These days, it’s rare to hear the word “hero” used to describe someone who actually fits the bill, or whose actions justify the use of such adjectives.
Major Richard D. Winters was a hero, in every conceivable sense of the word, even though he’d likely have disagreed with you.
What did Major Winters do to earn the moniker? Well, for starters, in June of 1944, he led a company of paratroopers behind enemy lines in the early hours before the Allied beach landings in Normandy. From there, he and his men fought in several battles in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. In May of 1945, the battalion Major Winters commanded made its way to the Bavarian Alps and secured Hitler’s mountain getaway in Berchtesgaden, where they stayed until the war ended.
If any of that sounds familiar to you, maybe it’s because you read about Major Winters’ service during the Second World War as the commander of “Easy” Company in Stephen Ambrose’s book Band of Brothers, or you saw the HBO mini-series of the same name. Major Winters died on January 2nd at the age of 92, and was laid to rest yesterday, January 8th, two weeks shy of his 93rd birthday.
Major Richard D. Winters
January 21, 1918 – January 2, 2011
Company “E,” 2nd Battalion
506th Parachute Infantry Regiment
101st Airborne Division
His exploits in battle during the war are the stuff of legend, just as his natural, deliberate approach to leadership was respected by all who served under him. Only a quota system governing the awarding of decorations for valor in combat prevented him from receiving the Medal of Honor. The award recommendation submitted on his behalf was downgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross (which he received), and there is an ongoing campaign to see Major Winters finally awarded a Medal of Honor.
As for the man, every account I’ve ever read described him as a humble, quiet person, who like many men of that generation wanted little more than to live the life granted to him after enduring one of the most trying experiences that can be inflicted on a human being. In keeping with his gentle, self-effacing nature, Major Winters was buried following a small, private, unannounced funeral service.
Rest in peace, Major Winters. You not only served in a company of heroes, but those men were led by one, as well.