I received word today (January 9th, 2011), that Major Richard “Dick” Winters passed away quietly on January 2, 2011.
Although I never did get to meet him, I feel honored to have exchanged emails with him. For those of you who don’t know I served in the 506th Infantry Regiment in Korea, and have the distinct honor and pleasure of being one of his “Currahee Brothers.” – I have also been a strong supporter and member of the 506th Infantry Regimental Association, and my company, Axcess Internet hosts their website.
Before the fame of the Band of Brothers book and HBO series, Major Winters and the exploits of the men of Easy Company were but a blip in history to most; unless of course you were a member of the 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne or the people of Eindoven (Netherlands) then, their actions were and will forever be, the stuff of legends.
Major Winters and his men took part in some of the bloodiest and costly battles of World War II, including fighting in Normandy on D-Day, Operation Market Garden and the Hell of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. His men liberated the death camp at Dachau and captured Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden. I won’t go into all of the details; however, if you want to learn more, you should read U.S. Army Colonel (Ret.) Kingseed’s paper, titled, “Captains Courageous.”
For his actions during the war he received the Distinguished Service Cross, a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars and was nominated (along with other members of Easy Company) for the Medal of Honor.
After the war, he kept his promise to himself and married Ethel and bought a farm in Fredericksburg, PA. He raised two children and worked in the agricultural feed business. It wasn’t until the late historian and eventual author of The Band of Brothers, Stephen Ambrose approached him about doing a book that he even talked about the war.
Ambrose later said in an interview with the BBC in 2001 that he hopes young people say, “I want to be like Dick Winters.”
“Not necessarily as soldiers, but as that kind of leader, that kind of man, with basic honestly and virtue and an understanding of the difference between right and wrong.”
[media link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeWXoYHgmTU” width=”320″ height=”240″]
I, like so many of my colleagues consider Dick Winters a hero; however, if you asked him, he would tell you he wasn’t a hero, but instead would tell the story of his friend and fellow World War II buddy Mike Ranney, who when asked by his grandson if he was a hero in the war, said, “No, but I served in a company of heroes.”
He has been quoted many times throughout history, and you can learn more about his life by visiting his Wikipedia Page; however, one quote that has always rang true for me is, “your reward for a good job is that you get the next tough mission.”
So, Major Winters, here's to your “good job” in this life, and I hope you enjoy your next mission, cause you've earned it!
Rest In Peace!
Thanks for the comment EW; I remember that scene you are talking about, and it reminded me of a poster I once saw, I believe it was at Fort Benning, Georgia. It’s from the World War II era and it had an Airborne Trooper standing tall over another soldier who was hiding behind a berm they were somewhere in the Ardenne, and the quote said (and I am paraphrasing here), “Dontcha Worry, I am the 82nd Airborne, and this is as far as the bastards are going.”
Very nice piece, Jim. I couldn’t agree with you and Mr Ambrose more — the true sense of Major Winters’ story is that you hope young Americans will grow up to be like him.
Major Winters is a legacy, not only to the 506th or 101st, but to our sense of what it is to be an American. There’s a scene in the HBO piece that, in its flavor, reminds me of Major Winters’ acceptance of life, not as he wished it, but as it comes. While marching into position at Bastogne, a soldier leaving accused the 101st of being nuts, “In eight hours, you guys are going to be surrounded, don’t you realize that?!” A trooper from Easy Company looked up and said, “We’re airborne, we’re supposed to be surrounded.” I don’t know if that really happened but it doesn’t matter — that scene will always remind me of Major Winters. “I wasn’t a hero, I was just doing what was in front of me.”
Again, nice piece.