A real American hero

That night, I thanked God for seeing me through that day of days and prayed I would make it through D plus 1. I also promised that if some way I could get home again, I would find a nice peaceful town and spend the rest of my life in peace. -Richard Winters, Band of Brothers

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in history. American history specifically. And even more so…the pioneer times and World War II (blame the American Girls series). It wasn’t until three years or so ago that I found Band of Brothers. I quickly became enthralled. It’s hard to follow the first time, just because there’s SO many men. And a good chunk takes place in the dark. But I still became emotionally involved. I cried and laughed with them. And then I went out and found their real stories. They were all these incredibly normal men that went out and did something extraordinary. They worked in construction and were mailmen and school administrators and handymen. They went from being these incredible heroes of the European theater to these average, normal lives. And I knew that some of them died in Europe and some had died since. And I knew that the rest would follow, likely sooner than later. And I knew that this particular day would come. But it doesn’t make it any less sad, nor does it stop the tears from falling. Earlier this week, another member of this band of brothers passed away. And not just any one…one that became an inspiration to me.

From the Band of Brothers episode “Crossroads”.

The leader of these men was an incredible, heroic, honorable man- Major Richard “Dick” Winters. Dick grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and had a degree in business. He enlisted shortly after graduating from college to shorten his service time. Major Winters joined Easy Company in August 1942. He started as a platoon leader with the rank of second lieutenant. At the time of D-Day, he was a first lieutenant and company executive officer. An assault he lead that day on German howitzers is still refereed to as an example of a textbook assault on a fixed target at West Point. At the end of the war, he was a major and was serving as battalion commander of 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. More important than that, Major Winters was loved by his men.

left, Damion Lewis, who portrayed Major Dick Winters in the HBO Miniseries, Band of Brothers. right, Major Dick Winters

After the war, Major Winters returned to the peaceful, quiet life he desired during those dark days of the war, first in New Jersey working for his friend, Captain Lewis Nixon, and then later, starting a business selling animal feed in Pennsylvania. He told his story in numerous guest lectures, including lectures in leadership at West Point. His story has been told in several books beyond Band of Brothers.

It’s amazing how humble he remained about all of his service during World War II. After the miniseries aired, he often refused interview requests, in order to not appear that he was bragging. He’s remembered for a quote used in the final moments of Band of Brothers from a letter sent to him by fellow soldier Mike Ranney-

I treasure my remark to a grandson who asked, “Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?” Grandpa said, “no, but I served in a company of heroes.”

That sentiment is one that Major Winters shared. It’s not surprising to hear this though, from a member of the greatest generation. And how true that is…he was great. Rest in peace Major Winters. You were one of America’s truest heroes. Know that you made this world a better place. You won’t be soon forgotten. Thank you.

Major Richard Winters. 1918-2011

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