Richard “Dick” Winters was the central figure of the Stephen Ambrose book “Band of Brothers” that focused on the ordinary men that made up a rifle company in the 101st Airborne Division during World War II.
Thru their rigorous training at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, North Carolina, England before jumping into combat at Normandy on D-Day, again in Holland, fighting the German offensive in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge and later into the heart of Germany, Winters was the face of the men of Easy Company.
Rising from a platoon leader to commanding Easy Company before eventually commanding the battalion, Winters was a tough, no-nonsense commander who could relate to his men. He never asked them to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. He led from the front and his men respected him as no other.
When Ambrose’s fine book was put into a film during an HBO mini-series by Stephen Spielberg, Winters and the other veterans would post interview snippets during the series intermittently, which put a real face on the actors’ roles. Chief of which was Winters’, who was portrayed excellently by Damian Lewis.
Entrance into the Army and Toccoa: Winters enlisted in the Army in August of 1941. He took Basic Training at Camp Croft, SC. After graduation, he remained at Croft and was made into cadre for training new soldiers and draftees. He remained while the rest of his battalion was shipped to Panama.
Shortly after the US entered the war, Winters was selected to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Ft. Benning, GA. He graduated and became a 2LT in the Infantry and volunteered for Airborne training. During his time at Benning, Winters met Lewis Nixon who would become his lifelong friend and a member of Easy Company, 506th PIR.
Winters received orders to report to Camp Toccoa, GA, to become part of the new Airborne Infantry Regiment (506th) being trained there by Col. Robert Sink. Winters was made the Second Platoon Leader, in E Co, 2nd Bn, 506th PIR under the command of 1LT Herman Sobel.
Sobel was a martinet who would punish the men for the slightest of infractions, real or perceived. Winters would later claim that the tough training and discipline that Sobel instilled in the men would save many of them in combat. But the men grew to hate their company commander because although he was a strict disciplinarian, as a field soldier, Sobel was a disaster, constantly getting lost during field training. Winters, however, was greatly respected by his men and that began to drive a wedge between the two officers.
Although Winters was promoted to First Lieutenant and made the Company Executive Officer, Sobel became jealous of him and the esteem the men held for him.
England and a Court-Martial: By June 1943, the 506th had gone thru intensive training at Camp Mackall, NC and been made part of the 101st Airborne Division. In September, the troops boarded a troop ship and sailed to England to prepare for the invasion of France.
Easy Company was stationed in Aldbourne, Wiltshire and was training hard for the D-Day invasion. Despite looking at going into combat soon, Sobel’s jealousy of Winters came to a head. Sobel accused of Winters of failure to obey a lawful order. The charge was what the troops call “a chickenshit” move. Winters fought it and asked for a court-martial. The Battalion commander Major Robert Strayer set the charges aside. Sobel was incensed and brought more charges against Winters the next day. Winters asked for a general court-martial. While the decision on how to proceed with this was debated at the Regiment, Winters was transferred to Headquarters Co. and made the Battalion Mess Officer.
That was the final straw for Easy Co’s NCOs. Several of them signed a letter that they refused to serve as NCOs in the company under Sobel. Sink was furious. He transferred a few out of the unit. Some were demoted and he chased them out of his office. But Sink realized the problem was Sobel and transferred him out of the Regiment to head up the parachute training school at Chilton-Foliat. Winters was put back in Easy Co. as the 1st Plt Commander. Then 1LT Thomas Meehan was given command of the company and the hard training resumed for the invasion prep of France.
D-Day and Beyond: During the invasion of Normandy, the C-47 carrying the Headquarters Section of Easy Co. was shot down and crashed, killing all on board. With Meehan dead, Winters became the acting commander of the company.
On the morning of the invasion, Winters gathered up all the men he could find and moved to the rally point which was near Sainte Marie du Mont. He was given the task of taking 13 men to destroy a battery of German 105mm howitzers that were firing on Utah Beach. The guns were located at Brecourt Manor.
Winters men destroyed three of the guns before they were joined by Lt. Ronald Speirs and men from D Co. who destroyed the fourth. Winters placed machine guns to cover the troops and take out German MG-42 emplacements. Once Winters and his men got to and destroyed the first gun with TNT in the barrel, they jumped into the trench system the Germans utilized to supply the guns. There, they were able to move easily from gun to gun. The attack not only knocked out the guns, wiping out a 60 man German garrison but during it, Winters found a map with all of the German artillery positions on Utah beach. American commanders were so impressed with the map, they ordered the first two Sherman tanks ashore to support the 506th in clearing the rest of Brecourt Manor.
Sink recommended Winters for the Medal of Honor, but there was an unwritten rule that each division would be only allowed one Medal of Honor. It was downgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross. Winters’ attack is still taught at West Point as a classic case of an attack against a fixed position. He was promoted to Captain on July 1 and a few days later was decorated by LTG Omar Bradley. He would command the company until they were pulled off the line in Normandy to prepare for the invasion of Holland.
Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge: In late September, the Allies made the huge Operation Market Garden airdrop in Holland with the 101st, 82nd US Airborne Divisions and the 1st British Airborne. On Oct. 5, Winters learned that Germans had broken thru the lines and were 1200 yards from the Bn Command Post.
He took a squad of men and led an attack on the crossroad where he thought there was a platoon-sized element of Germans there. There were more than 300. Winters attack and mortar fire from the battalion decimated the numerically superior Germans.
Four days later he became the Battalion XO after that officer Major Ollie Horton was killed in action. Soon after, the battalion was pulled off the line.
The German attack in the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) found the 101st shipped quickly to the crossroads town of Bastogne. Winters and the 2nd Bn defended the area near Foy.
After the Americans under General Patton relieved the encircled 101st, they went on the attack, taking Foy from the Germans. They stayed on the line until early March when they moved to Haguenau. Winters was promoted to Major. Shortly thereafter he became the acting battalion commander. The positions there were fairly static until the Battalion was ordered first along the Rhine and then to capture Hitler’s mountain resort at Berchtesgaden. There the unit remained until the Germans surrendered.
Winters separated from the Army on November 29, 1945, before being recalled to active duty during the Korean War. He graduated Ranger School and was going to be sent to Korea but was instead discharged. He worked for his friend Nixon as a General Manager of the Nixon Nitration Works in New Jersey where he met his wife.
Winters later went into business for himself and moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania where he remained until he retired. He passed away on January 2, 2011, and was buried in a family plot in Ephrata, Pennsylvania.
(From Wikipedia) On June 6, 2012, during the 68th Anniversary of the D-Day landings and parachute assaults, a 12-foot tall bronze statue in Winters’ likeness was unveiled near the village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, France. Winters only agreed for the statue to bear his resemblance on the condition that the monument would be dedicated to all junior officers who served and died during the Normandy landings.
Photos Courtesy: US Army