Award winning journalist and Pulitzer Prize nominee. Historian, gentleman and friend of Major Dick Winters. Larry Alexander has an impressive resume over his years of writing, and I have been privileged to share time with him. Thank you for your time, Larry.
Let’s start at the very beginning. Tell me about your early life.
I was born in Ephrata PA in Lancaster County in 1951. I grew up in the 1950s, in the “I like Ike” era, that seems so quaint and simple by today’s standards. My parents broke up when I was a toddler and I ended up being raised by my grandparents, which was cool.
I was a graduate of Millersville University with a BA in history, I thought about being a teacher but dropped the idea. I worked my early life in phototypesetting, mostly as a proofreader. I did a mid-life career change in 1990 and became a journalist.
What drew you to become a journalist?
It was a simple reason really. I always enjoyed writing and as a 12-year-old, I was infatuated with James Bond movies. I remember that I wrote my own “spy novels” after getting a typewriter for Christmas one year.
What papers did you work for and what sorts of stories were your forte?
I worked for Lancaster Newspapers (now LNP Media Group) from 1990 until 2015. In fact, I still freelance for them at times. My “news beat” was a little of everything from local government to human interest to police and fire to entertainment where I did show reviews and pre-show interviews with celebrities including Tim Conway, Carol Burnett, Tommy James, Gary Puckett, Tommy Smothers, plus many others. My all-time favorite was ex-Beatle Ringo Starr. I NEVER wrote about sports though. I did write (and still do as a freelancer) an extremely popular humour column for LNP
What did you win your state journalism awards for?
I covered so many beats during my writing career, too varied to list and I won awards for several of them. I did win awards for my column which I am very proud of.
Why were you nominated for a Pulitzer Prize?
I was part of a team that wrote a multi-part, in-depth series called “Silenced by Shame” that took a deep look at sexual abuse and domestic violence in the local Amish and Plain Mennonite communities.
I read in your book that your editor of ‘The Intelligencer’ suggested you try and make contact with Major Winters. Can you share that story?
In 2001 my boss, who knew I had a degree in history from Millersville University, asked if I was watching “Band of Brothers.” He said that as Winters lives in Hershey I should try to find him.
He had an unlisted number, but I did track down a number for Wild Bill Guarnere. After assuring Bill that I had read Major Winters book, (Dick would not interview anyone who had not read the book!) he gave me a P.O. Box number. I wrote to Major Winters.
Two days after mailing my letter, my phone rang and a voice said, “This is Dick Winters from Hershey.” I was astounded. Then he noted that my envelope featured my Ephrata home address and he said, “Where in Ephrata do you live?” I told him East Main Street. He continued, “I grew up in Ephrata” and mentioned the house on East Fulton Street. I told him I had grown up on East Fulton Street as well. Although by the time I lived there he had moved, our two houses sat just a hundred yards apart. He said, “Did you know Lottie Gardner?” I said I did. “She was my favorite aunt,” he said, and with that, our friendship was cemented.
Could you share your first meeting? What were your first impressions of Major Winters at that meeting?
Dick escorted me and my LNP photographer Dan Marshcka into his upstairs office. I sat in a big leather chair; the same one Stephen Ambrose and Damian Lewis had sat in before me. I was most impressed by the aura of leadership that surrounded him. It was not anything he did knowingly. He was a NATURAL leader. It oozed from him. I could instantly see why his men would’ve followed him anywhere. He looked you straight in the eye, sizing you up. He was a keen judge of people.
Once he had agreed to do the biography “Biggest Brother”, how did you move forward with the interviews and roughly how many did it take to get the information you wanted?
We did over 30 hours of interviews. We met in his office mostly. He would show me documents, photos and artefacts. He gave my 4 loose-leaf binders labelled “Aldbourne and Normandy,” “Holland and the Island”, “Belgium” and “Germany.” He told me that now, I had everything the screenwriters had.
Then he gave me bound pages entitled “Letters From DeEtta.” These were his wartime letters to DeEtta Almon of Georgia whom he met while at Toccoa. “Now you have something the screenwriters never had.” he said. These were basically a look into his soul to the point where his own daughter Jill told me “I never knew that man.” I used excerpts from those letters quite a bit.
Major Winters always (to me) comes across as a quiet man who was a team player and respected every one of his soldiers but never had the friendship. He knew how to keep his line of authority. How would you describe Major Winters?
You described him perfectly. The closest friend he had was Lewis Nixon and that was only because of the war. Dick told me that had they met under any other circumstances, they would not have been friends. He abhorred Nixon’s drinking.
What did your relationship with Major Winters bring to your life, knowing everything that he had done through the war?
For me it was simply a pride in knowing the man. Everyone knew him. During our interviews we sometimes went to his favorite coffee and sandwich shop for lunch. People would shout out “How are you doing, Major?” It was being with a member of the Beatles. Everyone liked him.
Of course, publication of my book “Biggest Brother” launched me on my second career as a book writer. Without Dick, that never would’ve happened.
I’ve read that Major Winters liked your work, particularly the first interview you did, as he used to send that out to fans who wanted autographs. How did that make you feel?
He told me it was the best interview he had ever had, and Dan’s photos were the best also. We both puffed up with pride. Of all his interviews, he liked my one the best. Knowing he’d send copies of my interview and Dan’s photos to fans requesting autographs was a high point in my career.
Is there any other information you’d like to share about your time with Major Winters, I would love to hear it.
I knew him during the last 10 years of his life but had contact with him for only about 5 of those years. As his Parkinson’s Disease worsened, his family basically made it damnably hard to get with him. Even his own men didn’t have access and I recall Don Malarkey asking me how Dick is doing. There was no information available for his guys. Even when he passed, no one knew about it for several days and, sadly, his funeral in January 2011 was attended by only 6 people: all family members,
Having read ‘Biggest Brother’, ’76 hours’ and ‘in the footsteps of…’, is there anything more from Band of Brothers coming?
No. I’ve pretty much moved on.
What’s next for Larry Alexander?
With the release this past March of “76 Hours”, I have made the transition to historical fiction (in the vein of Jeff Shaara). “76 Hours” is the first of what I hope will be a Pacific War trilogy. Book 2, “Shattered Jade” will take the battered survivors of “Tarawa” that those readers met in “76 Hours” and land them on the shore of Saipan. That book will be out March 14, 2024.
I am currently working on Book 3 tentatively called “Hell With the Fires Out” which takes our heroes to Iwo Jima. I have no timeline for that book or even know at this point if Blackstone wants to go for a third book. My agent and my Blackstone editor want it, so keep your fingers crossed.