Diary of a Financier

Tribute to Immortalized Major Dick Winters

In Existential on Tue 11 Jan 2011 at 10:50

I have to take pause and acknowledge Major Richard “Dick” Winters, an American hero who recently passed away on January 2, 2011.  From the WSJ:

Dick Winters was the leader of a valiant World War II paratrooper company that became famous a half-century later in historian Stephen Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers” and a subsequent HBO miniseries.

Mr. Winters, who died Jan. 2 at age 92, requested his death not be announced until after his funeral. An intensely private man, he became the subject of widespread adulation after Mr. Ambrose’s 1992 book portrayed him as a paragon of military leadership.

A native of Ephrata, Pa., who grew up in Lancaster, Mr. Winters volunteered for the Army shortly after graduating from Franklin & Marshall College in 1941. He attended officer training school, and was assigned to E Company, the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division—nicknamed “Easy Company.” The company shipped out to England in late 1943 to prepare for the D-Day invasion of France.

On June 6, 1944, then-First Lt. Winters and his company parachuted into the Normandy village of Ste. Marie-du-Mont, behind German lines, with the object of clearing the routes inland for infantry and armor landing on Utah Beach.

The drop was chaotic, and Mr. Winters lost his weapons and was at first isolated from his men. After reconnoitering amid an already-roaring battle, he managed to gather up a handful of men and found a gun. He then led his men in an assault on German trenches that ended with the destruction of four 105-mm howitzers and a 50-man platoon defending them.

Mr. Winters later called the action “my apogee” and received the Distinguished Service Cross.

“It surely saved a lot of lives, and made it much easier for—perhaps even made it possible in the first instance—for tanks to come inland from the beach,” Mr. Ambrose wrote of the engagement.

Easy Company’s commander was killed in a plane crash during the initial phases of the assault, and command devolved to Mr. Winters. He led his men through a month of heavy fighting in Normandy, suffering near 50% casualties. After a short layover in England, Mr. Winters went on to lead Easy Company through battles in Holland, Belgium and Germany.

As the war ended, the recently promoted Maj. Winters led his company into Berchtesgaden, the village where Hitler had his Alpine retreat, the Berghof. Mr. Winters wrote in a memoir, “Beyond the Band of Brothers,” of overseeing the looting of Hermann Goering’s vast wine cellar, and of discovering Hitler’s private photo albums.

After the war, Mr. Winters worked at a fertilizer plant in New Jersey owned by the family of an Easy Company veteran, Louis Nixon. Mr. Winters returned to service as an Army trainer during the Korean War, then retired. He went into the animal feed business and bought a farm near Lancaster. He stayed in touch with his Army comrades, but otherwise rarely spoke of his wartime experiences. He was unknown to the public before Mr. Ambrose’s book became a bestseller.

“I would follow him to hell and back,” William Guarnere, who lost a leg serving under Mr. Winters in the Battle of the Bulge, told the Associated Press Sunday. “So would the men from E Company.”

Mr. Winters was real; he was not a hero by accident.  There’s not much I can say to do him justice, but I should acknowledge the many heroes (both wartime heroes and others) who either fade from the mainstream’s consciousness or are never honored outwardly in the first place. Cheers to ye, and Adieu to Maj. Richard Winters.

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