Major Richard Winters, the famous commanding officer of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division during the Second World War, and inspiration for Band of Brothers, has died at the age of 92. He had been suffering from Parkinsons for several years, and requested a private family funeral.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1918, Winters graduated college in 1941 with a degree in Business. Enlisting in the US Army in August 1941, in April 1942 he was selected for Officer Training. It was during officer training that he met his friend Lewis Nixon. He then joined the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Camp Toccoa in Georgia. Initially serving as a platoon commander in Easy Company under Captain Herbert Sobel.
In September 1943 the 101st Airborne Division arrived in England, in readiness for the invasion of Europe. Whilst in England Sobel charge Winters for supposedly failing to carry out an order. When Winters requested a court martial he was seconded out of the Company to act as Battalion mess officer. Several Easy Company NCO’s, however, later threated to resign if they were forced into action with Sobel. The Regiment’s CO, Colonel Sink, took a very dim view of their actions, but sidelined Sobel none the less.
Winters returned to Easy Company as a platoon commander, whilst Lieutenant Thomas Meehan was given command of Easy Company. Meehan was killed on D-Day when his Dakota was destroyed, putting Winters in charge of Easy Company. Later on D-Day Winters led a text book assault on a German artillery position at Brecourt Manor. Winters was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his leadership in the attack, which is still taught at West Point today. It later transpired that Winters had been recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honour, but an imposed quota of one Medal of Honour per Division prevented his receiving the higher award. In July 1944 Winters was promoted to Captain.
Winters and Easy Company took part in Operation Market Garden in September 1944. In October 1944 Winters was promoted to act as the Battalion’s Executive Officer. Whilst the Division was in reserve in December 1944 the Germans launched their last-gasp Ardennes Offensive. The 101st were rushed into action in bitter conditions and against heavy opposition, holding the vital crossroads town of Bastogne.VE Day found Winters and the 101st in Austria.
At the end of the war Winters was offered a regular commission in the US Army, but declined. He returned to the US in October 1945. Winters worked for Lewis Nixon’s family business, a nitration works in New Jersey. In 1951 he was recalled to the US to train recruits going to fight in the Korean War. After leaving the Army for the last time he started his own animal feed company, before retiring in 1997.
Winters always remained remarkably humble about his distinguished service. Even when the Book and then TV series of Band of Brothers appeared and Winters won worldwide fame, he remained completely modest. He famously quoted one of his men on the TV programme:
“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…’”
Personally I find Richard Winters to be one of the most inspiring leaders of the Twentieth Century, and certainly one of the best junior officers of the Second World War. Even when it comes to everyday life, or working in a non-military environment, thinking about Richard Winter’s leadership style is extremely useful. Winters is the best example I have ever seen that to be a great leader, you do not have to run around wearing your rank and shouting your mouth off for the hell of it.
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