January 11, 2011, - 2:08 pm
This week, we learned of the death of Dick Winters, the leader of the “Band of Brothers,” the World War II paratroopers who were made famous in Stephen Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers” and the HBO series of the same name. Winters was a patriot and an American hero, whose contribution we must never forget.
Sadly, as I’ve noted before, with so many veterans of World War II dying, future generations will quickly forget. As we all know, the attitude is: if Kim Kardashian or Lady Gaga or some other future and even more dumbed-down version of Americana isn’t involved, who knows and who cares? I’d bet that the majority of Americans couldn’t even accurately tell you who the Band of Brothers were–what they did and why they were so important.
But Winters and his men were very important because, on June 6, 1944, they parachuted, led by Winters, into Normandy’s Ste. Marie-du-Mont, right behind the German lines. After their landing, they cleared the inland routes, which enabled American infantry and armor to to land on Utah Beach. It was a brilliant, and fortunately, successful strategy.
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.”
What a terrific guy. And a great loss to America and the Western world.
Dick Winters, Rest In Peace.
Tags: American Hero, Band of Brothers, Battle of the Bulge, Dick Winters, Distinguished Service Cross, E. Company, Easy Company, German Lines, Great American, Normandy, paratrooper, Ste. Marie-du-Mont, Stephen Ambrose, Utah Beach, William Guarnere, World War II