Richard Davis Winters (January 21, 1918 – January 2, 2011), usually known simply as Dick Winters, was an officer of the United States Army and a decorated war veteran. He is best known for having commanded Easy Company of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Division, during World War II. He was eventually promoted to major and put in command of the 2nd Battalion.
As a first lieutenant, Winters parachuted into Normandy in the early hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944, and later fought across France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and eventually Germany. After the German surrender in May 1945, he left the 506th and was stationed in France, where senior officers were needed to oversee the return home. In 1951, during the Korean War, Winters was recalled to the Army from the inactive list and briefly served as a regimental planning and training officer on staff at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Winters was issued orders for deployment and was preparing to depart for Korea, but instead left the Army under a provision that allowed officers who had served in World War II but had been inactive since to resign their commission.
Winters was discharged from the Army and returned to civilian life, working first in New Jersey and later in Pennsylvania, where he set up his own company selling chocolate byproducts from The Hershey Company to producers of animal feed. He was a regular guest lecturer at the United States Military Academy at West Point until his retirement in 1997.
Early life and education
Winters was born in New Holland, Pennsylvania,:4 to Richard and Edith Winters on January 21, 1918. The family soon moved to nearby Ephrata, and then to Lancaster when he was eight years old.:4 He graduated from Lancaster Boys High School in 1937 and attended Franklin and Marshall College.:6
At Franklin and Marshall, Winters was a member of the Upsilon chapter of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity and participated in intramural football and basketball. He had to give up wrestling, his favorite sport, and most of his social activities for his studies and the part-time jobs that paid his way through college. He graduated in 1941 with a B.S in Economics. He obtained the highest academic standing in the business college. Following graduation, he enlisted in the Army to fulfill a one-year requirement of service, although he later wrote in his memoirs that at the time he "had no desire to get into the war" and that he had volunteered so that he would not be drafted later.:6
World War II
Winters enlisted in the United States Army on August 25, 1941.:6 In September, he underwent basic training at Camp Croft, South Carolina.:7 He remained at Camp Croft to help train draftees and other volunteers, while the rest of his battalion was deployed to Panama. In April 1942, four months after the United States entered World War II, he was selected to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, Georgia.:8–9 There he became friends with Lewis Nixon, with whom he served throughout the war.:13 He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry after graduating from OCS on July 2, 1942.:13
During his officer training, Winters decided to join the parachute infantry, part of the U.S. Army's new airborne forces.:12 Upon completing training, he returned to Camp Croft to train another class of draftees as there were no positions available in the paratroopers at that time. After five weeks, he received orders to join the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (506th PIR) at Camp Toccoa (formerly Camp Toombs) in Georgia.:14 The 506th was commanded by Colonel Robert Sink.
Winters arrived at Toccoa in mid-August 1942 and was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 506th PIR,:16–17 which later became better known as "Easy Company" in accordance with the contemporaneous Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet. Serving under First Lieutenant Herbert Sobel, Winters was made platoon leader of 2nd Platoon, earning a promotion to first lieutenant in October 1942:25:39 and made acting company executive officer, although this was not made official until May 1943.:39 The 506th PIR was an experimental unit, the first regiment to undertake airborne training as a formed unit.:18 The training at Toccoa was very tough. Of the 500 officers who had volunteered, only 148 completed the course; of 5,000 enlisted volunteers, only 1,800 were ultimately selected for duty as paratroopers.:18:18
On June 10, 1943, after more tactical training at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, the 506th PIR was attached to Major General William Lee's 101st "Screaming Eagles" Airborne Division.:39 Later in the year, they embarked on the Samaria, and arrived in Liverpool on 15 September 1943.:44 They proceeded to Aldbourne, Wiltshire, where they began intense training for the Allied invasion of Europe planned for spring 1944.:45
In November and December 1943, while Easy Company was at Aldbourne, the tension that had been brewing between Winters and Sobel came to a head.:47–52 For some time, Winters had privately held concerns over Sobel's ability to lead the company in combat. Many of the enlisted men in the company had come to respect Winters for his competence and had also developed their own concerns about Sobel's leadership.:48 Winters later said that he never wanted to compete with Sobel for command of Easy Company; still, Sobel attempted to bring Winters up on trumped-up charges for "failure to carry out a lawful order".:51 Feeling that his punishment was unjust, Winters requested that the charge be reviewed by court-martial. After Winters' punishment was set aside by the battalion commander, Major Robert L. Strayer, Sobel brought Winters up on another charge the following day. During the investigation, Winters was transferred to the Headquarters Company and appointed as the battalion mess officer.:52
Following this, though Winters tried to talk them out of it, a number of the company's non-commissioned officers (NCOs) gave the regimental commander, Colonel Sink, an ultimatum: either Sobel be replaced, or they would surrender their stripes.:53 Sink was not impressed and several of the NCOs were subsequently demoted and/or transferred out of the company. Nevertheless, Sink realized that something had to be done and decided:54 to transfer Sobel out of Easy Company, giving him command of a new parachute training school at Chilton Foliat.:57 Winters' court-martial was set aside and he returned to Easy Company as leader of 1st Platoon. Winters later said he felt that despite his differences with Sobel, at least part of Easy Company's success had been due to Sobel's strenuous training and high expectations.:287 In February 1944, First Lieutenant Thomas Meehan was given command of Easy Company.:57
Meehan remained in command of the company until the invasion of Normandy, when at about 1:15 a.m. on June 6, 1944, D-Day, the C-47 Skytrain transporting the company Headquarters Section was shot down by German anti-aircraft fire, killing everyone on board.:78–79 Winters jumped that night and landed safely near Sainte-Mère-Église.:80 Losing his weapon during the drop, he nevertheless oriented himself, assembled several paratroopers, including members of the 82nd Airborne Division, and proceeded toward the unit's assigned objective near Sainte-Marie-du-Mont.:76 With Meehan's fate unknown, Winters became the de facto commanding officer (CO) of Easy Company, which he remained for the duration of the Normandy campaign.:92
Later that day, Winters led an attack that destroyed a battery of German 105mm howitzers, which were firing onto the causeways that served as the principal exits from Utah Beach.:78–84 The Americans estimated that the guns were defended by about a platoon of 50 German troops, while Winters had 13 men.:78–84 This action south of the village of Le Grand-Chemin, called the Brécourt Manor Assault, has been taught at the military academy at West Point as an example of a textbook assault on a fixed position by a numerically inferior force. In addition to destroying the battery, Winters also obtained a map that showed German gun emplacements near Utah Beach.:88
On July 1, 1944, Winters was told that he had been promoted to captain.:112 The next day, he was presented with the Distinguished Service Cross by General Omar Bradley, then the commander of the U.S. First Army.:112 Shortly after, the 506th Parachute Infantry was withdrawn from France and returned to Aldbourne, England, for reorganization.:112
In September 1944, the 506th PIR parachuted into the Netherlands, near the village of Son, north of Eindhoven, as part of Operation Market Garden, a combined airborne and armored operation. On 5 October 1944, a German force attacked the 2nd Battalion's flank and threatened to break through the American lines. At the same time, four men in an Easy Company patrol were wounded.:136–137 Returning to the headquarters, they reported that they had encountered a large group of Germans at a crossroads about 1,300 yards (1,200 m) to the east of the company command post.:137 Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Winters took one squad from 1st Platoon, and moved off toward the crossroads, where they observed a German machine gun firing to the south, toward the battalion headquarters, from a long distance.:137 After surveying the position, Winters led the squad in an assault on the gun crew.:138 Soon after taking the position, the squad took fire from a German position opposite them. Estimating that this position was held by at least a platoon, Winters called for reinforcements from the rest of the 1st Platoon and led them in a successful assault. Later it was discovered there had been at least 300 Germans.:145
On October 9, Winters became the battalion executive officer (XO), following the death of the battalion's former XO, Major Oliver Horton.:147 Although this position was normally held by a major, Winters filled it as a captain. The 101st Airborne Division was withdrawn to France soon afterward. On December 16, 1944, German forces launched a counter-offensive against the Western Allies in Belgium, commencing the Battle of the Bulge. The 101st Airborne Division was trucked to the Bastogne area two days later. Still serving as XO of the 2nd Battalion, Winters helped defend the line northeast of Bastogne near the town of Foy.:179–212 The entire 101st Airborne and elements of the 10th Armored Division battled about 15 German divisions, supported by heavy artillery and armor, for nearly a week before General George Patton's U.S. Third Army broke through the German lines surrounding Bastogne, reopening ground supply lines.:179–212
After being relieved, the 2nd Battalion attacked Foy on January 9, 1945.:205 On March 8, 1945, the 2nd Battalion was moved to Haguenau in Alsace, after which Winters was promoted to major.:200 Shortly afterwards, Robert Strayer, now a lieutenant colonel, was elevated to the regimental staff and Winters took over as acting commander of the 2nd Battalion.:221:202
In April, the battalion carried out defensive duties along the Rhine before deploying to Bavaria later in the month.:209–213 In early May, the 101st Airborne Division received orders to capture Berchtesgaden.:216 The 2nd Battalion set out from the town of Thalem through streams of surrendering German soldiers and reached the alpine retreat at noon on 5 May 1945.:217 Three days later, the war in Europe ended.:224
After the end of hostilities, Winters remained in Europe as the process of occupation and demobilization began. Even though he had enough points to return to the United States, he was told that he was needed in Germany.:243 Later, he was offered a regular (non-reserve) commission, but declined it.:283 He finally embarked from Marseille aboard the Wooster Victory on 4 November 1945.:254 He was separated from the Army on November 29, 1945,:254 although he was not officially discharged until January 22, 1946, and he remained on terminal leave until then.:255
Winters was recommended for the Medal of Honor for his leadership at Brécourt Manor, but instead received the U.S. Army's second-highest award for combat valor, the Distinguished Service Cross.:85 After the release of the Band of Brothers television miniseries, Representative Tim Holden (D-PA) introduced a bill asking the President to grant the Medal, but the bill died in the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Military Personnel in 2007.
After leaving the Army, Winters worked for his close wartime friend Captain Lewis Nixon at Nixon's family business, Nixon Nitration Works of Edison, New Jersey, rising to become general manager in 1950.:306 On May 16, 1948, Winters married Ethel Estoppey:256 and continued to pursue his education through the GI Bill, attending a number of business and personnel management courses at Rutgers University.:256
In June 1951, Winters was recalled to active duty in the Army during the Korean War.:256 He was ordered to join the 11th Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, but he was given six months to report and in this time he traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak to General Anthony McAuliffe, in the hope that he could convince the Army not to send him to Korea.:256 He explained to McAuliffe that he had seen enough of war and apparently McAuliffe understood his position but explained that he was needed because of his command experience. Winters then reported to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he was assigned as a regimental planning and training officer.:257
While at Fort Dix, Winters became disillusioned with his job, finding that he had little enthusiasm for training officers who lacked discipline and did not attend their scheduled classes. As a result, he volunteered to attend Ranger School, where he passed and became a Ranger.:257 He then received orders to deploy to Korea and traveled to Seattle, where, during pre-deployment administration, he was offered the option of resigning his commission,:257 which he accepted.
Winters was discharged from the Army and became a production supervisor at a plastics adhesive business in New Brunswick, New Jersey.:257 In 1951, he and his wife bought a small farm where later they built a home and raised two children. In 1972, Winters went into business for himself, starting his own company and selling animal feed products to farmers throughout Pennsylvania.:257 Soon afterward, he moved his family to Hershey, Pennsylvania. He retired in 1997.:258
During the 1990s, Winters was featured in a number of books and television series about his experiences and those of the men in Easy Company. In 1992, Stephen Ambrose wrote the book Band of Brothers: Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest, which was subsequently turned into an HBO mini-series Band of Brothers with Damian Lewis portraying Winters. When the miniseries won Primetime Emmy awards, Winters attended the ceremony to accept on behalf of Easy Company while other surviving members of the company watched from the St. Regis Hotel in Los Angeles.
Winters was also the subject of the 2005 book Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, The Man Who Led the Band of Brothers, written by Larry Alexander. His own memoir, Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters, co-written by military historian and retired U.S. Army Colonel Cole C. Kingseed, was published in early 2006. He also gave a number of lectures on leadership to cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
On May 16, 2009, Franklin and Marshall College conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters upon Winters.
Despite the many accolades he had received, Winters remained humble about his service.:289 During the interview segment of the miniseries Band of Brothers, Winters quoted a passage from a letter he received from Sergeant Myron "Mike" Ranney, "I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, 'Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?' Grandpa said 'No...but I served in a company of heroes'."
Winters died on January 2, 2011, at an assisted living facility in Campbelltown, Pennsylvania at the age of 92, 19 days before his 93rd birthday. He had suffered from Parkinson's disease for several years. Winters was buried in a private funeral service, which was held on 8 January 2011. He was buried in the Bergstrasse Evangelical Lutheran Church cemetery in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, next to his parents in the Winters' family plot. His grave is marked "Richard D. Winters, World War II 101st Airborne". His wife Ethel died in 2012, at age 89.
On June 6, 2012, the 68th anniversary of the D-Day landings, a 12-foot bronze statue of Winters by sculptor Stephen C. Spears was unveiled near the village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, France . Winters 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.
A cast of the sculpture was placed in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, in a plaza on the Ephrata-to-Warwick linear trail park near Railroad Avenue and East Fulton Street, where Winters lived with his family from ages two to eight. That statue was dedicated on May 25, 2015.
Some of Winters' World War II uniforms and memorabilia are on display at two museums:
- D-Day Paratroopers Historical Center – Battle of Normandy – Saint-Côme-du-Mont, France
- December 44 Museum – Battle of the Bulge – La Gleize, Belgium
Medals and decorations
|Combat Infantryman Badge|
|Parachutist Badge with two Combat Jump Stars|
|Distinguished Service Cross|
|Bronze Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster|
|Presidential Unit Citation with one Oak Leaf Cluster|
|American Defense Service Medal|
|American Campaign Medal|
|European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 4 Service Stars and Arrowhead Device|
|World War II Victory Medal|
|Army of Occupation Medal|
|National Defense Service Medal|
|French Croix de Guerre with palm|
|French Liberation Medal|
|Belgian Croix de Guerre with palm|
|Belgian Commemorative Medal of the 1940-1945 War|
Five Overseas Service Bars for serving 2½ years in combat in Europe.
- T. Rees Shapiro (9 January 2011). "Post Mortem - Dick Winters dies; WWII hero commanded 'Band of Brothers'". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
- Winters, Richard D.; Kingseed, Cole C. (2006). Beyond Band of Brothers. Waterville, Maine: Large Print Press. ISBN 978-1594132360.
- Boland, Timothy (2007). "Richard Winters". The Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Retrieved 2 June 2009.
- Kingseed, Cole. "Captains Courageous". Archived from the original on 5 May 2009. Retrieved June 3, 2009.
- Ambrose, Stephen E. (1992). Band of Brothers: Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7434-6411-6.
- Gal Perl Finkel, 75 years from that long day in Normandy – we still have something to learn, The Jerusalem Post, June 12, 2019.
- "H.R. 3121 (111th)". Govtrack.us. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
- The 1998 Primetime Emmy Awards – Band of Brothers wins Best Miniseries
- "Honorary Degree Recipients". Franklin & Marshall College. Retrieved 2 June 2009.
- Shapiro, T. Rees (10 January 2011). "Obituary: Richard 'Dick' Winters, courageous WWII officer portrayed in 'Band of Brothers'". Washington Post. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
- Jon Hurdle (10 January 2011). "Band of Brothers leader Richard Winters dies". Reuters. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
- Brenckle, Lara (12 January 2011). "Memorial service for Dick Winters, 'Band of Brothers' inspiration, will be held at Hershey Theatre". Harrisburg Patriot News. Retrieved 20 February 2011.
- "Ethel Winters, 89, 'Band of Brothers' contributor". LNP Media Group. 18 April 2012.
- "Major Richard D. Winters Leadership Memorial and Veterans Plaza". www.lancastercountymag.com. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
- Strassmann, Mark (6 June 2012). "D-Day: Statue of 'Band of Brothers' hero Richard Winters unveiled". CBS News. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
- A YouTube video, "Who Was The Real Dick Winters? | The Man Who Led The Band Of Brothers | Timeline" (29 January 2019) contains detailed reminiscences by the sculptor of the statue, both about Winters and the making and dedication of the statue in 2012; the video is narrated by Damian Lewis. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLGO3a0alFk
- "Statue honors D-Day's junior U.S. officers". San Francisco Chronicle. 7 June 2012.