Even if you’re not a history buff, you’ve probably come across the name Major Dick Winters.
His gallantry gained public attention when his story, together with the company he commanded, was included in the critically acclaimed book penned by Stephen Ambrose, “Band of Brothers.” The best-seller shed light on his valiant act of leading the E Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry, 101st Airborne Division during Normandy Campaign, World War II.
The said book was later adapted into an HBO miniseries of the same name back in 2001. The Emmy award-winning opus was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred in by Tom Hanks.
Dick Winters: From Ordinary to an Accomplished Military Man
Richard Davis Winters in real life, Dick was born on the 21st of January 1918 in New Holland, Pennsylvania. At eight, he and his family moved to Lancaster. Upon graduating with the highest academic standing in 1941, he enlisted in the Army as part of the obligatory one-year military service. Though he had no initial attention to go to war, he was forced to remain in the military after the US entered the World War II because of the infamous Pearl Harbor bombing on December 7, 1941.
He attended the Officer Candidate School in Georgia. Five weeks after, he was ordered to join the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, located at Camp Toccoa, Georgia. There, he was assigned to 2nd Battalion’s Company E — the band of brothers he would later command.
In June 1944, Dick learned about his first combat assignment: to invade Europe. A total of 13,000 paratroopers headed for France on the 5th of June. Germans attacked them and during the chaos, it became unknown if 1st Lt. Thomas Meehan — who was given command of the E Company — had survived. This made Dick the company’s de facto commanding officer.
From that point forward until his official discharge in January 1946, he has displayed an impeccable sense of leadership and laudable military skills, as shown in these key career achievements:
June 6, 1944: He led an attack that resulted in the destroying of a German 105mm howitzers’ battery. The artillery piece had been firing at the US soldiers’ principal exits. Dick only has 13 men while the German troops were estimated to be at 50. They’ve also obtained a map showing the enemy’s gun emplacements along the Utah Beach.
October 5, 1944: When the Germans attacked the 2nd Battalion’s flank situated in the Netherlands, four E Company patrol were wounded. After reporting about the German force, Dick took a squad from 1st platoon, called for reinforcements and led a successful assault on the gun crew.
December 1944: During the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, Dick assisted in defending the 101st Airborne Division, which was designated to the Bastogne area. The division battled against 15 German divisions for a week.
May 1945: The 101st Airborne Division was tasked to capture the German municipality of Berchtesgaden. On the same month, the war in Europe had ended.
Major Dick Winters’ military service taught several lessons: from leading by example (his comrades attested that he was always in the frontline — never in the back), to the importance of knowing your own team, and the inevitable relevance of physical stamina to mental health.
Are you a big fan of Major Dick Winters? If yes, check out Gettysburg Museum’s collection focused on this decorated war veteran’s heroism. Visit our website for more details!