At the premiere of HBO's upcoming World War II miniseries Band of Brothers — held June 6 in Normandy, France on the 57th anniversary of D-Day — producer/director Tom Hanks faced his most feared critics: author Stephen Ambrose, who wrote the book it's based on, and the subjects, the surviving veterans of E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne.

The 10-part miniseries — which debuts on Sept. 9 — tells these paratroopers' war stories: from two intense years of training to their D-Day jump behind enemy lines through the Battle of the Bulge to capturing Hitler's Eagle Nest. "The truth is we know only a fraction of the memories carried by these men for the past 50 years," Hanks told TV Guide Online. "I just hope to show some of the shared struggles, horrors and triumphs that bond together this band of brothers."

After the screening, the clearly shaken vets gave the ambitious project two firm thumbs-up. "It's amazing," C. Garwood Lipton of Southern Pines, N.C., said. "It's far more realistic than any WWII movie I've seen — including Private Ryan."

"They captured our reality," said William "Wild Bill" Guarnare of Philadelphia, Pa. "I hope kids don't think this is a fairy tale. This is the truth; it's not Hollywood. We were there and somebody is finally telling our story — not just ours, but the millions of men who fought."

Even Ambrose was impressed. "This is better than any WWII movie I have ever seen," marveled the scribe. "It's almost like a documentary. This series is above-and-beyond the call of duty."

The vets agreed that seeing the young (and relatively unknown) actors playing their lost buddies was the toughest part. "It was hard to watch because it brings back very sad memories," said Darrell "Shifty" Powers of Clincho, Va. "I had an advantage. I don't see too well anymore so I put my binoculars down a few times." Added Forrest Guth of Hockessin, Del.: "Yeah, I cried. A lot of memories of lost friends. But we were sitting in the first two rows. I think we were a little too close to the action."

Not every lost or surviving Easy Company brother is portrayed by an actor. But they're all there in spirit. "We had the roster of Easy Company," explained Hanks, who co-produced Brothers with Steven Spielberg. "We put their names on the dialogue track so you can hear someone yelling 'Hey, Strohl!' or 'Buck! Stokes! Get over here!'"

Courtesy of HBO, the 47 vets and their families were flown to Paris, entertained for four days and transported by charter train to Normandy for the premiere and memorial service. "All of us became so attached to the veterans, so grateful for the massive effort they made, what they lived through and the price they paid," said HBO senior VP Anne Thomopoulos, "that we became very passionate about giving something back."