Last night while browsing on the internet I learned that Major Richard Winters had died on January 2nd. Those of you that have seen the series Band of Brothers know exactly whom I am talking about. For those of you that have not seen the series, Major Dick Winters was one of the most important members of Company E of the 2nd Battalion of the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division during the Allied campaign to rid the world of Adolf Hitler and Nazi oppression. Easy Company was at the forefront of many Allied operations, including securing the town of St. Mere Eglise in Normandy, France so that the troops could land safely on Utah beach during the D-Day invasion. The men of Easy Company were also responsible for holding the line during the Battle of the Bulge and they were the first to reach Hitler’s Eagles’ Nest in Berchtesgaden, Germany. It was the leadership of Dick Winters that made many of Easy Company’s accomplishments possible.
Winters was born in my native Pennsylvania, in Ephrata in 1918, and had aged 92 years at the time of his death. He graduated from Lancaster Boy’s High School in 1937 and then Franklin and Marshall College in 1941 before enlisting in the army. Upon enlisting, he was selected for Officer Candidate School and was later assigned to the 101st Airborne as a 2nd Lieutenant and platoon leader. It did not take long for Winters to win the respect of the men of Easy Company, and it was evidenced when the non-commissioned officers of the company attempted to relinquish their posts in protest of a bogus court martial of Winters, issued by then company commander Herbert Sobel, that removed Winters from his platoon and had him serving as mess officer. The attempt by the non-commissioned officers to resign is considered an act of mutiny in the eyes of the army and they could have been executed as a result. Men were willing to die before reaching combat so that they could follow Dick Winters into battle. Bill Guarnere was one of the NCOs that attempted to resign his position and is one of the surviving members of Easy Company. When asked about Winters and his passing Guarnere commented, “He was a good man, a very good man. I would follow him to hell and back and so would the men of E Company.”
Dick Winters never asked anything of his men that he was not willing to do himself. “When he said ‘Let’s Go’ he was right in the front. He was never in the back. A leader personified,” said Guarnere. In essence, Winters was what a leader, and a man, is supposed to be. He led with conviction, poise and was always there for his men. Men who served under Winters commented that just his presence was enough to lift spirits and restore moral. When commenting on leadership Winters wrote, “If you can, find that peace within yourself, that peace and quiet and confidence that you can pass on to others, so that they know that you are honest and fair and will help them, no matter what, when the chips are down.”
I first learned the story of Major Dick Winters while I was still in high school. My brother and I watched the Band of Brothers series as it was replayed on the History Channel to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day. I remember being instantly drawn to Winters as I watched and it motivated me to delve further into researching the man’s life. As a result, Dick Winters was solidified in my heart forever as one of my heros. His steadfastness, courage and willingness to do whatever it took for his men are qualities that every man should posess. Unfortunately, in this day and age qualities such as those are in short supply. There is a reason that men like Winters are allowed to age almost a century, the world knows how much better off we are having men like him around. The way that he conducted his life has inspired me to make sure that I always do my best to live my life the right way, making sure everyone in my life knows how much I love them, chasing every opportunity to the fullest, being of aid to anyone that I can and having the courage to face tough situations. I am forever indebted to Major Winters for the lessons that he tought me without ever even meeting me.
Winters promised himself, and God, that if he got through the war alive that he would find a quiet piece of land and live out the rest of his life in peace. That’s just what Major Winters did until he passed last week. I have lost a hero, but more importantly the world has lost a great man. May you rest in peace, Major Richard Winters.
Quotations are courtesy of the Associated Press and the Harrisburg Patriot News. (703)
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