He said “There is no need to tell someone how to do his job if you have properly trained your team” He also told us, “Anticipate problems and prepare to overcome obstacles. Don’t wait until you get to the top of the ridge and then make up your mind.”
Many of you reading this will know who I am talking about without any clues needed. Every Band of Brothers aficionado out there will know who I’m talking about. Of course, it’s Major Richard Winters.
Richard was born in Pennsylvania on January 21 1918, to parents Richard and Edith. The family moved locations when he was young, leading to a couple of school changes for him.
He graduated from Lancaster Boys High School, Franklin and Marshall College and went on to enlist in the army.
His plan was to fulfil his one year requirement of service. He didn’t want to wait to be drafted. He wanted to get it over and done with.
He enlisted on August 25 1941. In April of 1942, and was selected to go to Officer Candidate School. It was here, where he would meet his lifelong friend Lewis Nixon.
Graduating a second lieutenant from OCS, he went on to Camp Toccoa in Georgia. Then his orders came in to join 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (506th PIR). A unit commanded by Colonel Robert Sink.
He was assigned to company E, 2nd battalion, later to be known as ‘Easy Company’. Winters served under first Lieutenant (and later Captain) Herbert Sobel.
Tensions came to a head between Winters and Sobel resulting in several of the company’s NCOs delivering an ultimatum to the Regimental Commander Colonel Sink. Sobel was transferred out of Easy and Winters returned as leader of first platoon. Despite everything, Winters and his men knew that Sobel was responsible for their high standards. Sobel always made his men work harder than other battalions. If one battalion ran six miles, Easy ran twelve. They worked hard to be the best. Easy were the best.
Winters was pivotal through every campaign in the war, from Normandy to Foy to Bastogne to Berchtesgaden. At the end of the hostilities, Winters remained in Europe as the process of occupation and demobilisation began. He knew that he had enough points to return to the United States, however he realised that he was needed in Germany. He was eventually separated from the Army on November 29, 1945, although he was not officially discharged until January 22, 1946.
Winters was recommended for the medal of Honour for his leadership at Brécourt Manor, but instead received the U.S. Army’s second-highest award for combat valour, the Distinguished Service Cross.
Of course, this is just some of Richard Winters bio, what he did in and for Easy Company. But who was Richard Winters?
I have read many books relating to Band of Brothers and Easy Company. There are many quotes both from Richard Winters and about Richard Winters. He has been described as brilliant and resourceful. He has been called complicated yet magnificent. He has been described “as having a steely stare that could stop a tank”.
Throughout the series Band of Brothers and the literature that I have read, the one thing that sticks out more than anything, is that he was a natural born leader. There was no bravado. No showing off. No pulling rank. He knew what needed to be done and made sure it was followed through. He led from the front. He did not give out an order and say “get on with it”. He gave an order and followed that up with “Follow me”. Because of all of those qualities, the respect was earned.
One of my favourite quotes from Major Winters is “If you’re a leader, you lead the way. Not just on the easy ones. You take the tough ones too.” This quote perfectly demonstrates not only the superior soldier that he was, but also the man and the qualities underneath. This was a leader that did not give an order for something that he would not do himself. This was a man that for every report he filed as Commander of Easy Company, he did not write, “I did…..” when talking about actions and manoeuvres. It was always “we”. He worked with his men as a team.
Many of Winters men credit him for their lives. In a letter from a hospital bed, one of Richard Winters men wrote “I would follow you into hell. When I was with you, I knew everything was under control.”
Projecting forward the image of calm and control, in any situation, let alone a war zone, is a special quality. We watched other officers in Band of Brothers and how they reacted. Captain Sobel ruling the men by fear. Lieutenant Dike not managing his men at all.
Yet through all of that, we learned that Richard Winters respected the rank. This was evident in the “trial by court-martial” incident that was seen in Band of Brothers. It was also evident in the respect that Richard showed to Sgt. Lipton in his concerns about Dike
In an interview with the Patriot-News, Richard talked about the battle scenes and complimented that they were shown realistically and had not been given the Hollywood glamour treatment as some movies have done in the past.
He expressed his favourite part of the mini-series. His favourite part by far, were the interviews with Easy Company soldiers, including himself. These interviews bookended every episode. Mr Winters said “The documentary part has men talking to you from their memories and their hearts. They’re old and they’re ugly but you’ve got to admit, they are honest.”
While watching the interviews , I found them not only revealing but raw too. It was easy to see the camaraderie that they had together but it was equally tough to see the tears that they had from stories that were so fresh in their mind. The trump card that was played by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, in my humble opinion, was not revealing the names of the soldiers until the final episode. Some were easy to identify. I did find Major Winters easy to identify. I also found Bill Guarnere easy too, must’ve been that Philly accent! But the others….I found myself looking for idiosyncrasies throughout to try and identify them. When I learned their names, it brought the whole series together.
Winters was asked how he was coping with the new found fame. He answered the only way that I , and probably others, would expect him to answer. He said”You hang tough and take it as it goes”
He also said no to fancy speaking engagements as he is reported to have found more joy in speaking at local high schools. As far as he was concerned, he was a regular guy. Everyone else saw him for the war hero that he was.
Bill Guarnere described him as “A leader personified. When he said ‘lets go,’ he was right there upfront.
Babe Heffron said “Wonderful leader and hell of a guy. Guts and brains!”
My late husband always talked about his British Army life and how the man behind you “always had your back.” That to me is Major Richard Winters. He had your back.
I would like to end this with words from the man himself.
“Lastly, ‘Hang Tough’. Never ever give up, regardless of the adversity. If you are a leader, a fellow who other fellows look up to, you have to keep going”
Thank you Sir, for your remarkable service.
Thank. you for your life lessons.