We lost a great man last week. Major Dick Winters died on January 2, but--in his inimitably humble and quiet fashion--he asked his family to release the news only after his memorial service had been held. Winters was the commanding officer of the now-famous Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army.
Made famous by Stephen Ambrose's exceptional book "Band of Brothers" and the subsequent Emmy Award-winning HBO miniseries, Winters was the hero among heroes in a company of soldiers who fought on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, through the hedgerows in France and the liberation of Paris, the Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of Kaufering (a sub-camp of the infamous Dachau concentration camp) and--finally--the occupation of Hitler's Eagle's Nest at the very end of the war.
Winters grew up in central Pennsylvania in the beautiful and pristine town of Lancaster. After graduating high school, he entered Franklin & Marshall College. He mowed lawns, worked in a grocery store, and painted electrical towers in order to earn his way through college, graduating in June 1941 with a business degree. In order to shorten his time in the service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Army in August and was soon selected to complete Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Winters was thrust into leadership in the crucible of D-Day. His CO was shot down in the early hours of June 6, 1944 and Winters--unaware of his CO's loss, became acting commanding officer of Easy Company throughout the D-Day campaign.
Winters' character and personal qualities were perfectly suited for leadership. He was quiet and unassuming, courageous to the point of fearlessness, gathered and rarely impulsive, always ready to lead from the front rather than the rear. His men were singularly devoted to him because they knew he would never ask them to do anything he was not willing and ready to do first.
Winters married his wife Ethel in 1951, raised two children, went into business for himself and retired in 1997. He lived his later years in Hershey.
Winters' extraordinary leadership, coupled with his remarkable humility, are so characteristic of The Greatest Generation. His life and his legacy inspire me--and thousands of other deeply appreciative Americans.