Al Mampre looked out at the pitcher’s mound at Nationals Park and contemplated the task at hand: throwing out the ceremonial pitch before a game between the Washington Nationals and Tampa Bay Rays.
“That is not a mound out there,” said Mampre, 96. “That is a mountain. I need a ladder to get up there.”
Mampre is one of the few surviving members of the famed World War II “Easy Company,” 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division — immortalized in Stephen Ambrose’s book “Band of Brothers” and an Emmy-winning miniseries. He was one of the World War II veterans honored by the Nationals on Wednesday on the 74th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Europe.
“It kickstarted my life,” Mampre said of “Band of Brothers,” the book about ordinary men who became extraordinary soldiers in World War II. “I got to meet so many wonderful people that have become very, very close friends, in the armed forces as well as in law enforcement. I have a lot of dear friends now that I never would’ve had.”
As for the miniseries adaptation, he believes that “it was a very good representation of what happened. They wrote it up like it was. There were a few Hollywood things in there, changes and stuff, but as a whole it was pretty good.”
Despite the project’s success, Mampre doesn’t consider himself famous. “I finally rationalized it — because it’s very embarrassing being out here — that I’m really just representing the guys who were in the service. That has sort of a modicum of relief from the embarrassment.”
Mampre, who was a medic during the war, spoke about the differences between combat medical care then and now. He recalled a former medic musing in retrospect, “How many did we kill trying to save them?” “We were neanderthal men compared to what they have now. They find body parts that I didn’t even know existed.
“I did see an exhibition of what they do with combat casualties, and it’s a different level of first-aid than we had. We just used our heads, that’s all. My basic training in being a medic was Boy Scouts. Most of what they reviewed with me was what I learned in Boy Scouts, except giving shots, because we were to give all the shots. We practiced on oranges. Well, we never ran into an orange in combat.”
Mampre is still an engaging storyteller. He recalled talking to a German POW during the war, and jokingly suggested a way to get both of them home sooner.
“Hey, soldat, let’s change uniforms.”
“Vas is this ‘change uniforms’?”
“I said, ‘Look, if you wear my American uniform, you know we’re going to Germany, you’ll be home. If I wear your German uniform, they’ll send me to the United States, and I’ll be home.’ He looked at me and said, ‘The hell with you, you go to Germany, I want to go to the United States!’ He had no interest in going home anymore. That cracked me up.”
Then it was time for the pregame ceremony.
“I’ll be lucky if I roll it there,” he said. “I feel awkward going out there. I mean, they make a big to-do.”
He had thrown the first pitch once before, at a Chicago White Sox game. “I was praying for rain, but it didn’t rain. Does it look threatening here? No?”
When the time came, he rose from his wheelchair, walked to a spot near the mound and fired a pitch to Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle. He may have rolled it, but the crowd erupted in applause.
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