If you watched the acclaimed series, Band of Brothers, shown in 2001, the name Dick Winters will be synonymous with your memories of the show. He is someone that I would imagine if you met him, he would have left a lasting impression. Reading about him, through his words and the words of others, does the same thing.
Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose was the book that spawned the Band of Brothers series that was beautifully orchestrated by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. The original book was done with the assistance of many of Easy Companies veterans, including Major WInters. This book, Beyond Band of Brothers, is that little bit more. Its stories that never made it to the original book. It’s some of those original stories, a little more in depth.
This memoir is beautifully written, some say a little dry in places and I`ve read that others have called it boring! Major Winters, by virtue of the person he is, could be called those very things. He is not overstated in anything he does. He is committed. He gets the job done. He is not a dramatic person and that shows through with his writing and the leadership of Easy Company. Winters is an analytical man who reviews his own experiences through his leadership against the leadership of others. A perfect example being a mutiny of his NCOs due to issues with Captain Sobel. While some may call that analysis boring, to me it demonstrates not only his leadership style, but also how well respected he was for it.
This book could be reviewed in 2 ways. The first being for that leadership that I have discussed. There is so much Major Winters can teach us through his words and style. He demonstrates personal integrity and honesty which we see in spades, when he stands up to Captain Sobel in requesting trial by court martial knowing full well what the outcome would be. Winters writing and his commitment in words shows his thoughts towards his men. A perfect example is a sentence where he comments on “Bill Guarnere, the most consistently brave soldier throughout the campaign”. Major Winters led by example, he showed up. He did the job. It is because of that methodology that his men respected him and followed him. He had a very understated leadership. He was a humble man and that is shown throughout the book.
The other way to review this book is to examine it as a reflection of Easy Company and their campaigns, starting with their drop into war, through to Foy, Brecourt, Bastogne and through to the taking of Berchtesgaden. Each campaign was very different. Throughout the book we see these campaigns transformed into words. From dropping into the war having lost all his weaponry to sitting in the foxholes in Bastogne. From having to make difficult decisions when other leaders weren’t up to the job to walking into Berchtesgaden. Every part of every campaign was wildly different, but the leadership was the same. Major Winters was the one consistent throughout and this served his men well.
It is a wonder how a man can be comforting to his company when faced with the spoils of war, yet Major Winters managed this. Of all the memoirs regarding Easy Company that I have read, (and I have read a lot!), the consistency throughout is always Major Winters. A good person. A good leader and a good friend.
If you have watched the TV series, you’ll know that the series is bookended by comments from Major Winters. It is only right that the final words of this review are his:
Major Winters, quoting from Mike Ranney who said ”One day my grandson said to me, grandpa, were you a hero in the war? And I said to him no, I’m not a hero, but I have served in a company full of them.”