasion during the war, he went to the UK for training. He was then reassigned from the command of Easy Company to the command of the Chilton Foliat jump school.
On March 8, 1945, he was assigned as the regimental S-4 (logistics) officer. After the World War, he returned to the US in 1945. He worked as an accountant for some time before he was recalled to active duty during the Korean War.
He remained in the Army National Guard and eventually retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. After his retirement from the Army, he worked as a credit manager for a wholesaler, A.C. McClurg & Co. in Chicago. Later he worked at a mid-level position for the Mathias Klein Company, which made tools for the telephone industry.
Awards & Achievements
Herbert Sobel earned a Combat Infantryman Badge as part of the Regimental Headquarters Company. He was also honored with a Parachutist Badge, Bronze Star Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign, and World War II Victory Medal.
After the World War II, Herbert Sobel married an American woman who was nine years younger to him. She worked as a nurse in a hospital in Italy during the war and later she worked at Hines VA Hospital in Chicago. The couple had three sons. They also had a daughter who died after a few days of birth.
He doted on his wife and was very much in love with her. He was very loving and attentive. According to his son Michael, Sobel never used obscene language or lost his temper. He spent a lot of time playing with his sons, especially baseball.
He always addressed them by the nicknames he had given them—Michael was called Inky, his older brother was Footsie, and his younger brother was Skookie. He was conservative in his savings, and saved for his sons’ education.
He was a staunch Republican. He was disciplined, and was never absent from work. He liked living in comfort and luxury, and drove a four-cylinder Metropolitan car to the Chicago L station to ride the train to work after he retired from the Army. Every day he wore a suit and a clean, starched white-collared shirt.
Sobel’s idyllic family life deteriorated in the 1960s. His wife divorced him and his sons too distanced themselves from him. In 1970, Sobel attempted suicide when he shot himself in the head with a small caliber pistol, but survived. The bullet entered his head from the left, passed through his eyes, and came out from the other side of his head. The bullet damaged his optic nerves and left him blind.
For the next 17 years that he lived, he stayed in a facility in Waukegan, Illinois, assisted by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). He eventually died on September 30, 1987 due to malnutrition as the facility had poor state of affairs. No services were held for him after his death.
In the HBO series ‘Band of Brothers’, Herbert Sobel was portrayed as a petty and capricious soldier who demanded complete obedience from his subordinates. Historian Stephen Ambrose, who wrote the book ‘Band of Brothers’, gives many examples of this in his book. According to Michael, the HBO series did not portray him fairly.
Although his fellow soldiers did not remember him with fondness, some Easy Company veterans have acknowledged that his role played a part in the company's later successes. Some of his fellow soldiers wrote about him in their autobiographies, suggesting that he lacked proper understanding of common infantry field crafts like land navigation and basic infantry combat tactics. They also wrote that he refused to listen to any advice of fellow officers or non-commissioned officers.
As the Commanding Officer of Easy Company, he was so hated by those under his command that his men actually planned to kill him when they went into a combat!