Captain Herbert Sobel, was the first commander and drill Instructor of Easy Company.
Herbert W. Sobel was born on 26 January 1912 in Chicago, Illinois to a Jewish family. He went to military school at Culver Military Academy in Indiana and graduated from the University of Illinois in 1933.
World War II
In 1941, at the outbreak of WWII, Sobel joined the U.S. Army and received an officer's commission as a 2nd Lieutenant (2LT). Afterward, he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and was sent to Camp Toccoa, Georgia in 1942 as part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, an experimental unit which was part of the 101st Airborne. He was given command of Easy Company and trained the men at an extreme rate to push their limits and harden them.
Sobel was a harsh drill instructor, constantly berating his recruits, punishing them for minor infractions, and frequently cancelling weekend passes. In one example, after calling his men to attention, he began one of his exacting inspections. He ridicules PVT Donald Malarkey for having a last name which is "slang for bullshit"; the bayonet of Joe Liebgott is slightly rusty, to which Sobel angrily states that he "wouldn't take this rusty piece of shit to war," and further adds that "I would not take you to war in your condition!" As a result of these minor infractions, Sobel cancels the weekend passes of all the trainees.
One night, Easy Company went for their Friday night march, a 12-mile affair. After the march, Sobel inspected the men's canteens, noticing a trooper named Christenson had little water in his canteen. Sobel accused the trooper of disobeying a direct order, and the Paratrooper was ordered to repeat the run.
Sobel trained the men hard, through determination, to make his company the finest in the regiment. He had them climb walls, do pushups and practice parachute jumping. Sobel trained them harder than necessary. He was a martinet and earned no respect from the men, but the men credited him that his technique and ethic made Easy Company.
During training, COL Sink promoted Sobel to Captain for his superb training skills and told him to promote 2LT Winters to 1LT. Sobel accepted the promotion and agreed to give Winters the promotion as well. After a surprise contraband inspection, Sobel told Winters of his promotion and gave him mess duty saying, "I think a special meal before [the men's] afternoon off would be a welcome change of pace...I like spaghetti". In true Sobel fashion, he suddenly cancelled the dinner and sprung another Currahee run on the men, and was seen tormenting the men while they vomited along the way. When he taunted Randleman and tried to break him, the Company burst into song and ran faster, much to Sobel's surprise.
After training at Toccoa, the 506th moved to Fort Benning, Georgia, where they jumped and qualified as Paratroopers. First, the officers had to do the actual jump to prove their worth. When it was Sobel's turn, he was hesitant and clearly stressed, but jumped anyway.
Easy then headed to Camp Mackall, North Carolina for tactical combat training. During an attack training exercise, Easy and another company became lost. Sobel summoned his map-holder, PVT Petty, to show him their position, then realized that they were in the wrong position and panicked. Winters advised an alternative solution, but Sobel refused and ordered the unit to advance. In disbelief, Easy advanced, and the opposing team broke cover and ambushed them. A staff officer monitoring the exercise announced, "Captain, you've just been killed, along with 95% of your Company", indicating that Sobel lost.
Sobel and the entire division then traveled by troopship to Aldbourne, England for additional tactical training in preparation for the invasion of mainland Europe. While training there, he and his platoon came to a barb wire fence. Fuming, he ordered his platoon to hide behind growth nearby, while he, 1st Sgt. Evans and Sgt. Tipper tried to figure out their position. A voice was heard from behind the bushes, addressing Sobel. It sounded like Battalion XO Maj. Horton, ordering them to cut the fence and move on. Sobel did, not knowing that it was Sgt. George Luz, using his imitation talent, to prank him. Sobel was later reprimanded by Battalion Commander LTC Robert L. Strayer because cows escaped through the cut fence and 'occupied' the Battalion HQ grounds. Sobel told Strayer that Major Horton commanded him to do so, but Strayer replied it was impossible since Horton was in London.
Both humiliated by this event and angrily aware of his own tactical blunders in comparison to Winters' emerging prowess, Sobel sensed Winters could overtake his leadership in combat and formed a plot to discredit him. He issued Winters an Article 15 for not inspecting the latrine, because Sobel had changed the time from 10.00 hours to 09.45, though Winters wasn't informed of this change. Winters, immediately recognizing Sobel's motives and how the imposition of nonjudicial punishment would keep him from the Normandy jump, trumped Sobel with a written demand for a court-martial instead, which would keep both him and Sobel from the jump for the proceedings. Sobel was alarmed at this unexpected twist.
Easy Company's NCOs mutinied in protest, which, while angering Col. Sink, the Regimental Commander, also gave him cause to question Sobel's efficacy with the company in a combat setting. So he set aside Winters' court-martial. In a meeting, Sink discussed the mutiny and court-martial matter with Sobel, but Sobel downplayed it. Sink, however, reassigned Sobel to Chilton Foliat jump school, much to Sobel's horror, and 1LT Thomas Meehan III became Easy's CO.
D-Day came and went. Lt. Meehan was killed over Normandy when the plane he was in was shot down and Winters became CO of Easy Company. Sobel also jumped into Normandy, but as part of Regimental Company Headquarters, and later became a Battalion Supply Officer to help prepare for Operation Market Garden. On arrival to Easy Company's rally point for the invasion, he brought Sgt. "Popeye" Wynn, who, in spite of his wound, wished to continue with his unit. Sobel's reappearance in episode 4 stunned many Easy Paratroopers there, especially when he reprimanded Sgt. Malarkey for an Army motorcycle Malarkey tried to take for himself.
Sobel later participated at the Battle of Bastogne ("The Battle of the Bulge"), though little was known about what he did during the battle. He then participated in the occupation of Germany. During post-surrender occupation, CPT Sobel tried to walk past the now-Maj. Richard Winters without saluting him. Winters called him out, saying, "You salute the rank, not the man". Grudgingly, Sobel then saluted Winters, echoing a previous scene between them.
After the war, Sobel went home, went into the Army National Guard, and was called for active duty during the Korean War, eventually achieving the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He also married, had three children, and became an accountant. He was a good and loving father, but he divorced after having complications with his wife and became estranged from his family.
Sometime around the 1960s, he met Maj. Clarence Hester, who was Sobel's first Company Executive Officer, and later Battalion Operations Officer, and they had lunch. Sobel had some mental problems from his war experience and he was found to be bitter at life and at Easy Company.
For an unknown reason, in the late 1960's, Sobel attempted suicide by shooting himself through his temple, but the shot only severed his optic nerves, blinding him for life. He was later moved to a VA assisted-living home, and resided there for 17 years, before dying of malnutrition and neglect in 1987. No funeral was held.
Sobel is depicted as a very strict commander, who pushes the men to their limits in order to make his company the finest in the Battalion. Dick Winters attributes Sobel's overbearance and strictness with making Easy Company the success that it became.
While Sobel was a "fantastic trainer", his tactical abilities in the field were poor; he was good at taking orders, but was poor at map-reading and had a tendency to panic if an unforeseen situation occurred. He was also easily agitated by his soldiers. George Luz in particularly pretending to be Major Horton convinced Sobel to cut through a farm's fence, leading to the release of several head of cattle, frustrating his superiors. He was also shown to be vindictive and feared the possibility of losing his leadership role in Easy Company as he attempted to sabotage Winters' rising popularity with the company by having him officially reprimanded on flimsy charges to get him out of the D-Day invasion. The result of his unsatisfactory combat and tactical ability caused the NCO's of Easy Company to lose confidence in Sobel's combat leadership, leading to his eventual transfer.