In March 2003, I wrote a letter to Dick Winters and I enclosed the compilation photo I made of the 46 Easy Company Veterans who were present in Normandy on June 6, 2001. I asked him some questions and a few weeks later I received a big envelop from Dick Winters with a Franklin & Marshall Magazine.
Together with that magazine I received the greatest Award I could ever imagine:
a compliment from Dick Winters.
Below the interview "His brothers' keeper " by Linda Whipple
|On this late October afternoon miles and years
away from the battlefields of World War II, Richard D. Winters ’41 is
sitting in the second-story office of his Hershey, Pa., home, remembering and
reliving the war. Outside, the last rays of autumn sunlight are casting shadows
on the long, neatly manicured lawns of this peaceful residential neighborhood.
Winters is surrounded by maps, photos, and memorabilia that serve as continual reminders of his service to the country as commander of E “Easy” Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
A shadow box filled with battle decorations hangs on the wall behind his office door, along with a map of Utah Beach (Normandy) that goes back to Roman times, and Winters’ signature “Hang tough, pardner” cowboy poster. On the opposite wall is the company flag, and to the left of it, framed and autographed photos of military top brass, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as photos of Winters as a soldier and of Damian Lewis, the actor
who portrayed him in the Emmy Award–winning Band of Brothers HBO miniseries based on the book by Stephen E. Ambrose. “He started off on the weak side,” the usually laconic Winters says of his miniseries counterpart. “I wasn’t so hot when I started out either.”
Above Winters’ desk is the road map of Bastogne that he carried with him the entire time that Easy Company held a 17-mile perimeter around the Belgian city during the Battle of the Bulge, and a framed Band of Brothers poster signed by the surviving men of Easy Company—his “family.”
Millions of TV viewers worldwide watched the company’s saga unfold—from training at Camp Toccoa, Ga., through D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, to the capture of Adolf Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” Bavarian chateau. Even more now have access to the story on video and DVD. Winters is flooded by fan mail from people of all ages who recognize him as a genuine hero. He is proud of what he has accomplished, but he never intended to become a celebrity. Telling the story of Easy Company was his motivation from the start.
The men of Easy Company were highly motivated citizen soldiers. They had volunteered for the paratroopers, a new and experimental regiment, and by the late spring of 1944, they had become an elite company of airborne light infantry. “At the peak of its effectiveness, in Holland in October 1944 and in the Ardennes in January 1945, it was as good a rifle company as there was in the world,” Ambrose wrote.
Easy Company distinguished itself early. In its first combat action, during the early morning hours of D-Day, a company platoon led by 1st Lt. Winters took out a German battery unit looking down on Utah Beach. Winters swivels his desk chair around to face a map of Normandy, where the 101st Airborne, known as the Screaming Eagles, jumped behind enemy lines on D-Day as part of the massive Allied invasion of German-occupied France.
landed here,” he says, pointing to an area outside the little French
village of Ste. Mère-Eglise. “The German defense was to flood
the low lands. The water was two feet to over six feet deep—that was
part of their defense. They didn’t need a lot of men to stop any troops
that were landing.”
up a long metal pointer, Winters turns and points to a map of Holland. “We
jumped north of Eindhoven,” he says, “Then the job was to hold
the road open.” But it couldn’t be done and Operation Market-Garden,
as the high-risk offensive was called, ultimately failed. Easy Company was
forced to retreat to the “island,” a flat agricultural area below
sea level, where dikes held back the floodwaters of the Lower Rhine.
In their long overcoats,
the Germans moved slowly and awkwardly as they attempted to run away. Easy
Company kept up the fire, while Winters called for artillery support. His
men had to scatter when the German artillery started up and the shelling became
too intense. With just one platoon, however, Winters had routed two German
companies of about 300 men. A couple of days after the attack, Winters was
promoted to executive officer of the 2nd battalion. He rose to major just
before the Army moved into Germany. Ambrose once told him, after writing Band
of Brothers, “From now on, Winters, and for the rest of your life, your
subject is leadership. You’ve got it.”
say the bond created in wartime is special, forged by a heightened sense of
caring and responsibility for one another. “You remember that my life
depends on you and your life depends on me,” Winters explains, adding
that men who have this kind of bond cherish it and don’t want to lose
Tom Hanks, who coproduced the HBO miniseries with Steven Spiel-berg, met Winters
and became interested in the story of Easy Company while researching his starring
role in Saving Private Ryan.
After watching the Emmy Award presentations on TV all his life, Winters never imagined that last September, he would be living it: that a limo would whisk Ethel and him away to the airport for a direct flight to Los Angeles; or that he would be put up at one of the finest hotels in Beverly Hills, and a masseuse would arrive at his door with a table and oils to give him a nice massage before the big night.
And then, of course, there was the awards
ceremony itself, followed by the
acceptance speech he gave on behalf of all the men of Easy Company,
and the celebration afterward.
Heady stuff. But to regain his sense of perspective, Winters has only to reread his own diaries.
“My story today is the same as it was in 1944,” he says. “I intend to keep it that way.”
home is your home'
thought, oh my god, that’s beautiful,” Winters says. “He
put it together exactly right.”
That someone would offer his home, to Winters, is the ultimate expression of kindness—and he knows from personal experience what that means.
In September 1943, the 101st Airborne landed in England after spending seven days packed together so tightly aboard a transport ship that “you can’t move without bumping into somebody.” The men were taken to the little village of Aldbourne, where the troops were bedded down for the night, and the officers retreated to a building set aside for them. But it was just as crowded in there.
“I got up the next morning and just wanted to get away from everybody,” recalls the chiseled Winters, his voice soft and his eyes darting back and forth as he visualizes the scene. “On a Sunday morning, what do you do? You go to church.”
Afterward, Winters still wanted to be alone so he went to the cemetery adjacent to the church, walked to the top of a hill and sat down by himself. He could see an elderly couple fussing around a new grave. They finished tidying up and then came over to sit on the bench beside him and visit.
“Would you like to come to tea at 4 o’clock?” they asked.
Homesick and wondering whether he’d ever see home again, Winters was overjoyed by the invitation. He went to tea. A couple of days later, battalion leaders decided they needed more billets for officers. The elderly couple agreed to take two men provided Winters was one. Their home became his home for eight months.
Mr. Barnes was a lay preacher in the church and Mrs. Barnes played the organ. “I realized that to go to church was a privilege, so I went to church,” Winters says.
On a typical evening, he would
be reading when he would hear a knock on his door, and Mrs. Barnes would ask:
“Lt. Winters, would you like to come down and listen to the news?”
“I loved it. I appreciated it,” Winters says emphatically. “I had found a home and these people had adopted me.”
While the other soldiers were
out carousing in the pubs, Winters was studying and reading at home every
night—and gaining the respect of his men.
Winters returned to Aldbourne after the D-Day invasion of Normandy, having won the Distinguished Service Cross and a spot on the BBC news. Mrs. Barnes greeted him like his own wonderful mother would have done. “I’m so proud of you,” she told him. “I just knew you would do good.”
Editor’s Note: Franklin & Marshall magazine is collecting stories of World War II alumni for a website archive. Send stories (500 words or less) to firstname.lastname@example.org, or to Editor, Franklin & Marshall magazine, P.O. Box 3003, Lancaster, PA 17604.
I do not intend to infringe on any copyrights.I just want to promote Band of Brothers© and pay a tribute to everyone who was involved in giving back our freedom in wwII
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